NEW YORK (Reuters) – Thousands of people gathered in New York on Friday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the LGBTQ rights movement and decry what activists view as a campaign by the Trump administration to reverse half a century of progress for their cause.
The rally, organized by NYC Pride, was one of the highlights of a week of festivities commemorating the so-called Stonewall uprising of June 28, 1969.
On that date, patrons of a Greenwich Village gay bar called the Stonewall Inn rose up in defiance of police harassment, triggering days of rioting in the streets of lower Manhattan. Their resistance gave birth to the national and global movement for equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other queer people, historians say.
“Today, we have to honor the brave souls who in June 28, 1969, fought back against discrimination, intolerance, indifference, and said ‘Enough,'” Chelsea Clinton, the daughter of former President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, a former Democratic nominee for president, told the crowd in a prelude to the main event.
Starting early Friday, revelers and protesters began gathering in the park and public square outside the bar, with thousands encamped there ahead of the rally.
Police, some wearing helmets and carrying tactical weapons, barricaded the surrounding streets, a usual precaution for large gatherings such as the annual New Year’s Eve celebration in Times Square.
Some 4 million people are expected to visit New York this week, and many of them will participate on Sunday in the annual pride parade in the streets of lower Manhattan.
While the anniversary promises to have a celebratory air, activists see the occasion as a way to protest U.S. President Donald Trump’s record, which many consider to be hostile to LGBTQ people. They also want to highlight the still-precarious position of LGBTQ people in many parts of the world.
For most LGBTQ people, New York was a much more hostile place 50 years ago. Police raided the Stonewall, a Mafia-owned gay bar, ostensibly to crack down on organized crime. But their mistreatment of the patrons, part of a pattern of abuse against LGBTQ people, touched off a riot, forcing police to barricade themselves inside the bar.
While celebrating 50 years of progress, many LGBTQ activists are sounding the alarm about a series of Trump administration initiatives, including a ban on transgender people in the military, cuts in HIV/AIDS research and support for so-called religious freedom initiatives that eliminate LGBTQ protections.
The White House claims Trump has long advocated LGBTQ equality, noting that this year he became the first Republican president to recognize Pride Month and that he has backed a global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality.
“President Trump has never considered LGBT Americans second-class citizens and has opposed discrimination of any kind against them,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement.
The message has been lost on many LGBTQ people, as the Trump administration opposes extending anti-discrimination protection to gay or transgender workers under federal employment law, a legal issue currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, with a ruling due within a year.
The Stonewall anniversary has revived interest in two of the LGBTQ pioneers of the era, transgender women Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, whose names are often evoked today in defense of trans people still fighting for their rights.
“I feel like I wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Sylvia Rivera or Marsha P. Johnson,” said a 33-year-old transgender, non-binary musician who goes by the name of D!. “I really feel like it’s because of all of the work they did so I could go to gay bars, dance and explore my identity because of the sacrifices my foremothers, forefathers, and foreparents made for me.”
At least 10 transgender people have been murdered in the United States in 2019 after 26 were killed in 2018 and 29 in 2017, according to Human Rights Campaign. Nearly all were trans women of color.
(Reporting by Daniel Trotta in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty, Bill Berkrot and Jonathan Oatis)