This month is Pride Month … and I wish we didn’t celebrate it.
For that matter, I wish we didn’t celebrate Black History Month, Women’s History Month or any other heritage month. But the fact is, we still need to learn important lessons and insights to help people overcome prejudice, and we need to continue to influence the generations to come.
Pride Month recognizes the 50th Anniversary of the turning point of the LGBTQ civil rights movement – the Stonewall Inn Riots.
In the early hours of June 28, 1969, eight officers from New York City’s public morals squad took four unmarked police cars to the Stonewall Inn at 7th Avenue and Christopher Street. The local precinct had a new commanding officer, who kicked off his tenure by initiating a series of raids on gay bars.
Before that night, bar patrons had always complied with the police, frightened by the prospect of being identified in the press. This Friday night, though, they rebelled — crowds gathered, and spontaneous demonstrations began. It was the first night of the Stonewall Riots and the beginning of the modern movement for LGBTQ rights – 50 years of activism, visibility and increased civil rights for people of all sexual orientations and gender identities.
In 1969 I was in high school, struggling with my own internal Stonewall without the benefit of acceptance or a supportive role model. I was oblivious to the events in New York that would make a profound change in the quality of my life … and the lives of thousands of others.
The LGBTQ+ community in Dayton, as in similar communities across the nation, also faced harassment. Its had its own meeting places and pivotal moments that preceded today’s strong, committed, caring activists.
This month the Greater Dayton Her/History committee kicks off its campaign to preserve the stories of local LGBTQ mentors before they are lost to history.
The committee needs help memorializing the people, places and things in and around the Gem City before, during and after the Stonewall Inn riots for their Voices Project, which will be preserved in Dayton Metro Library’s Local History archives.
LGBTQ+ influencers in Dayton include Nancy Grigsby, founder of the Artemis Center which helps victims of domestic violence; Dr. Bob Brandt Jr., who championed health care for people living with HIV; Mary Wiseman, the first openly gay person to be elected into office in Dayton and currently sitting on Montgomery County’s Court of Common Pleas; Devin Dame and Gage Gatlyn, founders of the Gatlyn Dame Group, a resource for transgender, non-conforming gender persons and their allies.
There are many others. Josh Stuckey and Brent Johnson, founding members of the Rubi Girls, the drag queen troupe that has raised well over $1 million for HIV/AIDS and gay-related causes. And Natalie Clifford Barney, the American playwright who moved to Paris in the early 1900s and hosted influential writing salons for more than 60 years.
So tell us: How have things changed for the LGBTQ community over the last 50 years?
How has your life been different from what you imagined?
How do you hope life will be different for the LGBTQ community 50 years from now?
Of what are you most proud?
What advice would you give your teenage self?
How do you want to be remembered?
My friends and I have shared such stories over the years in order to mend, to move forward, and to achieve. We’ve laughed; we’ve wiped away tears. But there are still those who fear stepping out of the closet. Sharing stories teaches us understanding and compassion. It allows us to learn and grow. And, most importantly, it leaves a valuable legacy to future generations.
For more information, visit the Facebook Group: Greater Dayton LGBTQ+ Her/History. Suggest stories, let us know about memorabilia, photos and old movies that we might include in this project. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Consider donating to the Greater Dayton LGBTQ+ Her/History Project at https://www.gofundme.com/greater-dayton-lgbtq-herhistory-project.
Chuck Duritsch is a community volunteer and External Relations Manager for Dayton Metro Library.