This Friday and Saturday mark fifty years from the Stonewall Riots, an event which inspired and triggered the LGBT rights movement as it is today, not to mention giving rise to many changes which have happened in the years since. So as we mark the fiftieth anniversary of such a significant event, has the situation for the LGBTQ+ people changed and if so, how much?
With the aim of gay liberation, the riots set off a number of actions which resulted in the first Pride parades a year later. But in the long-term, what has happened since? Compared to the early twenty-first century, same-sex marriages can now legally be performed in 29 countries and are legally recognised in three others.
From the 1970s onwards, homosexuality ceased being declared a mental illness — as it was once thought of — and numerous countries have decriminalised being gay. Making a massive step in 1987, Rep. Barney Frank became the first political representative to be voluntarily out as gay and this opened the floodgates, in a sense, for political representatives to be out and accepted.
Nevertheless, the situation is still far from perfect. Homophobia still exists and it took until 2011 to revoke the ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ law which made it illegal for openly LGBT individuals to serve in the military. There are still 71 countries in the world where it is illegal to be gay and several of them enforce the death penalty as punishment for something which is not a choice.
Nevertheless, around the world, different countries and cultures are moving towards LGBTQ+ rights at different rates. On June 11th this year, by a unanimous vote in Botswana’s High Court, judges ruled that homosexuality was legal, overturning a colonial-era law that previously held a prison sentence of up to seven years.
Yet, at the start of Pride month, despite President Trump appearing to promote it on his social media, Stonewall, the charity set up with the riot’s namesake in 1989, expressed grave concern about the rights of LGBTQ+ people in America, with Trump’s effort to role back trans rights within a number of sections of society. In healthcare, the military and legislation, which largely disregard the idea of transgender from legal terminology, the President is determined to undermine the rights of trans people in terms of the progress made under the Obama administration.
The Stonewall Riots were the start of a chain of events which, although it took several decades to achieve, have changed the situation for LGBTQ+ people in many countries for the better. This Friday and Saturday should serve as a way to celebrate all that has been achieved but also as a reminder that we aren’t quite there yet. There is still plenty of work to do to make the world a better and safer place for people on the gender and sexuality spectrum. As we remember those who fought for LGBT rights fifty years ago, we should note that even when facing adversity and fights against the regimes still discriminating towards this set of people, we have made progress and will continue to do so.