Austin community celebrates anniversary of Stonewall riots

Eilish O'Sullivan

Pride flags and flags of allied organizations decorated the south steps of the Capitol as Melissa Etheridge’s song “Pulse” played, to honor those who lost their lives in the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016. Anderson Cooper’s voice streamed from a stereo announcing the names of the 49 individuals who lost their lives in the Pulse shooting. Then, those in the congregation observed several moments of silence for those who had lost their lives from AIDS, bullying, hate crimes and suicide.

The LGBTQ community and its allies stood shoulder to shoulder Wednesday night at the Texas State Capitol to celebrate the 49th anniversary of the Stonewall riots. This was the eighth annual celebration of the event in Austin, hosted by Austin Pride.

On June 28, 1969, Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City, was raided by police.

Police raids on gay bars were a frequent occurrence in the 1960s, in which police would arrest anyone without proper identification as well as individuals wearing opposite-gendered clothing, according to event speakers.

But Stonewall was different, as the nearly 200 patrons resisted police officers’ attempts to raid the bar. Eventually things got violent on both sides, and 200 to 300 bystanders joined in on the riot on the patrons’ behalf. This kicked off several days of revolt riots and helped spur the gay liberation movement, according to event speakers.

“We all stand here today on the shoulders of LGBTQIA activists who came before us,” said Jessica Soukup, a transgender feminist speaker and activist, during the event. “They fought, they struggled, they were beaten raped and murdered, they were ignored as they died of AIDS, they were subject to torture and brainwashing. I’m telling you today: We will not go back.”

Several songs which represent the LGBTQ community played throughout the event. Miss Austin Pride 2018, Kelly Kline performed “This Is Me” by Keala Settle and The Greatest Showman Ensemble, lip-syncing and dancing along to the song. At the end of the event, “We Are Family” played, and the crowd joined organizers, speakers and performers on the south steps of the Capitol to unite in song and dance.

“In June 1969, a group of predominantly black drag queens and trans women started a movement that would change the world. Fueled by passion, they fought for what they knew was right: equal treatment for all people, regardless of sexual orientation,” said Elle Smith, a Cedar Ridge High School junior and student-essay Austin pride contest winner, during the event. “They have passed that passion down to us, and now we must use that fire to grow through oppression and replace it with a new growth of equality.”

Something unusual happened at Stonewall Inn that night, said Ann Cvetkovich, women’s and gender studies professor and LGBTQ studies program director.

“Gay liberation was an idea and a movement whose time had come in 1969,” Cvetkovich said. “The Stonewall riots were just one manifestation of something that was already happening in a range of ways.”

The Stonewall bar was known for welcoming the most marginalized groups of people in the LGBTQ community, such as transgender individuals and homeless gay youth, according to event speakers.

“It’s important to remember those who were there, including, for example, the transgender women of color who have sometimes been left out of the story," Cvetkovich said. “We march on Gay Pride in order to remember those who came before us and also to renew our commitment to fighting for sexual and gender liberation.”

At the end of the celebration, event organizers told the crowd to join them on Aug. 11 for Austin’s Pride celebration.