Fifty years ago today in the early hours of the morning, New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a prominent backstairs gay club in Greenwich Village, Manhattan during the 1960s.
Tired of continual police harassment and raids, patrons and neighborhood residents began fighting back, throwing objects at police as they loaded arrested patrons of the bar into police wagons.
The scene eventually exploded into a full-blown riot, which was followed by subsequent protests that lasted for five more days. These events famously became known as the Stonewall Riots. Many historians consider these riots to constitute the most important event leading to the gay liberation movement.
The Historical Importance and Legacy of Stonewall
Within 2 years of the Stonewall riots, gay rights groups had formed in every major city in the United States as well as Canada, Australia, and Western Europe. Simultaneously, fear, violence, and disownment were common in what became an age of expulsion of LGBT+ people from their families, communities, and broader society.
This tumultuous period is what gave rise to the creation of a visible LGBT+ community in the United States. With newfound political and social visibility of lesbian and gay lives and issues, those who once lived in isolation and secrecy were suddenly able to find a sense of belonging with others like them. While visibility was negative in the eyes of the government and society, it still meant that gay and lesbian people were finding places to belong, away from violence and harassment.
Even now, 50 years after Stonewall, the LGBT+ community still faces victimization around the world: concentration camps in Chechnya, stonings in Brunei, a beating on a bus in London. And this victimization occurs in the US: LGBT+ teens getting kicked out of their homes, suffering mistreatment in their schools and from their peers, or being rejected from their churches.
Why Stonewall Matters for Christians
Christians may assume it isn’t important to understand LGBT+ history — it’s only important to “love our neighbor.” Yet this understanding and knowledge is actually an irreplaceable part of loving those around us. It is key not only to sharing Christ effectively and respectfully with LGBT+ people (in the spirit of 1 Peter 3:15), but also for the safety and well-being of LGBT+ loved ones in our care.
A Missional Perspective
Learning about LGBT+ language, history, and culture prepares us to accomplish our foremost obligation: to love like Jesus loved.
Understanding the language, history, and culture of a people group has proven crucial in missional effectiveness among every people group. If we don’t know where people and their communities have been, we will make many relational mistakes that destroy trust and potential bridges to relationship with Jesus.
Learning about LGBT+ language, history, and culture prepares us to accomplish our foremost obligation: to love like Jesus loved. Without knowing this context, we lose missional credibility. The anniversary of the Stonewall Riots calls us to remember LGBT+ history.
Safety and Well-Being of LGBT+ Loved Ones
Young people in 2019 have grown up watching the church and the larger society interact with the LGBT+ community — people like their close friends and family members, or themselves. What they witness happening in our world is the repeated victimization of LGBT+ people around their gender or sexuality.
Unless Christians are aware of the unique social and cultural position of LGBT+ individuals, youth in our midst may be physically unsafe without us even knowing.
For young people growing up with same-gender attraction and/or gender dysphoria, this produces the anticipation of rejection and fear. The isolation of not sharing about one’s sexuality or gender can lead to depression, self-harm, and suicidal ideation in our own friends and family. What’s more, whether a young person discloses or not, they are at higher risks for bullying, family rejection, and homelessness.
Understanding LGBT+ history is actually a physical and psychological well-being matter for the most vulnerable young people in our families and communities. Unless Christians are aware of the unique social and cultural position of LGBT+ individuals, youth in our midst may be physically unsafe without us even knowing (and statistically, they often are). We must be aware when our loved ones are facing physical and psychological risks.
Learn More About LGBT+ History
Learn more about the victimization LGBT+ people have faced on our victimization timeline.
Josh has an M.A. in Biblical Literature, and his greatest passion is help people grow in their relationship with Jesus.
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