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What does Stonewall tell us about LGBTI activism today?

What does Stonewall tell us about LGBTI activism today?

It’s 50 years since New York City’s trans/queer community stood up and launched a movement.

Sadly, the trans community continues to be the most persecuted of the LGBTIQ rainbow. And, in many countries, all community members face death and discrimination for the act of living openly. That needs to change.

As NYC claims Stonewall as the launch of the queer movement, what can LGBTIQ activists worldwide learn from an act half a century ago?

When this uprising occurred, no individuals were armed with assault rifles. Nor were police and governments armed with data and technology.

Police performed a routine raid on a group deemed anathema to society. No shots were fired. And when people united and marched afterwards, they were met with an ignorance far simpler than today’s.

Today, queer culture faces a global conglomerate of hate groups solidifying anti-LGBTIQ attitudes, funded by billionaires.

What do LGBTIQ activists face if they throw a brick to launch a revolution today?

Police might think the brick to be a bomb. They’ll probably be more heavily-armed. The threat that individual vigilantes are armed is also greater.

Today, the response might be even more forceful. If rioters are killed, would that lead to more fear and closet-hiding for the community? Well, that’s currently happening in some places already.

My point isn’t to prove a hypothetical – but to note that that queer movements around the world face a whole new set of challenges.

We should be mindful of how leaders, global systems and our own actions play a part.

The militarization of police and security forces, as well as the level of violence perpetrated worldwide means activists still risk their lives when they stand up.

Over the past years in Turkey, tear gas, rubber bullets, and water hoses have been used to quell Pride marches.

In Georgia, authorities claim that the threat of violence is so high, a Pride March in Tbilisi was postponed.

Protestors outside the Stonewall Inn | Photo: Author’s own

Sometimes LGBTIQ people face violence just by living openly. Many lives were altered or ended forever after the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. And this happened in a place where some protections exist, but also where deadly arms are prevalent.

Those causing violence are still ignorant; their minds warped by nationalist or racist myths.

But those in charge of the opposition to equality are now well-organized and funded. They often infiltrate liberal media, with their messages of hate and mistruths about trans people.

In Europe, the World Congress of Families – funded with hundreds of millions – tries to affect political policies like bans on marriage equality and ‘gender ideology.’

In Africa and Asia, faux-religious leaders like US anti-gay activist Scott Lively visit and amplify hate, fostering fear of LGBTIQ people.

Those fears create the context for governments to use every tool necessary to fight equality – especially with technology.

In Chechnya, authorities round up those suspected of being queer by using social media apps like Grindr.

In China, government authorities read through all the messages on the most popular messaging app, WeChat. If you attempt to hold a rally or even a Pride Celebration, you’ll get a visit from State Security. Chinese queer groups must work more quietly to find ways to come together, spread awareness, and build community to get around the government’s Great Firewall.

Still, the antidote’s also found in technology, when it’s used correctly and effectively to shine a light and spread awareness about the violence queer people face.

At the UN we can shame countries into compliance if we highlight stories of queer lives. And in the court of public opinion we can share queer experiences, stories – and disprove the perpetual lies being spread. Then, queer voices will be heard, action taken.

So, as you celebrate Pride, remember Stonewall’s a symbol held up worldwide, but its circumstances fell at a different time.

No riot or uprising’s easy. Activists today hold the same courage and desires to be heard, but face new and different threats. Movements worldwide need our compassion and understanding about all of these new challenges, and our help in defeating them.

That could be calling leaders to account for violence. Condemning companies that contribute to data intrusion or violent arms. Or overpowering the voices of hate with stories of love. But remember that local LGBTIQ leaders must decide how to proceed. Before acting, be sure that local communities are on board with your good intentioned attempt to help.

You can act by getting involved locally, advocating LGBTIQ rights with local leaders or volunteering for political campaigns that advance human rights. Or you can consider being involved with national or global human rights organisations. And when you travel, be sure to read up on the circumstances for LGBTIQ people where you will visit. Perhaps there are ways you can help or work with local LGBTIQ tourism operators.

If we can uphold human rights, address violent weapons and technology, and out-power the lies with truth, equality can be won.

Ashton Giese, LGBTIQ activist, avid traveler, and Travel Advisor with Trip Concierge, resides in NYC and has traveled to over 50 countries. He writes GAYography, a weekly travel news brief and blog on global LGBTIQ advocacy and travel news.

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