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Stonewall Anniversary Prompts a Look at Where Biases and Tolerance Mix

This year marks the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. It marks fifty years of fighting the same way Martha P. Johnson, the black transgender woman who started the rebellion in the Stonewall Inn. The same woman who went missing without a trace, for whom the police did nothing because of her black trans status.

This anniversary marks the years of work by leaders like Harvey Milk who fought to be seen as a political equal in office, only to be murdered in cold blood by his co-worker, Dan White, who served a measly sentence due to the now-famous “Twinkie Defense.”

There’s something unexplainably isolating about growing up queer in a world that does not yet know how to deal with us. Queer is not the default of people. The default is cisgender and straight. You feel comfortable and content in your body and love the opposite sex. And that’s awesome! This doesn’t sound like it should be isolating. People are people, aren’t we? Why does the way we love people and the ways we manifest our most true gender expression change the way we communicate with people?

To put it simply, these things you may not have thought much about have affected the way people feel we can express ourselves, and valued our self worth. This is not anyone’s fault, but it is still society’s problem to fix. Perhaps one of the first steps is making queer communities not only commonplace, but accepting of everyone and well respected by everyone. Sadly, this dream is hard to achieve for many reasons. One of the biggest problems is that sometimes we ourselves don’t even know what we need in order to form communities in which we feel included. Likely because we’ve just never been exposed to it.

That’s a lot to chew on. I know parents of queer people who work tirelessly and endlessly to try and make sure their children know they’re loved. I see my non-queer friends struggle to try and understand all these confusing terms like cisgender, transgender, binary, and polysexual. Sometimes, I feel it would be easiest if there was just a book with all gender and sexual identities with one or two sentence definitions for each. Understanding allows for acceptance. Most people don’t know how to accept things they don’t understand.

Some of the struggles come from this simple fact: everyone’s definition for their identity is different. Your identity should not define you. It should be an asset you use to better understand yourself, and that identity is subject to change. And that’s okay. Think of gender and sexual identities as clothing.

You’re free to wear—or not wear—what makes you feel best. The shirt that fits you best today may not fit you tomorrow. And perhaps next week neither of those shirts will fit, or maybe the shirt you’ve worn your entire life has fit you perfectly and you don’t need or want to change it. That’s perfectly okay too!

Most notably, the way queer people communicate within communities is so radically different from any interaction I’ve ever had with a non-queer person. I remember going to a camp for young queer LGBT people and immediately, everyone treated each other with a sense of camaraderie I’ve never seen strangers have towards one another. Within the span of hours, everyone knew and loved each other as if we were all long lost siblings. It was as if we had all known each other for years, and were simply at a family reunion. It was if we were soldiers at war — and we were.

The question of whether queer or LGBT people are minorities seems obvious. Of course we are. The question of if we deserve rights (should we get to go to the bathroom of our choice? And do we deserve such simple luxuries such as marriage and not getting fired based solely on the fact of our gender and sexual orientation?) shouldn’t be a dinner table discussion. If we are to be a talking piece in social studies classes, why does the teacher assume none of us in the room are queer? 

Even though we’ve come so far since the time of Stonewall and the White Night Riots, there is still so much to be done. Still so much stigma around being ourselves, it’s no wonder we think of ourselves united as a silenced family and not the strangers we might truly be. Even inside of queer spaces, there still is not unity. Trans Exclusive Radical Feminists (TERFs) work to say that trans people are not people, and there still is a racial bias in queer communities, even though POC trans women are the foundation of this movement. I’ve even met radical alt right gay people, toting around MAGA hats in so-called safe places.

Every time these people walk in and co-exist with us, we have to ask ourselves a tough question. “Are you willing to be indifferent to this person and leave them alone, as we want to be treated, or do we say something?” Different people have had different responses to this.

Some I’ve met have said “Leave them alone, it’s not our problem” and others feel a more confrontational approach is important. For me, the most interesting opinion was, “Are they bothering someone by existing?” Because the irony is: regardless of the answer, you’ve already compromised the core values that safe spaces are supposed to provide. If safe spaces are places that minorities shouldn’t have to worry about existing, why does it matter what other people are doing?

By people wearing the MAGA hat, others in the room feel intimidated. They’re unsure of what to do, say, or even behave in fear of backlash. There’s also an undeniable sense of anger towards this person.

However, why isn’t this person allowed in the space created to be tolerant of all? The question then becomes: Can communities be tolerant of perceived intolerance? Or should these communities be tolerant of perceived intolerance?

The answer to put simply is because many queer folk feel that by supporting the MAGA movement and all of its affiliates, such as the ALT right and conservatives, you’ve sacrificed the safety of others over your personal beliefs and morals. You have chosen the other pack. Your alliance doesn’t lie with us and our struggling siblings; it lies with our oppressors.

I’m aware of the irony of this, and so are many others. The hard part is, is can you blame us for feeling that way? When you’re backed into a corner so often that you no longer know where you are safe, can you blame us for being on high alert even in our own self-created spaces?

The point is, we need to understand our biases as both queer and not to start the process of better, more inclusive communities. This June, think of Pride Month as a function to better our understanding of ourselves as queer people, and queer allies. We need to first understand the bias inside of ourselves to fix this undoubtedly broken system.

Beck Lambert is a student at Lincoln Academy.