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Pride Betrays Stonewall

Stonewall Rebellion, Greenwich Village, June 1969

With An Afterword Call to LGBTQ Progressives

It came as a great shock when it was discovered that Christopher Street West, which organizes the annual LGBTQ Pride event, was not honoring Stonewall 50 this weekend, June 7 to 9, 2019, in West Hollywood in any manner, not even mentioning it.

Instead its keynotes are “…a free block party of entertainment, vendors, exhibitors, non-profit organizations, rides, attractions, beer gardens and more…,” completely turning its back on the 50th anniversary commemoration of the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion, the very reason for its existence.

Pride’s actions represent a betrayal of the gay liberation social and political revolution and a slap in the face to the L.A. gay community.

Pride’s actions represent a betrayal of the gay liberation social and political revolution and a slap in the face to the L.A. gay community.

The 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion (not a “riot” as the mainstream calls it) will be celebrated in New York City, the site of the uprising, and at events around the country, and, indeed, around the world on the weekend of June 28th.

For LGBTQ people Stonewall is our “Big Bang,” the most pivotal event in American gay history. Gay historiography is divided “Before Stonewall” and “After Stonewall.” Its ripples have had a worldwide impact.

In the decades after Stonewall, gay and lesbian people militantly, assertively and very successfully fought back for the first time against systemic and institutionalized Hetero Supremacy found at all levels of our government, in the teachings—often deadly—of all religions, and in the hugely destructive pathological diagnoses of the medical and mental health establishments.

After Stonewall, like a prairie fire rapidly moving across the nation and then the world, gay and lesbian people ceased begging for acceptance and instead embodied radical self-acceptance.

It made all the difference.

A queer social and political revolution commenced. People were liberated. Communities created. Institutions built. Relationships valued. Societal contributions validated.

On Stonewall’s 50th anniversary, it’s a time for LGBTQ people to righteously pat ourselves collectively on the back, shouting, “Job well-done!” Not pretend like it never happened as WeHo is doing.

Something analogous would be holding a Fourth of July celebration as the equivalent of a dance party without ever mentioning the Declaration of Independence and its consequential importance.

The irony in all of this is that beginning in June 1970, an annual celebration was called into being in major American cities to commemorate the Stonewall Rebellion that occurred the year before.

This is how Pride began. The grassroots organization that emerged to organize the event for decades in L.A. is called Christopher Street West, named after the street in Greenwich Village where the Stonewall bar was located. The whole foundational raison d’être of Pride has been based on remembering and honoring Stonewall and its substantial consequences. Stonewall = Pride.

It’s as if Tinkerbell flew over the West Hollywood bubble sprinkling fairy dust everywhere, proclaiming that gay and lesbian people shall have historical amnesia, speak only in the narcissistic present tense, and forget where they came from.

When I tactfully confronted L.A. Pride’s executive director about the erasing of Stonewall 50, she replied that there will be a “Stonewall Lounge” selling beer and I can come sit in it if I wish. I actually liked her, however, she appeared seemingly clueless that she was being disrespectful and insulting to the two pioneering and generative generations that went before her own but also to the whole LGBTQ community which Pride purportedly represents.

Two pieces of ancestor wisdom reveal themselves. In the often-repeated words of George Santayana, the 20th century Spanish philosopher, a gay man, “A people that does not remember its past is doomed to repeat it.” And George Orwell, the author of 1984, also reminds us, “Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.”

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L.A. Pride, what happened? It’s really incomprehensible, unconscionable and not very intelligent. In the fiftieth year after Stonewall, LGBTQ people have created a history they can be proud of.

Pride Betrays Stonewall

GLF Demonstration, New York City, Summer, 1969

An Afterword: A Call to LGBTQ Progressives 

This postscript is not meant to exclude anyone. It is not a social media rant. It is motivated by a deep concern, born out of experience, that there is a crisis in the LGBTQ community and progressives are not paying attention. The house is burning down and the LGBTQ progressive fire department seems to be sleeping.

What has been allowed to happen this June 7-9, 2019, weekend with the Pride celebration in West Hollywood is egregious and truly a betrayal of the progressive, even revolutionary, traction our movement had in playing its role in the transformation of ourselves, our community and our society.

The words “Los Angeles gay community” have been reduced to mean a “West Hollywood gay community.” In West Hollywood anything of LGBTQ substance quickly turns to pink cotton candy.

And in terms of race and class alone, WeHo does not resemble the LGBTQ community in Los Angeles. (See my article in the L.A. Progressive archives entitled “WeHo Takes Gay Pride Hostage,” May 17, 2017).

During the last year, several late teens-early twenties gay young men have told me they are afraid to come out because it isn’t safe. I haven’t heard that level of gay existential fear since the 1970’s and 1980’s.

I know that many of you are actively involved in all kinds of social change and social justice movements as our people have always been, albeit, before Stonewall, as invisible people. Your time is limited.

Stonewall 722

However, would you be willing to devote some of your precious time to facilitating forward-

moving progressive change in the LGBTQ community?

If so, I would be willing to serve as a clearing house to collect names and call the first meeting for such a critically-needed organizing effort into being. You can contact me at www.donkilhefner@sbcglobal.net or 323.874.8297.

As Howard Zinn so wisely advised: “The way we solve the problems America is facing now is the same way Americans have always solved their problems. Organize! Organize! Organize!”

Finally, I want to encourage you to write substantive and thoughtful essays on LGBTQ subjects and submit them to L.A. Progressive. Sharon and Dick have been nothing but incredibly supportive and helpful on progressive LGBTQ issues and ideas.

don kilhefner

In the meantime, I’m queer and I’m here.

Don Kilhefner

Don Kilhefner, Ph.D., a pioneer gay liberationist, is the co-founder (with Morris Kight) of the LA LGBT Center, the world’s largest, and the Van Ness Recovery House; the international Radical Faeries movement (with Harry Hay); and for the past 20 years has facilitated intergenerational communication and cooperation. This is his 50th year of continuous frontline service to LGBTQ people in L.A. and nationwide.

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