Friday, July 31, 2020

Stonewall Riots: A Pillar In The Movement For American LGBTQIA+ Rights

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The Stonewall Inn in 1969 | Source: David via Flickr

The Stonewall Riots are globally remembered as the cornerstone of Pride Month, and rightfully so. Fifty-one years ago, a routine police raid on Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York turned into an upheaval against homophobic society, laws, and policing.

In the early hours of June 28, 1969, a police raid— often conducted on secret or private bars that exclusively served LGBTQIA+ patrons— turned its head on the New York Police Department.

The Stonewall riot in 1969 | Source: David via Flickr

Some accounts say that the pivotal moment came when few of the lesbians who were brutally shoved into a police wagon showed resistance. In response, the crowd lit up in anger and resistance. Instead of running away to save themselves, the patrons fought back, even leading to the police barricading themselves within the bar itself as they waited for backup.

The Stonewall riot in 1969 | Source: David via Flickr

News of the clash spread and more people gathered, throwing anything they could find: nickels, garbage cans, broken bottles, and yes, bricks too, though ‘the first brick’ may have been more myth than real. Eventually, it took the fire department and a riot squad to quell the riots on the first night.

Defiant, Stonewall reopened the next evening, and the confrontation between police and community members continued for the rest of the week, drawing hundreds and upto thousands of community members. A total of twenty one protestors were arrested over the week, with the majority being arrested on the first night itself.

It’s hard to pinpoint what exactly led to the Stonewall riots, or the status that it earned in present-day Pride and LGTBQ+ liberation movements. The movement for LGTBQ+ rights existed before Stonewall (if relatively subdued relative to what came after), and so did the concept of ‘Pride,’ in the form of ‘Personal Rights in Defense and Education’ (PRIDE) that went on to become the Advocate magazine.

Stonewall wasn’t even the first time the community clashed with the police. It has been postulated that the act of naming, “the first to be called the first,” and the decision of organizers to commemorate its anniversary in the form of ‘Christopher Street Liberation Day’ contributed largely to Stonewall becoming a permanent and popular fixture in LGBTQIA+ history and collective memory.  

Regardless of the contributing factors, the cultural impact of Stonewall on American and Western LGBTQIA+ communities was immediate and intense. It became the epicentre of a louder, more radical movement. The community had tried it the ‘respectable’ way through organisations such as Mattachine, but it didn’t get them anywhere.

The number of LGTBQ+ focused organisations and magazines soared after Stonewall, going from around two dozen to four hundred. These included radical organisations such as the Gay Liberation Front and Radicalesbians.

The year after Stonewall, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, who were present at the riots and are considered transgender icons, created the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), which focused on struggles of drag queens and trans and gender-non-conforming youth who often lived on the streets.

Stonewall Inn as it existed no longer stands, but the new Stonewall Inn in the same street and the park across it have been recently declared as a historic national monument.

The old Stonewall was not a luxurious bar in terms of drinks or furnishings. It was not a place frequented by upper or middle class, white, cisgender gay men. Being a dance bar whose patrons included working class or homeless LGBTQIA+ people and drag queens, it was often looked down upon. All of that changed in one week, and the spirit that shone in Stonewall that night continues to resonate and be celebrated in the hearts of all LGBTQIA+ people.

In light of the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests and the rioting that happened alongside, many LGBTQIA+ people on social media have responded to criticism by reminding people of Stonewall, and how the “first Pride” was a riot led by Black and Latin transgender women, gender non-conforming youth, and other LGBTQIA+ people of colour, the very people whose history and resistance has often been white-washed, diminished, or erased altogether.

As said by Martin Luther King Jr., “A riot is the language of the unheard.”

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October 23, 2020 3:57 PM

Male gaze, their female guardians and sports-wear

In Helen Cixous’ essay, ‘The Laugh of Medusa’, she urges women to redefine what their body means to them, not just physically but also socially, emotionally and politically. This could happen by re-writing about your body in a way you deem  fit, the expression you identify with and separating it from how your body has been written about by men. The expression could be how you view your body separate from the patriarchal lense.

It is no secret that a woman’s body is subject to critique. While clothing for men is just a tool to cover themselves as per the surrounding environment, clothing for women isa social and political narrative that dictates their life or as we affectionately call it ‘culturally appropriate’.

The clothing style could vary. It could be a woman covered head to toe in a Burqa, it could be a woman who decides to wear sports-wear in a park or it could be jeans and a top. Everything is critically evaluated by men and by women who work towards protecting the male gaze.

The male gaze is a heterosexual way of looking at female bodies that sexualises these bodies into an object. It is a gaze that runs on the self-affirmative notion that the bodies of women, and what they do with it, is directly linked to how they  appear in front of a man.

In a recent incident in Bangalore, India, popular Indian actress Samyuktha Hegde was abused and threatened by senior political leader of the congress party, Kavitha Reddy,  for wearing sports-wear, in Bangalore’s Agara Lake park. She was exercising with her friend.

Kavitha Reddy initially claimed she was in indecent attire and went onto morally police and then later abused the actress and her friend.  A supposedly progressive political leader gets uncomfortable by what women are wearing. It breaks into an argument and a fight where the politician is supported by five to six men. Later on, the police appear to be appeasing the politician instead of the women who were harassed. Although she did apologise, her apology came after her video went viral, and as a protection for her own political reputation.

To look at Samyuktha Hegde’s clothing as a threat is to view her clothing as an act of obscenity therefore bullying her identity and sense of agency and reducing her to sexual object, who, by putting her in public, apparently gives the men present a right to look at her? Nevermind that she was there to workout like everyone else, her actions were confused as to how men look at her. In the video posted by the actress, the politician is surrounded by men who are championing her on. The politician choses to side with the patriarchal figures in shaming these women. Asking to protect from the male gaze is a far stretch but punishing women for the male gaze is where we should draw a line.

What roles does Kavitha Reddy play? She is the guardian of the male gaze. We find her in our mothers, in our grandmothers, in aunties and sometimes our friends. She understands a woman’s body as an object that is there to be looked at by men. She gets angry at women for wearing certain kinds of clothing but she is not angry at men for looking. The agency in this case always belongs to men.

When Cixous asks women to re-define their identity, she urges us to strangle the moral police that comes alive in such instances. It is the moral police that shames women for wearing clothes that don’t flatter their bodies or clothes that do flatter them. She urges us to reflect upon the source of such vigilance. Do we shame other women because we believe in what we are saying or our identity is partially (or  wholly) shaped by the male gaze?

Whether we chose to wear a burqa, or a dress, or variations of the new type clothing produced everyday, the crux of the matter is that it should not worry anyone apart from the one wearing it. The identity of a woman, sexual or otherwise, has to be redefined to be separated from the men and their gaze. We have to draw a line otherwise people in power will continue to abuse their power and preserve patriarchy and male gaze.

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