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Stop Caring More About Property Damage Than the Lives Of Black People – Pride Began With Rioting Too

In celebration of Pride month, I’m going to take you back to the 1960s, where homosexual relations were illegal and the riots that initiated Pride began. Picture this; it’s the year 1969 in New York City, you’ve recently discovered your sexuality, and wish to express it freely. However, its illegal to even dance with someone of the same gender, let alone to be openly gay.

There is some refuge; secret gay bars and clubs across the city where you can express your sexuality and socialise with others without fear. These clubs were subject to raids by the police, but some were normally tipped off and were able to prepare in order to prevent arrests from happening.

A full-blown riot involving hundreds of people began; with crowds throwing pennies, bottles and stones at police officers

On the early hours of June 28th, 1969, one particular gay club, the Stonewall Inn, located in Greenwich village, NYC, was raided by the police without being tipped off. The raids normally dispersed crowds immediately, but instead of this, bar patrons and employees decided to fight back. A full-blown riot involving hundreds of people began; with crowds throwing pennies, bottles and stones at police officers. This led to six days of rioting outside the club on Christopher Street, neighbouring streets, and Christopher Park. It sparked a fire within the LGBT community to fight for their rights to freedom and equality.

The Stonewall riots led to many gay rights organisations being set up, including GLAAD and the GLF. It led to the first US Pride parade on the one-year anniversary of stonewall, and the first UK Pride march in 1972. Over the past 40 years, changes have been made to battle discrimination against the LGBT community. There is still work being done today to achieve equality; on 15th June 2020, the US Supreme Court passed a ruling preventing discrimination against a person’s sexual orientation in the workplace. This shows not only that equality is a long process that happens gradually, but also that the rioting at Stonewall worked in kickstarting the Pride movement.

Some of these protests, and particularly the riots, have been condemned by the media for being unnecessary and too violent

The anger expressed by the LGBT community during the riots highlights the pain and oppression that they experienced. This links to the ongoing riots and protests currently happening in response to the murder of George Floyd. Some of these protests, and particularly the riots, have been condemned by the media for being unnecessary and too violent.

For centuries, black people have been subject to brutal murder and oppression. We have no right to judge the anger and pain that is being expressed by the black community. The Stonewall riots were necessary to create change and LGBT rights, and the same is true in order to abolish racism. So yes, the riots and protests are disruptive, but that is nothing compared to the pain and trauma that the black community have been through.

Rioting is only a side-effect of a much bigger issue; the fact that black people are being killed and that white supremacy still exists

The time for a change has been overdue for a long time, and the riots are a result of the culmination of the pain and fear that has perpetuated the lives of black people. Martin Luther King once said “a riot is the language of the unheard” suggesting that rioting is only a side-effect of a much bigger issue; the fact that black people are being killed and that white supremacy still exists. They have been trying to fight this system for years, and its only now that a breakthrough is being made – a result of the rioting. The fact that there has been more of an outrage over the rioting than the murder of innocent black people highlights the problem within society – that those who care more about property damage than the actual lives of black people are upholding our racist systems.

It is clear when we look back on history that riots and protests are necessary to bring about social change and equality. Intersectionality plays a big role in this – the idea that the overlap of different social identities, such as gender, race and sexuality, all contribute to the systemic oppression that a specific individual faces. The idea that all black lives matter – trans, queer and women too, not just cis straight men. In pride month we should be celebrating our differences and embracing them, and all year round we should work together to achieve equality across all social identities. The organisation UK Black Pride work everyday to provide a safe space to celebrate diverse sexualities and race, as well as producing an annual celebration during pride month. Their work is fundamental in working towards equality for all.

There is still so much work to be done before equality is achieved across all sections – sexuality, gender, class and race. But things will change for the better, and the riots are only a start to pave the way for equality.

Jasmin Lemarie

Featured image courtesy of David Geitgey Sierralupe via Flickr. Image license found hereNo changes were made to this image. 

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