The celebrations of 50 years after Stonewall in New York are permutating the posture of New York as the center of the universe. It is claimed that is where the LGBT movement began. Yes, it probably was the first large LGBT riot against the police, but it was not the first movement in the nation. There were a number of small organizations scattered around the country, some of which had more success than others. The Advocate, based in Los Angles, started national publication in 1969.
Yes, there were problems even in the big cities. Los Angeles had a notoriously homophobic police chief. The numerous gay bars in New Orleans were regularly raided by the corrupt police not to enforce morals but as a power play for more money. The riots over civil rights in 1968 all over the country had pushed LGBT issues to the background. People who were transgender were invisible as a matter of self-protection. Drag queens were called female impersonators and were popular in San Francisco and Las Vegas even though they were reported to have first started in the South. As the 60’s came to a close, the free-spirited sexual revolution faced a mean-spirited backlash.
My jobs in the 60’s left little time for political action, but I became more active sexually. I was firmly closeted in the 50’s, but by the mid-60’s, I freely enjoyed patronizing gay bars, baths, and restaurants without a hassle in Albuquerque, Santa Fe, Dallas, Houston, and San Francisco. I picked up tricks in Mexico City. In 1967, I was living openly with a gay partner in Dallas in the gay district of Cedar Springs. I had a 35-year gap (1965 - 2000) in visiting New York City so I missed Stonewall. I also did not have the opportunity to visit Fire Island or Provincetown in their hey-day like some of my friends did.
I became more active in LGBT politics in the 70’s. The Texas Gay & Lesbian Task Force was formed, and a small publication This Week in Texas (TWIT) had statewide distribution in the bars. I recall going to a political rally at the AstroArena that drew thousands in Houston. I met Harvey Milk at a workshop in Dallas. The Advocate Magazine hosted a cocktail party at a large hotel in Houston for subscribers who lived in the “fly-over” zone of Texas. Obviously, they thought we lived in the wilderness. I “came out” in San Antonio. The first trial of a gay Methodist preacher was held there in 1976 that sparked a media frenzy.
The Republican Revival in the 80’s pushed LGBT issues to the background, but it was during the Clinton Administration that we suffered one of our worst setbacks. “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” was promoted as a compromise, but in practice it institutionalized discrimination in the military. It took 20 years to reverse that. Of course, the spread of AIDS sparked a backlash against homosexuals that was fueled by fear and promoted by right-wing politicians and religious groups.
The Supreme Court in 2003 struck down the sodomy laws and in 2015 allowed same-sex marriage. Unfortunately, there is still no federal law that bans discrimination in employment, public accommodations, or housing. The current trend is to promote laws at the state level to protect “religious rights,” i.e. the right to discriminate against LGBT people based upon religious beliefs. We still hear extremists who cry “kill the gays,” and they receive national notoriety for their hatred. The media coverage merely inspires more copycats. Unfortunately, transgender people of color remain the most vulnerable group. The Stonewall riots marked a time in history when the LGBT community decided to fight back, and thus they are well worth noting now
My views on the progress (or lack thereof) in North Carolina will require a separate article.