June 28 will mark the 54th anniversary of the historic Stonewall Rebellion, sparked that day by a police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City’s Greenwich Village neighborhood.
These raids were commonplace, as were arrests for violating anti-trans laws prohibiting “inappropriate clothing.” What made this raid different was that bar patrons and LGBTQ+ people in the neighborhood fought back, forcing police to retreat after the first night of the six days of protests and fights with the cops. Leading the resistance were drag queens, trans women and butch lesbians, mostly poor, working class, and Black and Brown.
The movement for LGBTQ2S+ liberation did not begin with Stonewall. The gay and lesbian rights groups Mattachine Society and Daughters of Bilitis were formed in the 1950s and picketed government buildings as early as 1964. The Compton Cafeteria Riot against anti-trans police harassment took place in 1966 in San Francisco, three years before Stonewall. Cooper Do-nuts, in Los Angeles, was the site of a protest in 1959 against police harassment; it became a rebellion after a protester was arrested.
But Stonewall was a major turning point in the LGBTQ2S+ liberation movement, spawning the formation of groups around the country, such as the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance. Sylvia Rivera and Stonewall participant Marsha P. Johnson formed STAR — Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries — in the Village. Beginning with the first anniversary of Stonewall and continuing to this day — now globally — Pride is celebrated in the month of June.
Solidarity: ‘Our first, most elementary and fundamental duty’
Workers World Party has supported this movement since its inception. To orient the entire party on the need for solidarity with the gay liberation movement — as it was known in the 1970s — WWP’s late Chairperson Sam Marcy wrote: “Our first, most elementary and fundamental duty on this question is to completely eliminate and abolish all forms of persecution and oppression of gay people. We must also fight against all ideological, political and social manifestations of gay oppression that may be reflected in our own ranks.
“Ending oppression is really an elementary democratic demand that a bourgeois democracy should be able to grant, along with all other democratic demands. But imperialist democracy tends to restrict the elementary rights of all people — not only gays, women, youth, Brown and Black. It is only the struggle that can wrest concessions.” (Sam Marcy, “From a tendency to a party”)
One of the most famous photos from the movement’s early years depicts a banner signed by the Gay Caucus of Youth Against War and Fascism, with the slogan “Stonewall means fight back! Smash Gay Oppression!” The photo, which hangs today in the Stonewall Inn, is from the 1971 march on the second anniversary of the rebellion. YAWF was the youth group of WWP.
That slogan — “Stonewall means fight back!” is as true today as it was over half a century ago. Trans youth are under fierce attack by forces that would like to see them annihilated. There are 19 state legislatures that have passed – and eight more are considering – bills blocking gender-affirming health care for youth under 18 years old. Some bills set the age for health care denial at 26, the age limit for coverage by one’s parents’ insurance under the Affordable Care Act.
Stonewall still means fight back!
These bills are like fuel to the fire of transphobic terror. Already this year at least 11 trans people have been murdered, most of them trans women of color. Untold numbers have experienced physical violence, verbal and emotional abuse, job discrimination, housing discrimination, forced “conversion therapy” and more.
The vicious attacks on the trans community are occurring in tandem with racist police and vigilante terror, the undermining of abortion rights, union busting and the climate catastrophe — to name just a few ways that working-class and oppressed people are under siege.
Single-issue politics — in which every group just focuses on its own issues — is a self-defeating strategy. The LGBTQ2S+ community has to unite with other impacted groups to push back the multipronged assault on nearly everyone’s basic rights.
We can’t rely on Democratic Party politicians to stop the right wing. As Marcy wrote, “It is only the struggle that can wrest concessions.”
Unite and fight back in the spirit of Stonewall.