Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever

Forty years ago, on June 27, 1969, the gay liberation movement began when police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Sheridan Square in New York City's Greenwich Village. On that night, gay people fought back.

According to a New York Times article published on June 29, 1969, police chased more than 200 men into the street at 3 a.m., and a crowd of 400 quickly gathered. More than a dozen were arrested in the riot, and the gay rights movement was born. The Columbia Universities Libraries has a valuable online exhibition, Stonewall and Beyond: Lesbian and Gay Culture, featuring newspaper clippings, interviews, and contemporary queer scholarship.

How far have we come in 40 years? Depends on where you live and where you work. If you live in Massachusetts, you have the legal right to marry. If you serve in the U.S. Military, you will be fired from your job.

President Obama has not yet honored his very specific campaign promise to end the discriminatory and ineffective Don't Ask, Don't Tell policy, which prohibits gays and lesbians from serving in the military. Nonetheless, he seems to be trying to reach out to the LGBT community. The President and First Lady hosted a LGBT Pride Month reception at the White House on June 29. But nice White House receptions are not enough.

I hope President Obama will heed the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in King's famous 1963 work, "Letter from Birmingham Jail." They ring true when you think of the Stonewall rioters of 1969, and they ring true today as gay and lesbian Americans are tired of waiting for full civil rights.

King wrote: "We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed... For years now I have heard the word 'Wait!' ... This 'Wait' has almost always meant 'Never.' We must come to see, with one of our distinguished jurists, that 'justice too long delayed is justice denied.' ... We have waited for more than 340 years for our constitutional and God given rights... Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever."

No comments: