I may have celebrated Pride at my alma mater last month, but now it’s officially here, and with it the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. All the groundwork that many unsung LGBT people did in the 1950s led up to that catalytic moment in time where the patrons of the Stonewall Inn said, “Enough is enough.” People of color such as Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera played a significant role in the riots. They no longer rolled over and played dead. They fought back. They knew that the only way they would get respect was to demand it.
Scare tactics such as raids on bars, harassment, blackmail, and putting one’s name in the newspaper as an arrestee held many in fear of living their truth. Stonewall was the first step in changing that. Taking the energy from those nights, it was channeled, transformed into organization and the founding of the Gay Liberation Front. One year later, the first Pride parades/marches took place in New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco. This was the first step to visibility for the LGBT community and the right to be, regardless of who we love.
As an African-American high school senior in 1969, this event told me I wasn’t “the only one.” I was tired of trying to be something I wasn’t. I learned about other LGBT teens in my high school only after we graduated. What images I did see on TV and in magazines, at the time, had me questioning, “I’m gay, but where are the brothas and sistahs in the movement?” Once I came out a year later, I’d come across some on weekends at the clubs, but they were more likely to be found at the “safe space” of house parties and in church. I knew nothing about luminaries such as James Baldwin, Audre Lorde, Lorraine Hansberry, Samuel Delany or Bruce Nugent. For all intents and purposes, they were invisible in my life until after I was out, hungry for role models. Even in other social movements of the times such as the civil rights movement, LGBT brothas and sistahs were there making a difference, and yet invisible.
Fifty years later, the LGBT community has made positive changes in minds, hearts, and laws. Somewhere along the way, I became the role model I wished I’d had when I was 18. My family life–which now includes husband and son– debunks the myth that gay men are destined to lonely, empty lives. The community I live in, plus the people I surround myself with, is far more welcoming today. I agree with a colleague of mine that the changes are happening faster and faster. And yet, there is still much work to do. I’ve talked with younger LGBT members who know little about the significance of Stonewall and the reason we celebrate Pride, less still of the role people of color played in it. Those of us who lived through those times can make it relevant to today’s generations by sharing our stories when we have the opportunities to do so. After all, owning our truth, authenticity, integrity, personhood and dignity make for compelling reasons. At the end of the day, somewhere, a child is watching our lives. What will we give back, and pay forward?
I will be sharing more of my Very Short Stories from back in the day in remembrance. Before I do, I would like to give a shout-out to three authors for their gifts, as well their recently released and upcoming works:
Adriana Herrera–American Fairytale, American Love Story
LaQuette–Under His Protection, the Harlem Heat series
Frederick Smith and Chaz Lamar– In Case You Forgot
And now, here are some poems and Very Short Stories from those days of “Hot Fun in the Summertime”:
Power to the people
your full beard
and bold dashikis
for social justice
and direct action
At the end of the day
hearts and bodies
intertwined in bliss
the power of love
kept us together
didn’t know before
’til that night
at South Shore house party
workin’ the Bop
on the dance floor
Spinners posed the question
could it be
that I’m falling in love
Back in the day, a great DJ knew when to bring the music up–and when to bring it down. Nothing cryptic involved. And Hakim welcomed the slower intimacy of dance with Kenneth to Their Song: “Betcha By Golly Wow.”
“My, my, my,” Jayson purred when Maceo emerged from the steamy mist of the sumptuous bathroom. The phrase “Go big or go home” took root in a pocket of his mind. Maceo was big, all right. And Jayson had no intentions of going home.
DeAnthony had bawled with Marilyn McCoo and “One Less Bell to Answer” when he was dumped. That was two years ago. Now, he marveled at how the love of a good brotha like Deion wiped every tear away.
The sepia sketch of us as young brothas from 1975 stirs the embers of my heart. How we clicked on that first date, talked all night long. I season his breakfast of sausage, grits, and scrambled eggs with love. Opposites may attract, but similars stay together.
Wishing you an excellent day. Believe in dreams and never give up.