“The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past” — William Faulkner
People have a strange relationship with history sometimes. Black and white photos, as poignant as they are, give the impression that something that happened just 50 years ago is actually further away, further in the past than it actually is.
This weekend is Pride in Washington D.C., celebrated each June to commemorate the Stonewall riots, the event that more or less started it all, as we’ve come to learn. This Pride is something special, marking 50 years since the first brick was thrown in protest of police harassment of LGBT individuals in New York City’s Greenwich Village. Fifty years since the LGBT movement changed tactics, mirroring less the Civil Rights Movement, quiet marches and respectability, and went more the way of the anti-war movement and public displays of social unrest.
All of that was just 50 years ago. Or two sets of 25 years. Or five sets of 10. No matter how you want to package it, it wasn’t so very long ago. Stonewall has come to mean so much, far more than it probably did it at the time outside of the few square blocks where it took place in the Village, and far more than the original protesters probably would have imagined. The name Stonewall has lent itself to a powerful message. So much that we should all be thankful that the place wasn’t named something else, like Fannie’s Bar and Lounge or something a little less, well, strong.
But memory, and indeed history, can sometimes play tricks on people. Remember those timelines in the back of school history books, those black linear lines at the end of each chapter, showing a clear progression from Jamestown to the New Deal? Those gave the idea that history moves forward in a clear, progressive way. We have to remember though that may be true for some, it is certainly not true for all of us. People get left behind, forgotten, or simply get pushed out of what is defined as progress. Stonewall appears 50 years ago on the timeline. President Trump’s ban on transgender service members went into effect this year.
So let’s remember Stonewall, but not confine it to memory. The idea of Stonewall is far more important than the physical space. It’s both rallying cry and a poignant reminder of what has happened, how far we’ve come, and what is left to be done. This year is Capital Pride’s 44th year. That is, 44 years since the city finally agreed to shut down the streets for our events. In those 44 years, Pride has been a place to mourn, those lost to AIDS or the Pulse massacre, a place to celebrate milestones like marriage equality and the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” Or, indeed, a space and time to do all of these things at once. None of it, the celebrating or even the mourning, will ever be over.
Essentially, the past is not past. It’s not even passed. And the best way to move forward is to celebrate, dance, but remember the riots that started it all by also remembering that there are many of us who are still fighting for a place at the table. And ironically, those that threw the first bricks that night in June 50 years ago, those queer people of color, are still fighting to be heard today.
So keep fighting, and keep dancing. The party, and the struggle, goes on. And we won’t forget — those that fought for us then, and those still fighting now.
Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer. He contributes regularly to the Blade.