50 Years Since The Stonewall Riots, Gay Culture Is Still In Danger

I once heard homosexuality described as a “joyful instinct”.Singer Tori Amos said, “If you have an issue with homosexuality, then it comes [down] to your own fear and your own darkness.”

Whichever way you look at it, one thing is undeniable:  gay liberation is one of the most profound and radical changes to the western world over the last few decades.

Twenty years ago, it would’ve been almost impossible to imagine that we’d have marriage equality in Australia or elsewhere — but here we are in 2019 with gay marriage recognised in 30 countries globally.

After the Yes vote in 2017, Australia joined the world’s 30 countries with legalised same-sex marriage. (Image: Getty)

It was 50 years ago today, in the early hours of June 28, 1969, that a group of gay, lesbian, trans and drag communities started a series of spontaneous, powerful demonstrations against police raids on their favourite bar — the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York City. Those brave individuals started a movement of change that means people like me, members of the modern LGBTQI+ community, get to enjoy the rights and legal protections that we do today.

As Matthew Todd wrote in his new book Pride, the Stonewall riots sparked “an explosion of optimism and energy that sent such a bright flare high above Greenwich Village, it became a beacon for people all over the world”.

In a sign of how much the world has changed since then, the New York Police Department finally apologised for its role in the Stonewall riots, 50 years later.

Fifty years ago, riots outside New York’s Stonewall Inn sparked the modern gay rights movement. (Image: Getty)

But that doesn’t mean there aren’t other serious problems the LGBTQI+ community still faces in 2019, as Israel Folau’s controversial Instagram post — and the subsequent furore — demonstrates.

In other parts of the world like Iran, Brunei or Chechnya, being gay can put you in the firing line of potential arrest, torture or even death.

But on the anniversary of the Stonewall riots, I would like to take a moment to focus on how to keep our own sense of community alive, while the world is changing around us at a dizzying pace. At a time when many gay bars like the Stonewall Inn are closing, it’s a good time to ask why, and what can we do about it.

Where I live in St Kilda, Melbourne, there are no longer any gay bars like the Stonewall Inn left operating — and in the neighbouring area of South Yarra the former gay strip around Commercial Road has also largely ceased operating.

This is a trend not isolated to my own city — proprietors of gay bars around the world are facing varying struggles to survive. According to one estimate, the number of gay bars declined in the US by 12 percent between 2005 – 2011.

St Kilda’s iconic gay bar the Greyhound Hotel permanently shut its doors in 2016. (Image: Facebook)

There are many reasons for this — on the one hand we can say it’s a positive thing that gays are becoming so integrated into the mainstream and there is no longer a need for segregated gay bars, or even to live in “gay ghettos”, because gays feel accepted in the suburbs.

Another factor is the rise of gay dating apps — people no longer need to physically go out to bars because it is so easy meet people on Grindr or Scruff.

One way to address this and to keep gay bars relevant in 2019 is to make sure LGBTQI+ gathering places are truly inclusive and welcoming of all members of the community, not just small groups within it.

The reality is that trans people, people of colour and intersex people are still facing some of the same marginalisation within their own communities that people rioted against 50 years ago in New York.

One new establishment in Melbourne’s western suburbs has taken a unique approach to addressing this. The Pride of our Footscray Community Bar has set itself up as a bar where everyone is welcome. Despite having regular drag shows and providing a stage for upcoming queer bands of all colours and persuasions, the bar also has the footy playing on big screens and advertises itself as offering “the best of the neighbourhood and humanity!”

Even in Australia in 2019, where most of us are lucky enough to live in a country where it is possible to feel safe and supported as a gay person, in order to remain relevant LGBTQI+ venues still need to proactively reach out to their broader community.

By drawing people in by offering truly inclusive environments for everyone, we can really do the former Stonewall protesters proud.

This story first published at Ten Daily

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