June 28

June 1969. Two months before Woodstock, another New York event changed America in a profound way.

There’s no one moment that “started” the gay rights movement, but many say it began around 1:20 in the morning on June 28, 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in New York City.

The Stonewall Inn was a gay bar on Christopher Street in Greenwich Village. When a handful of officers raided Stonewall in the wee hours of June 28th, they were well within their rights. The bar was owned by the mafia, and it didn’t have a proper liquor license. But the gay clubs were raided with uncharacteristic frequency, and the police would go the extra step of arresting customers en masse for “disorderly conduct.”

The half dozen police officers expected that the gay clientele would comply and line up docilely, which may have accounted for the lack of backup. The last thing they imagined was that their safety would be in danger from drag queens and other gays and lesbians who had been harassed one time too many.

Back in 1969 homosexual sex was outlawed in virtually every state. Even New York City, vigilante crews had formed to rid the city of the gay menace. Expressing a homosexual orientation in public could mean not just being ostracized, but beaten or even killed.

Stonewall’s windows were painted black. To get in patrons knocked on the club door and were peered at through a peephole. By raiding Stonewall, the police brought homosexuality into the outside world, but not in the “shameful” way they anticipated. Instead, as word spread quickly of the raid, homosexuals converged from all parts of the Village, to join in the Boston Tea Party of modern times. Essentially, ‘gayness’, normally confined to the interiors of clubs, exploded onto the streets, loud and wild and raucous. Rioters shook buses, blocked traffic, and shouted “Christopher Street belongs to the queens!”

Stonewall Jackson ('cause there are no public domain pics of the Stonewall riots.)

“…as the patrons trapped inside were released one by one, a crowd started to gather on the street. It was initially a festive gathering, composed mostly of Stonewall boys who were waiting around for friends still inside. Cheers went up as favorites emerged from the door, striking a pose and swishing by the detective with a “Hello there, fella.”… Suddenly a paddywagon arrived and the mood of the crowd changed. Three of the more blatant queens—in full drag—were loaded inside, along with the bartender and doorman, to a chorus of catcall and boos from the crowd…The next person to come out was a dyke, and she put up a struggle. At that moment, the scene became explosive.” (Village Voice, June 19, 1989, Lucian K. Truscott IV)

The following evening the rioting grew fiercer. Supporters, both gay and straight, gathered along Christopher Street, and the Tactical Patrol Force couldn’t bring order back to the streets.

Meanwhile the owners of the club changed Stonewall overnight to seize onto the symbolic value their club had suddenly attained. By Saturday night they served only sodas and were giving them away for free.

Before June 28, 1969, “the Stonewall Inn attracted larged crowds of chino-clad gay men in their late teens and early twenties because the Mafia-owned bar allowed men to dance with each other as long as they were willing to pay exorbitant prices for watered down drinks.” (From Perverts to Fab Fave, Bigner & Streitmatter) After June 28, 1969, it brought gay rights to the public consciousness and became the rallying cry for a new nation-wide civil rights movement.

Four years later homosexuality was reclassified in the DSM (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) from a mental disorder to a “sexual orientation disturbance.”

Police departments also learned from the mistakes at Stonewall. First and foremost, never raid a gay bar right after Judy Garland’s funeral. Judy Garland died in London the week before of an overdose of sleeping pills. Her body was transported to New York, and Wednesday through Friday, thousands of her fans, many of them gay, passed by her coffin to pay their respects. The raid was that night. Recalled Seymour Pine, the officer who planned and led the raid, “If I had known that Judy had died at that point, I wouldn’t have had the raid.” (The Villager, June 2004)

Judy Garland, 1957

Mabo Day – Australia

On May 27, 1967, the Australian public voted to alter the language of the Constitution to remove discriminatory laws against the indigenous people.

One such Constitutional clause had previously declared:

“In reckoning the numbers of the people of the Commonwealth, or of a State or other part of the Commonwealth, aboriginal natives shall not be counted.”

Still, even decades after this sweeping reform, the Australian court held to a policy known as Terra Nullius. Terra Nullius was the doctrine that insisted that the occupation of the Australian continent did not occur until after European ‘discovery’ and colonialization. This historical whoops now generally estimated to be about 40,000 years off. It wasn’t overturned until the last decade of the 20th century, on June 3, 1992, in the extraordinary case of Eddie Mabo.

Eddie Mabo - Mabo Day

Born on the island of Mer in the Torres Strait in Queensland, Mabo was working as a gardener and groundskeeper at James Cook University when he was denied passage back to his birth island during a trip to visit his ailing father. Mabo took on the aged Australian albatross of indigenous landrights disputes. While pursuing a teaching degree (in his 40’s) Mabo waged a decade-long legal battle confronting the fallacy of Terra Nullius. He took his case all the way to the highest court in the land.

“The Mabo decision is arguably the most important decision that the High Court of Australia has made since Federation. It states Indigenous people have Legal Rights not just Symbolic Rights to all Crown Land in this country, as well as possible rights to pastoral leases. Mabo Day marked the beginning of a new era for Indigenous people. It changed Australian’s views of themselves and their rights to this land. It has forced mining companies and the corporate world to take stock of Indigenous peoples’ claims. It has radically altered the relationship between Indigenous and non Indigenous people in this country.”

Though Mabo Day is not an official holiday in Australia, the week from May 27 to June 3 is now known as Reconciliation Week. It is a week meant to encourage dialogue and help mend centuries of injustice against the nation’s indigenous people and to foster healing between Australia’s diverse communities.

Sorry Day – Australia

May 26

That’s the difference between the UN and Australia. The UN would have called it “Day of Remembrance and Apologies for Injustices committed upon Indigenous Peoples” or something longer. Australians cut to the bone.

There are a number of things to be sorry about with regards to treatment of Australia’s Aborigine population, but Sorry Day focuses mostly on one particularly terrifying aspect—the taking of Aboriginal children from their families in an ill-conceived ‘re-education’ project during the early-to-mid 20th century.

Between 1910 and 1970 an estimated 20,000 to 25,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island children were removed from their homes, in what amounted to essentially legally-sanctioned kidnappings. The full scope of the project and its failure were the subject of a government investigation in the 1990s.

Accounts of the “Stolen Generations” have inspired numerous books, plays, and movies, including Doris Pilkington’s 1996 novel Follow the Rabbit-Proof Fence and its 2002 film adaptation Rabbit-Proof Fence.

The results of the government investigation were released in the “Bringing Them Home” report, which was published on May 26, 1997.

The publication of “Bringing Them Home” coincided with another anniversary: the 30th anniversary of the Referendum of May 27, 1967, in which 90% of the Australian public voted to alter the language of the Constitution to remove discriminatory laws against indigenous people.

Henceforth, the week from May 27 to June 3 became Reconciliation Week in Australia.

Our friends Down Under tell us that Sorry Day is no longer an annual observance, but Reconciliation Week is. It is a week meant to encourage dialogue and help mend centuries of injustice against the nation’s indigenous population.

Freedom Day – South Africa

April 27

Today is Freedom Day in South Africa, a country that doesn’t take freedom for granted. Freedom Day celebrates South Africa’s first democratic elections, held on this day in 1994.

Voting began on April 26, for the elderly, the ill, and pregnant women. The general election was held from April 27 to April 29, and was open to all South Africans 18 and older, regardless of race. Prior to the election, non-whites had limited voting rights. Under the apartheid system that ruled the country since 1948, voting was essentially restricted to white South Africans.

That’s not to say there were free elections before 1948. The Dutch East India Company established the first “refreshment station” on the Cape in 1652. In the 19th century, British settlers arrived in increasing numbers, and black rights gradually eroded.  Blacks and Indians were excluded from government in 1910, when the Union of South Africa was formed. Later laws required black South Africans to carry special passbooks and banned them from owning property outside of certains “reserves”. These reserves made up only 13% of the land area of South Africa, despite the fact that blacks made up an overwhelming majority of South Africa’s population.

After the National Party came to power in 1948, several laws restricted rights even further: the Prohibition of Mixed Marriages Act of 1949, the Immorality Act of 1950, the Population Registration Act, and the Group Areas Act, which forced black South Africans to move out of neighborhoods that were designated as “white only”.  Future laws segregated virtually every aspect of South African life, from elementary schools to swimming pools.

Signs of Apartheid - Durban Beach, 1989
Sign of Apartheid, 1989

No one event brought about the end of Apartheid. The struggle combined international pressure from both governments and corporations, economic sanctions, internal boycotts, and other forms of resistance. Apartheid laws fell one by one, the African National Congress was reinstated as a legal organization, and in 1990 Nelson Mandela was released from prison.

Mandela became the first black President of South Africa after the election of 1994. He was inaugurated on May 10. Every year since, South Africa has celebrated April 27 as Freedom Day.

This year’s Freedom Day celebrations “happen on the eve of the biggest sporting event, the 2010 FIFA Soccer World Cup, which will for the first time take place on African soil.” — Gauteng province to host the Freedom Day national celebrations

[For Americans: Soccer is a big sport in much of the world outside the States. Much like basketball except it’s played outdoors on grass and players can’t use their hands.] Like many new holidays, traditions are still being formed:

“The only thing I’m not sure about is how we are supposed to celebrate Freedom Day. I know and respect everything associated with the day but for me it is just a public holiday where I chill and do whatever. On the odd occassion, I will watch SABC 2 to hear and see what rallies are happening…”

Celebrating Freedom Day –

Others call April 27 “unFreedom Day”, using the holiday to comment on the sharp divide between the rich and poor still all-too evident in South Africa.

“There are many in South Africa who feel that Freedom Day is a cruel joke which attempts to gloss over the true social concerns of citizens. Abahlali baseMjondolo, which means “shack dwellers” in isiZulu, is an intellectual movement formed in early 2005 in Durban, South Africa. To counteract Freedom Day, a day that actually reminds the poor in South Africa just how un-free they are, Abahlali spread the realities of UnFreedom Day through educational discussions, meetings and creative expression in films and music. UnFreedom Day has also begun to take on a positive meaning, a reminder of just how strong and united the movement has become.”

Alex J. Hyatt – unFreedom Day in South Africa

Freedom Day: 27 April

South Africa Split on Freedom Day

the Promised Land

April 4, 1968

Early Morning – April 4
A shot rings out in the Memphis sky
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride

— Pride (In the Name of Love), U2

40 years ago Martin Luther King Jr. looked off the balcony of his room on the second story of the Lorraine Hotel.

King had given what would be his last address the day before. The Mountaintop speech. King was used to death threats, but their increasing frequency and vindictiveness had reached a point that even King himself may have known he was on borrowed time.

In his last speech King alluded to the journey of Moses and the Hebrew slaves who escaped from bondage in Egypt, only to wander for 40 years in the desert.

After four decades, God called to Moses and told him to stand on the mountaintop, to look over the land God would bestow on the Israelites.

Then the Lord said to him, “This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, ‘I will give it to your descendants.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it.”

— Deuteronomy 34:4

“Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land.”

— Martin Luther King Jr., April 3, 1968