Kris offers us his thoughts as part of this year’s LGBT+ History Month and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.
“My name is Harvey Milk and I’m here to recruit you.”
The words of Harvey Milk, who in January 1978 became the first openly gay elected official in the history of California before his untimely assassination in November that same year.
Going through the education system during the 1990s/early 2000s, the subject of LGBT+ history, or anything remotely LGBT+ related, was something that was never discussed. This, of course, was due to Section 28, the Tory legislation which effectively banned discussion, or the “promotion”, of LGBT+ issues.
It wouldn’t be until my early 20s that I got my first insight into the history of the LGBT+ community thanks to an article surrounding the film based on the life of Harvey Milk, the aptly named, and subsequently Academy Award winning, ‘Milk'.
Reading his story and the challenges he faced opened my eyes to just some of the struggles our community had faced and piqued my interest to find out more about the history of the LGBT+ movement and the activists who fought to get us to where we are today.
This year, of course, marks an important one in that history, namely the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. It was a night which, in essence, launched the modern LGBT+ rights movement, when customers of the Stonewall Inn in New York fought back against state sanctioned harassment by local police.
The events that June night galvanised our community, instigated by individuals including Stormé DeLarverie, Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Riviera, and led to the establishment of some of the first LGBT+ campaigning groups around the world.
Now while we rightly celebrate this year’s important milestone and the achievements accomplished since, we must also remember our history and ensure we avoid allowing the tragedies of the past to be repeated.
During World War II many LGBT+ people were detained and killed in concentration camps; today we hear reports of similar atrocities in the Russian region of Chechnya.
In the 1980s the LGBT+ community, in particular gay men, were demonised as the AIDS crisis unfolded, with some taking the opportunity to attack LGBT+ rights, implying we were, amongst other things, immoral and a danger to children. This led to Section 28.
As LGBT+ equality progresses we continue to see similar slurs used against some within the community today, alongside increasing rates of hate incidents across the board.
So while we celebrate, the need to continue to organise and campaign for LGBT+ equality remains. If you haven’t already then make sure to join Proud, our union’s LGBT+ members group, and help us as we continue our fight for true equality for all LGBT+ people.
Proud is open to all PCS members, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. For more details visit our equality pages.