The 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising is being celebrated on June 28. It is a landmark of the beginning of the modern LGBTI movement throughout the world. The Pride marches are held in June each year to celebrate that feat.
By: Vanessa Valverde
In the 50’s and 60’s, a series of measures and policies established a greater repression against the LGBTI people in the United States. To fight back this harshening of oppression, the first “homophile groups” emerged with a political orientation of assimilation into society and “non-confrontation” between the gay and lesbian people and the heterosexuals.
However, discrimination and persecution of the sexually diverse people persisted and was accentuated against the “non-normative” sectors, namely transvestites, transsexuals, Drag Queens, blacks, effeminate young people, homeless and others.
The night the oppressed made the oppressor flee
The Stonewall Inn was located at 51 and 53 Christopher Street, New York. At that time it was administered by the mafia. The bar was popular among the most marginalized LGBTI community.
Police raids were frequent in the 60’s, but on June 28 things were different. For the first time, the police lost control of the situation and, more importantly, it was the most oppressed sectors of the population that led the fight.
That night at 1:20 am, four plainclothes officers and two in uniform entered the bar in a violent manner, in a raid that would go down in history. After turning off the music and turning on the lights, the police officers separated the people inside the bar. As usual, female officers took those dressed as women to the restroom to verify their sex and the other officers checked the men identifications.
But for the first time, this did not happen. The trans women and transvestites refused to go with the officers, and the men refused to show their IDs.
The officers decided to arrest most of the people, and released the rest out of the bar while they waited for wagons to take them to the police station. However, those outside the bar did not leave as usual, but surrounded the police wagons and waited expectantly. Little by little more people joined this mass and soon, hundreds of people were outside the iconic bar.
The tension grew and when the police started to put the detainees into the wagons, the indignant mass began to throw objects against the police … the revolt had begun. The most dispossessed, most excluded, most oppressed among the LGBTI people pushed back the police; who took refuge inside the bar. And even so, they entered after them.
The officers called for back-up and the Tactical Patrol Force (TPF), an anti-riot squad that was originally created to suppress protesters against the Vietnam War, was sent.
Even so, the revolt valiantly confronted the anti-riot police and forced them to flee. The clashes continued on the following days, but it was clear that the oppressed people had won that battle at Christopher Street.
The Homosexual Liberation Front was founded after the Stonewall uprising and their experience is key to the development of several similar organizations in the world.
The first pride marches were held in New York and Los Angeles to celebrate the Stonewall rebellion in the following year. On that occasion, up to 10,000 people gathered in New York and this tradition continues to this day in different countries.
Stonewall in the world class struggle
A fundamental aspect to understand the events at Stonewall inn is the historical context of the class struggle at that time.
In the mid-60s and until the mid-70s, a wave of radical mobilizations roamed the world.
Among them, we can point out the different student movements that awoke the struggle around the world, the movement against the Vietnam War, the struggle for black people civil rights, the French May, the Prague spring and even the Carnation Revolution in Portugal.
All of them are contemporary to the emergence of the radical struggle for the rights of the LGBTI people.
But the struggle of sexually diverse and gender-variant identities people was not born at that time.
In recent history, we can situate two key moments before Stonewall with very marked characteristics.
The first was in end of the 19th century until the 30s of the 20th century, mainly in Germany and Great Britain. In that period, the first movements seeking to decriminalize homosexuality and to free consensual homoerotic sex from state interference emerged. Their main vision looked for a “medical justification”, striving to find the origin “of homosexual behavior” in genetics or hormonal causes. The most outstanding exponents of this thought are Karl Urlichs (1825-1895) and Magnus Hirschfeld (1868-1935).
It is in this period that the “homosexual-heterosexual” dyad was coined, widely disseminated by the German psychiatrist Krafft-Ebing who included it in his work Psychopathia sexualis.
This first wave includes the most advanced democratic rights of the time: the decriminalization of homosexuality in 1922 Penal Code promulgated by the Bolsheviks in revolutionary Russia.
These first efforts for decriminalization and democratic rights were closely linked to workers’ organizations in their respective countries.
However, both Stalinism in USSR and fascism and Nazism in Europe pushed back all the gains made by the LGBTI people in the ‘30s. In USSR, the 1934 Penal Code once again penalized homosexuality and thousands of workers were persecuted, condemned and sent to concentration camps because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. As of today, there are no reliable sources for the figures of persecuted people during the fifty-nine years of this law’s lifespan. The sources estimate from hundreds to tens of thousands, but it is not yet possible to know with certainty the real figure.
The second generation emerges after World War II. In the 1950s and 1960s, as we noted earlier, the persecution in the United States is intensified. In this context, new organizations advocating for Gay and Lesbian cause are formed, as Mattachine Society in the US and Arcadia group in France.
These “homophile organizations” drive their actions mainly in requesting legal reforms, but with a “respectable” approach, because in the conservative context of the time their efforts are directed to propaganda of non-confrontation between homosexuals and heterosexuals. For this reason, they sometimes defend the exclusion to the sectors that we have pointed out as “non-normative”.
This is why Stonewall was a watershed in the LGBTI struggle and takes on such international relevance. Because it marks the emergence of a third generation of activism, linked to the left militancy or to civil rights movements such as that of blacks in North America. Its main component is direct action, the spirit of rebellion mainly of the most oppressed and a strong criticism, in its beginnings, to capitalism.
From Stonewall to Latin America
The influence of Stonewall and its “Gay Power” movement reaches Latin American countries in the following years. Not as a copy, but as an influence or inspiration, which boosted movements that were already gestating.
Those that have been pointed out as the most influential in Latin American history are the processes in Argentina, Mexico, Colombia and later Brazil.
The first attempt of homosexual organization in Argentina happened in Gerli, a working-class neighborhood in Buenos Aires, in 1969, under the dictatorship of General Juan Carlos Onganía.
This was the group Nuestro Mundo, led by Héctor Anabitarde, a postal worker and former member of the Communist Party, from which he was expelled because of his sexual orientation.
The founding of this group was not yet under the influence of Stonewall’s deeds. However, in 1971, also in Buenos Aires, the Homosexual Liberation Front of Argentina (FLHA) was created. As you can tell by its name, it was inspired by the American Gay Power .
The FLHA worked as an umbrella organization that brought together at least 10 groups with different kinds of activisms. From the cited Nuestro Mondo to anarchists, lesbian activism, and Catholics.
The Front always kept in touch with feminist organizations of the time, as well as maintained a permanent approach to the positions of the left.
In this last sense, the Latin American LGBTI organizations of the time were always crossed by the experience of the left parties, which in several countries fought against their dictatorships.
In 1973, the FLHA publishes Somos, the first magazine dedicated to gay people in Latin America. The first Brazilian gay group, about which we will speak in a later article, was named after the magazine’s name.
Another case to be highlighted is the Mexican, where the LGBTI political movement was born out of the left mobilizations against the oppressive government. The Mexican Communist Party included in its principles that no one should be discriminated based on race, sex, religion or sexual orientation; breaking with what had been maintained so far in relation to sexual orientation by communist parties.
In 1979, the First Homosexual Pride March was held in Mexico City, organized by the Homosexual Front of Revolutionary Action, Oikabeth Lesbian Autonomous Group and the Lambda Group of Homosexual Liberation.
In Colombia, the Movement for Homosexual Liberation was founded in 1970. It organized the first activities in the country as well as the first Pride march.
The struggle against oppression has not ended
Fifty years after the Stonewall uprising, we can proudly say that we have defended our rights. But LGBTI people have yet to fight oppression because it didn’t end.
Lesbian, gay, bisexual and trans phobias are still present all over the world. And, just as the Stonewall movement identified it, the capitalist system is responsible for the perpetuation of oppression.
It is this system that fosters inequality, the oppression of large sections of the working class; because it is in this way that it creates a divide in the working class to over-exploit and guarantee that we do not achieve the necessary unity to fight it back.
They divide us by skin color, or nationality, or sexual orientation, or gender identity, or sex; to prevent us from uniting, so that we do not fight together for the rights of all.
The struggle against the oppression of the LGBTI people is not just a fight for a democratic right or Human Rights, it is a struggle that has an essential value for the revolutionaries. It is the struggle against the oppression of a sector of the working class, it is the struggle for the unity of the working class to defeat the bourgeoisie.
The Bolsheviks in Russia always raised the frontal struggle against oppression, having in mind mainly fighting anti-Semitism, national oppression and oppression towards women. But in the right way and in spite of the pathologized vision of their time, they recognized that LGBT phobia had to be fought to unite the working class.
Our revolutionary organizations are today called to continue to fight oppression of LGBTI people worldwide.
That is why on this date, we rescue the history of struggle of the LGBTI movement and our own current, which seeks the unity of the class and combat gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trans phobia within the workers’ organizations and in the exploitative and oppressive system that promotes it.