Today the streets of Manhattan’s West Village were packed with revelers celebrating the New York Pride March that happens every year on June 28 to commemorate what was essentially the beginning of a global gay rights campaign, the so-called Stonewall Riots (more on that in a moment).
My wife and I attended our first Pride March, or as it’s more commonly referred to, the Gay Pride Parade, last year, entirely on accident. We had only lived in the city for a few weeks when we decided to spend a Sunday after church wandering around the West Village. We heard the music first as we made our way down Sixth Avenue and we followed the sound until we found the crowds, loosely packed initially, crowding outside of the many bars and restaurants in the Village, and then, suddenly, the sidewalks were so full of people that it became nearly impossible to get around.
As we had only intended to take a leisurely stroll, our goal once we found ourselves surrounded by partially undressed men, barely dressed women, drag queens and the like (there were, of course, a majority of not-so-eccentric people around, but somehow that detail is less memorable) was to find our way out of the crowds and back onto more lightly populated streets. But in that time we saw and experienced a lot of what went on at the parade and, again, being new to the city, we needed several more hours of walking just to debrief.
I’m going to avoid passing judgment on what we saw in the streets last year, or again this year as we tried to make our way through the West Village to the East to find a bar to watch the final game of the Confederation Cup tournament. I will say that I am and always have been of a more reserved temperament, embarrassed, even as a child, when my sister would do something eccentric like dance in the aisles at a family restaurant. So for that reason the kind of partying that happens as the Pride Parade makes its way through the city causes apprehension and embarrassment in me and, generally, an urge to flee.
But more than that it always causes me to question. How should I feel? Is what is happening here something that I should react to on moral grounds? What would a family member or church friend do or think in this situation? What do gay people who are more reserved think of the parade?
The most unfortunate thing about all of this is that as a casual observer there is no way that I could fully know what the March means until I asked a close family member who is a homosexual what it means to him, what it commemorates, and what truly happened forty years ago on June 28 that sparked a movement that is, to this day, fighting for equal rights.
In the late sixties in New York City the police often raided establishments known to be popular among homosexuals as homosexuality was illegal in the United States. Most of the time the police would not encounter much resistance and check identification, arrest any person dressed in drag and, in some instances, force the bars to close.
But Saturday, June 28, at 1:20 in the morning when the police announced that they were raiding the Stonewall Inn, things began to go differently than the usual routine. Certain patrons resisted arrest, others jeered the police officers and, when the antagonism between the officers and those they were arresting turned violent, the crowd erupted.
It was this riot, and the few that broke out in the nights that followed, that caused the homosexual community in the Village to organize and the movement spread from there to the rest of the country.
Walking around the Village today, it is not easy to imagine a time when homosexuals were so oppressed, so consistently antagonized, that they would take up violent means to fight back. It’s also not easy to place the idealism and activism that the Stonewall Riots embodied in the hedonistic reveling that goes on in the streets.
I don’t know how to feel about the blatant flaunting of sexuality I see among the partiers or the drunken crowds packing every street corner, but I do know how I feel about equality, freedom and justice. As a Christian I have a whole other set of moral questions to wrestle with, but I know that my sin cannot be counted worse than another’s, and as a human I can’t help but empathize with those who are marginalized or cast out.
Next year we’ll probably avoid the West Village altogether on June 28. On a practical level, there are just too many crowds, too much to see that makes me uncomfortable. But I know I can’t avoid asking these questions, or working out my faith with fear and trembling. I intend to use next year’s Pride March as a time to reflect on what I know of the struggle of homosexuals for equal rights and a time to inventory their progress in that struggle. Ultimately, I intend to continue to give the “issue” deep thought and prayer and to try to remember above all that it is more than issue, that it is people’s lives that are being considered; people who I know God loves as much as I know he loves me.
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