On the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, a Pride Rally was held on the steps of West Hartford Town Hall, followed by a screening of the film ‘Remembering Stonewall After 50 Years.’
By Ronni Newton
Rainbow flags were flying in the heat of a late summer afternoon as a crowd of about 50 people gathered at the steps of West Hartford Town Hall Thursday to rally and mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots.
Police clashed with protestors outside the Stonewall Inn – a gay bar in Greenwich Village – in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, setting off a six-day riot which came to be known as the Stonewall Uprising. While some of the details about how the confrontation was ignited are unconfirmed, what is generally agreed upon is that the incident sparked the gay rights movement that continues today.
“West Hartford is a very diverse community. We pride ourselves on being inclusive, and accepting, and embracing everyone, and what I love about ‘Pride’ is that it takes us all a moment to think about not only our unique selves but to be a proud part of a community and to bond together to make ourselves the best that we can be,” Mayor Shari Cantor told the crowd. “That’s only when we respect and honor and appreciate all of us.”
Cantor also read aloud a proclamation recognizing June as Pride Month, which had been presented when the Pride flag was raised on the Town Green on June 12. The proclamation also recognized the contributions of the LGBTQ community to the town.
Barry Walters, co-chair of the West Hartford Human Rights Commission, said, “Regardless of who threw the first brick, the first punch, or the first Molotov cocktail, the night of June 27 and early the morning of June 28 marked a pivotal moment in the LGBTQA rights.”
Thursday’s events were to celebrate and honor the bravery and courage shown in 1969 by those who stood up for themselves and for others, Walters said.
He listed several other significant incidents of injustice in the U.S., including murder of Matthew Shepard, a young gay man, in 1998, and the 2016 mass shooting at the Pulse Nightclub in Florida which killed 49 people and injured many others.
At least 128 killings of trans people, 80 percent of whom were people of color, in 87 cities across 32 states since 2013 are not even included in those statistics, Walters said.
“Today we have people in Washington who want to deny rights to members of the LGBTQA community. They want to roll back hard-fought-for rights, preventing them from openly serving in the military, from receiving competent healthcare, and even taking back marriage …” Walters said. Those in West Hartford, those who openly deny this discrimination, are complicit, he said.
“I ask you, ‘Can we let them do that?'” Walters asked. “No!” shouted the crowd.
“Say it with me,” Walters commanded. “We stand up. We fight back. And we vote,” he said, as the crowd shouted in unison several times.
“West Hartford is known for its compassion, West Hartford is known for our civic engagement, West Hartford is known for creating leaders,” said Walters. “We have all these tools in the bag, now let us use these tools and be known for standing up, fighting back, and leading the way to equality and equity for West Hartford, for Connecticut, for the U.S., and beyond.”
Slap shared a personal story about why he thinks these events, rallies, and symbols are so important. “I think, I know, that they give people courage to be themselves, to love who they love.”
A boy a long time ago, named Charles Slap, born in 1933 in the Bronx, could have used that courage, he said.
“That was my dad. He said he knew when he was 10 that he was gay. He didn’t come out until he was in his 50s, and he could have used more events like this. He died a few years after he came out of AIDS,” Slap said. “It’s tragic, he only had a few years of living his true life.”
Slap said when he sees the flag flying, he thinks that it’s “helping people live their true life, it’s giving them courage.” They won’t have to wait until they are in their 50s, he said.
In his role now, what he can do is support legislation, including banning the “Gay Panic Defense,” a measure passed by the legislature in the past session.
While Connecticut is progressive, it’s not progressive enough and there’s more that can be done, Slap said, “And I want you to know that I’m committed to fighting that with you because I believe in my core in this cause and we’re all going to get there together.”
In addition to Cantor, Walters, and Slap, journalist/activist Karleigh Chardonnay Webb addressed the crowd, saying that what will matter is what happens after Pride Month, from July 1 moving forward.
Aaron Scott and Carl Delmolino, members of the Gay Men’s Chorus, sang “Make Them Hear You.”
To close the rally, Morgana De Luxe (aka West Hartford native Michael Morgan) performed in drag for the crowd.
“I love this town and the people in it,” De Luxe said before the performance.
On Friday, Connecticut senators Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy joined U.S. Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), and Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in introducing a bipartisan U.S. Senate resolution to honor the 50th Anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. They issued the following joint statement:
“The Stonewall Uprising marked a significant step in our nation’s fight for LGBTQ equality and began a movement not only in New York, but throughout our country,” said Blumenthal and Murphy. “On the 50th Anniversary, we celebrate the lives and stories of those who courageously stood for what they knew was right. Today, we pay tribute to the progress they built as we continue that fight.”
Following Thursday’s rally, a screening of the 2010 documentary “Remembering Stonewall After 50 Years” was shown at the Noah Webster Library, followed by a panel discussion of the film and related issues. The screening was sponsored by the West Hartford Human Rights Commission in conjunction with the West Hartford Libraries.
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