Feature writing

Stonewall 50

Richie Jackson: ‘The Stonewall’s history doesn’t render it obsolete. It makes it a promise, an energy source’

The Daily Beast

June 27, 2019

Jackson says: ‘Stonewall isn’t a dusty historic relic. It shines bright violet when we celebrate and turns ashen to collect our sadness. Its history doesn’t render it obsolete.’

When/how did you first hear about the Stonewall Riots, and what did you make of them?

In 1984, a year after I moved to New York and more than a decade after the Stonewall Riots, I went to my first Pride march. It was for the annual commemoration of the riots, and that’s when I learned that Stonewall is a touchstone of gay history.

I stood in front of the bar that ignited the gay civil rights movement, where so many lives were lived and lost, on the sidewalk where Marsha P. Johnson fought back. Since that day, Stonewall has pulsed through my veins. I feel the energy, passion, and anger of the long line of LGBTQ people who stood before me demanding that their humanity be recognized and protected.

What is their significance for you?

Stonewall is the physical manifestation of the gay community’s journey and our progress. It’s our movement’s mood ring. It is the bedrock of our community—a gathering place of celebration and a repository for our rage. My generation of gay men was bound together by oppression, fear, and disease. Stonewall is a temple.

After the Pulse massacre, the gay bar where 49 people were killed, I took my son, who is gay, to Stonewall. We stood in front of it, a memorial of flowers on the ground, a sign in the window reading “Stop the Hate.”

It felt so familiar to me, an act of hate and violence toward gays, the pull to Stonewall, being pulled from the light back into darkness. Stonewall isn’t a dusty historic relic. It shines bright violet when we celebrate and turns ashen to collect our sadness. Its history doesn’t render it obsolete. It makes it a promise, an energy source.

Stonewall doesn’t have that resonance to my son. It’s now incredibly a National Monument, just one of the stops on a history class tour of New York City landmarks like McSorley’s Ale House and Grant’s Tomb. My trigger points don’t resonate with his generation.

How far have we come since 1969?

My greatest wish for my son was for him to be gay. When he came out to my husband and me when he was 15, I felt compelled to reflect on my experiences as a gay man—and what has and has not changed in the past half-century.

My son, who is now 18, lives in a seemingly more liberated America than the one I grew up in. We have made progress since Stonewall. There is increased visibility of gay people in society, we have a legal right to marry, and there is a drug to prevent HIV.

But bigotry is on the rise in our country, ignited by a president who has declared war on the LGBT+ community and fanned the flames of homophobia. A newly constituted Supreme Court with a conservative tilt is poised to overturn equality laws and set the clock back decades. I have always believed being gay is a gift. But the gains of the LGBT+ community are in jeopardy. We must not be complacent.

What would you like to see in the next 50 years?

We are facing dangerous times and troubling questions about issues as fundamental as dignity, equality, and justice. My hope is that a Democrat wins the presidential election in 2020 and is able to course-correct where President Trump and his administration have decimated our progress.

I have been a vocal supporter of Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign. There are 1.5 million LGBTQ youth at risk today—and I can only imagine how life-saving and life-changing his election would be for them. His candidacy alone is expanding what so many people in this world see as possible.

The lack of LGBTQ history and LGBTQ-inclusive sex education taught in our schools is state-sanctioned. It is systematic and well-regulated child abuse. In the next 50 years, I hope that has changed in every state in America. And I hope that we are properly fortifying and propelling our next generation safely and triumphantly to their beautiful gay destiny.