If you take part in the Stonewall Festival on Saturday in Wilton Manors, remember that what is today a parade was yesterday a protest; what is today a festival, was once a fight.

Sunday, June 28, 2015 will mark the 46th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. In 1969, in the Greenwich Village section of New York City, members of the gay community rallied in unison against a police raid at a bar named the ‘Stonewall Inn.’ We fought back. For once, we said no to bullying’s and beatings, abuse and ostracism.

Decades later, we celebrate the day, but continue the fight. The difference today is that law enforcement no longer persecutes us. It protects us. Laws no longer discriminate against us. They ensure our rights are equal.

In 1969, as man was landing on the moon for the first time, America was still only taking baby steps for LGBT rights. It was a different era. We may have had music and free love at Woodstock, but it celebrated heterosexual hedonism, not gay partners.

Decades ago, gays were forced to live in the shadows. We were ostracized and outlawed. We were deviant. We were unfit. We were blackmailed. We were ‘cured’ with electro shock therapy. We were a part from the community, not a part of it.

If a just man stands his ground, and there abides, eventually the whole world will come around to him. Today, we celebrate in the sunshine, not in the shade.

We have lost many friends along the way. There have been too many suicides, too many overdoses, too many mental health issues, and far too many losses due to AIDS. There were jail sentences and electro shock treatments for sodomites. Today, there are Mack Mixers. We have overcome. Justice has prevailed.

Today, there is a World AIDS Museum and Stonewall Library in Wilton Manors. There is a Pride Center at Equality Park and the Harvey Milk Foundation. We have SunServe, Out of the Closet, the AIDS Health Care Foundation, Broward House and Care Resources all reaching out to our community. We have Seniors in a Gay Environment and Pridelines Youth Services. We have gay choruses and softball leagues, swim teams and flag football.

We have each other’s backs.

Gay pride marches are now held from Sydney, Australia to South Florida, celebrations of a struggle we must still enthusiastically engage. As much as we can appreciate equality at home, there is still hate abroad. In pockets of Eastern Europe, Africa, and elsewhere, there are injustices against the LGBT communities every day. In Wilton Manors, the mayor raises the gay flag at City Hall. There are still places like Russia where that same act could get you arrested, so let’s not assume that all is right with the world.

We have made progress, but pushing forward is a slow procession. Thirty years ago, the American Psychiatric Association voted to remove homosexuality from the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. Twelve years ago, the Supreme Court repealed all sodomy laws. This year, they will repeal ‘defense of marriage’ acts that unconstitutionally inhibit gay and lesbian couples from marrying lawfully.

These are things you can’t forget.

A gay soldier, Leonard Matlovich, wrote on his tombstone “when I was in the Army, they gave me a medal for killing two men, but threw me out for loving one.”

As you watch the parade this weekend, walk shirtless down Wilton Drive, consume a drink here or there from the local pub, don’t forget Leonard Matlovich or the Matthew Shepards and Harvey Milks of days past. You stand proudly today because of what they did for you yesterday.

Still, Stonewall is not just about our past. It is about our future. We are male and female, and transgender. But we are one, we are together, and we are united in our assertions of equality for all. This commitment should override our differences. It should allow for diversity and discourse within our own circle.

Stonewall is a celebration for everyone, not a distillery promoting a new vodka, or a media company hosting entertainment stages. No, that is not what we are about.

We are a community of many identities, but none more important than your unique individuality. Shakespeare said it best, “This above all, to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.”

Be as you are and in the right place you will be.


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