story and photos by Vincent Astor
I’ve been to two of the big anniversaries of the Stonewall Uprising, the 25th in 1994 and the 50th in June. Just as I’ve changed, a lot has changed legally and politically for LGBT people, even since 1994. But as New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio said at this year’s World Pride, we must prevent the White Supremacist Movement from destroying the rights that we’ve won. We are not safe and our work is not done.
Several Memphians, activists (veteran and new), went to New York City for the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising (also called Rebellion or Riots) which began on June 28, 1969. Overwhelming does not adequately describe the experience. I have never seen so many (thousands) rainbow flags in my life. These included new editions which attempt to be more inclusive but really cannot approach in design or effect our beloved six-striped flag. The primary (and free) events were an Opening and Closing Ceremony, a rally in Sheridan Square, down the block from the Stonewall Inn, a parade that took all day to stage and over nine hours to pass, and a march that recreated the route and spirit of the first march in 1970. My thoughts and impressions ran the gamut from excited to verklempt and back.
I wasn’t there in 1969. I was in high school at the time, but am old enough to have known people who lived through those tough years and heard their stories.
As I stood on the corner of Waverly and Christopher streets waiting for Friday’s rally to begin I thought of Doric Wilson. Doric was a witness to the original three days of rioting and later wrote a play called Street Theater set on the first day of the riots. When the show was produced by Emerald Theatre Company in 2007 Doric came down for a talk back after a performance. I got to know him a bit and remembered his emotion when describing the 1970 march. A group of marchers began at the Stonewall and every time they passed a street corner, more people joined in. It was truly the beginning of a movement. He died in 2011 and I wished so hard he had been there. His pride, like mine, would have been full to bursting.
There was a lot of celebrating but a sober note as well. Mayor Bill de Blasio read in English and Spanish a proclamation regarding Stonewall Day and recognized the original protesters who were on stage. He said the movement must continue,
and to beware of the White Supremacist Movement. (hear the whole speech on his website). He said this not once but twice, both at the June 28th rally and at the closing ceremonies. It made me think of Mad-Eye Moody (look him up), “Constant Vigilance!”.