50 years after Stonewall: Students share history of LGBTQ+ liberation movement
Illustration by Shannon DeLurio
An event organized by LGBTQ+ Western recognizing the 50th anniversary of Stonewall gathered queer educators in a panel discussion entitled “Schooling after Stonewall.” Panelists discussed queer youth in schools today, visibility and the connections made between Stonewall and the way it is contextualized today.
LGBTQ+ Western curated a series of events focused on three main areas to remember Stonewall; education, art and history of the movement. According to L.K. Langley, the director of LGBTQ+ Western, creating these events was a collaborative effort between their office and their colleagues around the university.
The Stonewall riots are widely considered the turning point for LGBTQ+ rights in the U.S.. The riots were a series of demonstrations in Manhattan, New York, beginning morning of June 28, 1969. Members of the LGBTQ+ community organized against a police raid at The Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood.
“It’s important to be talking about it in the context of a higher-ed institution,” Langley said. “Having an understanding of queer history, especially for queer folks who may not be studying these things otherwise, and understanding the legacies of resistance that came before us, is important.”
The “Schooling after Stonewall” panel was organized to contextualize Stonewall and what education should look like afterwards, according to the LGBTQ+ Western website.
When learning about Stonewall, it is important to focus on why it happened, Chris Vargas, an assistant professor of time-based art at Western, said.
“We shouldn’t narrow our view on the history of Stonewall,” Vargas said.
Vargas said recognizing the variety of recreations and remembrances of Stonewall helps represent the true nature of the event, which has many different accounts and justifications.
Longoria, an incoming assistant professor in secondary education and moderator for the panel, said there needs to be an academic area of study on the riots and other acts of resistance.
“Our goals were to hear the experience of educators working with queer youth, and also to remind folks that there is a lot of research and scholarship that we draw upon to inform our work,” Longoria said.
Before sitting down with the participants, Longoria gave a quick presentation, including information from the 2017 National School Climate Survey released by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Educational Network. According to the survey, 23,000 student respondents between the ages of 13 and 21 said they felt unsafe in their community. Approximately 59% felt unsafe at school due to their sexual orientation, 44% felt unsafe due to their gender expression and 87% had experienced harassment or assault.
Longoria said having these issues in school tend to erase people with queer identities, especially transgender people, early on in their education.
“If you can’t use the restroom, you can’t go to school,” they said.
While the event was based on remembering Stonewall, it also focused largely on queer youth and their ability to be visible and vulnerable in schools today.
“As an office charged with doing work to educate folks on LGBTQ+ issues, it seemed important in an academic institution to pull people together to have conversations about Stonewall,” Langley said. “It’s important to recognize that it really is collaborative work.”
Longoria said today’s youth can help older folks learn more about themselves, and that young people are great about acknowledging and understanding all identities.
Emily Carey, a panelist and middle school art teacher, said their students are receptive to discussions on gender identity and understanding each other. The students are learning to ask their peers about pronouns, Carey said.
In remembering Stonewall, Carey said the resistance of the event plays a major role.
“Queer educators are throwing bricks for just existing,” Carey said.
Morgan Paris Lanza, paraeducator and executive director of Bellingham Girls Rock Camp, agreed with this sentiment.
“You can’t be what you can’t see. If you can see yourself represented in the community, then you can realize that there’s a place for you,” Lanza said.
A panelist and high school teacher of English and theater, Kandace McGowan, said she sees a generation of activists in her students.
“I see that they are hungry for a changing world and I want to give them a place in order to do it,” McGowan said.
Other events in the series include “Pride Postcards to LGBTQ+ Prisoners” and “Stones to the Wall: How to Remember a Riot.” A chunk of time was dedicated to writing postcards to those incarcerated and of the LGBTQ+ community. According to the LGBTQ+ Western website, this event is in the memory of Stonewall and in solidarity with those incarcerated today and was held by assistant professor of history Josh Cerretti.
Another event was a presentation by Vargas, in which he presented installations from the Museum of Trans History & Art. In his talk, he questioned how we should remember Stonewall and the people that are often forgotten; queer and transgender people of color.
Langley said that it was important to their department to acknowledge this historical event and its anniversary. LGBTQ+ Western will be holding a Pride celebration on June 5 in Flag Plaza and the Wade King Student Recreation Center, where they will be raising the Pride flag and celebrating LGBTQ+ students who will be graduating.