Peppermint, Judy Gold, and Other Stars on Stonewall50: “It’s Gonna Be Huge!”

LGBTQ figureheads weigh in on the half-century anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.

On June 28, 1969, customers at New York’s Stonewall Inn in the West Village fought back against the umpteenth police raid, rioting in the street to protest unfair treatment and oppression. The result paved the way for the modern queer community’s strides forward, which is being commemorated all this Pride month, the 50th anniversary of Stonewall.

And we can look back at the horrors and rebellions of the ‘60s, knowing that we’ve completed our struggle and earned our place at the table, right? Actually, wrong. As proud as we are of our advances, savvy queers realize that we’re always under siege in certain ways and can never rest on our laurels, especially under Trump’s hate agenda. I asked a variety of icons what Stonewall50 means to them and what remains to be done.

Peppermint, Drag Race Season 9

“When I look at the legacy of Stonewall, it reminds me of just how much sacrifice there’s been. I reflect on how far we’ve come and also how far we have yet to go. But I’m happy to be a trans queer of color. I feel like all of these identities have, at one time or another, been either whitewashed or erased from our queer history, and people are starting to go back and redeem those stories. I’m happy to carry the legacy of a trans queer of color into the future.”

Mario Tama/Getty Images

Cidny Bullens, trans singer-songwriter

“In the early 1970s, I lived at 51 Christopher St. in the apartment above what had been the Stonewall Inn. It had been turned into a bagel shop after the riots. [When the original Stonewall closed after the riots, the bar was leased out as two separate spaces. Today, Stonewall Inn is at 53 Christopher Street.] I was just out of high school and from a small town in Massachusetts, but I knew the significance of where I now lived. As I struggled with how to match my own inner identity as a trans person with my outer self, I often marveled at the bravery and selflessness of those who fought for my right to live and express myself as myself—those people who literally walked in and out of the space below me. I finally transitioned 40 years later, but I’ve never forgotten whose shoulders I had the good fortune to almost literally stand on.” 

Judy Gold, comic

“I turned seven at the end of 1969, and yes, I knew I was gay. I also knew that if I told anyone, my life would be over. Homosexuality was a mental illness. I had no capacity to even entertain the thought that there would come a time when I would be able to marry a woman and have a family. Those who put their lives on the line that June night shall never be forgotten. They fought so that we in the LGBT community could live our lives with dignity and respect. I wish those we lost could come back now and see that their sacrifices were not for naught. We celebrate 50 to thank them, to continue to spread their message, and to remember that the fight is not over.”

Roy Rochlin/Getty Images

Stephanie Stone, drag performer

“Stonewall was a trash bar owned by the mob, full of the poorest and most marginalized people nobody cared about. It wasn’t men dancing the tango in tuxedos. It was drag queens, transgender people, effeminate young men, butch lesbians, male prostitutes and homeless youth. That’s who we are honoring. That who we need to remember and respect–now more than ever. ” 

Jahlisa A. Ross, gender nonconforming performer

“The 50th anniversary means that [activists] Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera’s dream is happening. I am the embodiment of that. Had it not been for them, I would not be standing. We can’t talk about Stonewall and not talk about them.”

Ann Northrop, activist and TV host

“To me, it’s all about the people rising up and fighting back. No bureaucracies, no lobbying—just pure, spontaneous, grassroots activism, in a long line of people’s movements. We need much, much more of that, which is why I’m helping to organize the Queer Liberation March for June 30—bringing our communities back to the street, rejecting the corporate parade. Join us!” reclaimpridenyc.org

Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Cacophony Daniels, drag performer

“I’m amazed that in just 50 years from Stonewall, the gay rights movement has come so far. I don’t think the queens throwing bricks could have imagined that gays could get legally married nationwide just 46 years later. Of course, our rights are under constant attack from Don the Con and his Republican cronies, but we are a much stronger community now and we have more common-sense Americans on our side. We also still have a long road ahead of us: We need to pass legislation that protects us in the workplace in all 50 states, that protects our rights as parents in all 50 states, and that protects us in housing in all 50 states. We, as a society, and as a community, also have to take better care of our trans family. We don’t have full equality yet, but we have come a long way in a relatively short time. I’m grateful for that and so thankful to the defiant, strong queer people who paved the way for me to ride the subway in a wig and a dress to sing in a gay bar every week…and also marry a man and adopt a child.”

Shequida, drag performer

“As we approach the 50th anniversary, I reflect on all those that fought, suffered, marched, spoke up and spoke out. These heroes, both famous and unsung, are the reason I continue to do what I do. On days when I am tired or my feet hurt, I think of these trailblazers, the ones braver than me, and I slap on the makeup, put on the heels, and walk out onto the stage in their honor. How dare I be lazy when so many have fought so hard and lost so much for me and they never even knew me? That thought gives me the strength to be out and proud.” 

Santiago Felipe/Getty Images

Jena Un Dunt, drag performer

“It’s where everything started. Who you are on the inside, it was all behind closed doors, but when it came out in the open, it turned out we’re no different than anyone else. We breathe, we sleep. ‘I’m in love with this man,’ ‘I’m in love with this woman.’ That’s who you are. You can’t change it. You should accept it!”

Heidi Haux, drag performer

“It means that Madonna’s going to cancel another one of my shows at Stonewall. No, it’s amazing!”

Anne Tique, drag performer

“We thank our forefathers and foremothers who fought for us. There’s still a long way to go.”

Jared Siskin/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

Empress XXX Sugar B. Real, ally and past Empress of the Imperial Court of New York

“I am shocked at times when I’m speaking to people in their 20s and they have no idea of the struggles that people went through so that they can now walk down the street holding hands and love who they want to love without being put in jail or executed. It’s upsetting.”

Ari Shapiro, NPR host

“To me, the 50th anniversary is a milestone to remember many milestones, including but not limited to Stonewall, which allow people like me to do what I do without having to fight for the right to exist openly. It was a crucial landmark moment, and there were others, like the founding of the Mattachine Society [the LGBTQ rights organization launched in 1950] and Frank Kameny’s marches in Washington D.C. in the 1960s.” [Shapiro added that since gay people are usually raised by straight folk, —unlike other groups, who are usually raised by their own kind—]“We aren’t taught the history. We aren’t raised with our history. We have to seek it out and learn about it, and Stonewall50 gives us the opportunity to do that.”

Charles Eshelman/FilmMagic

Miss Guy, drag rocker

“It’s amazing to think it’s been 50 years since the Stonewall Riots. Thank God a queer had the moxie to stand up and say fuck you, which changed the course of history. But it’s shocking that we still have to even talk about gay rights when we should all want (and have) equal rights for all people, regardless of their sexual preference, skin color, gender, etc.”

Marti Gould Cummings, drag performer-political activist

“We’ve had 50 years of wonderful resistance and pushing forward for equality for queer people, but as we see from the current administration, the fight isn’t over.”

John Lamparski/Getty Images

Gloria Swansong, drag performer

“Stonewall50 is important to me because it marks a moment when the tide finally began to turn. It’d be a mistake to think the Stonewall Riots were a first. There were many riots, protests, uprisings, and ‘firsts’ that contributed kindling for that spark to create a fire. The ‘50 year’ anniversary really marks 50 years of LGBTQ activists using that fire that took 500 years to light to transform the world. The LGBTQIA movement in America has been one of the fastest-paced, most-radical-in-its-change social movements in human history. And it’s really built on centuries of queer people dying and fighting so a moment like the Stonewall Riots could take off.”

Tatyana Monet, drag performer

“It’s gonna be huge!”

 

Michael Musto is the long running, award-winning entertainment journalist and TV commentator.
@mikeymusto