In 1969, shortly after The Open University received its charter, a bar was raided in Greenwich Village, New York. What wasn’t known then was that this raid by New York Police Department (NYPD) on the Stonewall Inn was to ignite a generally peaceful equality movement around the world. It was the beginning of visible activism that would go on to fight for the rights of the misrepresented and virtually invisible lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) minority. The riots that were triggered by the raid on Stonewall became an important milestone in the fight for LGBT rights and the tipping point for affirmative action for the gay community. Many people stood out as advocates for LGBT society at that time, including famously Harvey Milk. However, a bright, shining symbol of that time is Marsha P. Johnson. Marsha was a campaigner and advocate for gay and transsexual rights at a time when civil rights were a hot political topic. Often known as the Mayor of Christopher Street, she was at Stonewall during the height of the riots and allegedly threw a shot glass into the burning bar which was later described as “the shot glass that was heard around the world”. The shattering of that glass caused ripples that inspired and motivated the gay rights movements, not just in the United States but around the world, and a year later the first gay Pride marches took place in New York, Los Angeles, and San Francisco.
In a time when the LGBT community have the comfort of equality in many countries, the United Kingdom has been, to a greater degree, been at the forefront of the campaign for equality. Around the world there have been changes; India has in the recent past decriminalised homosexuality, a hangover from the days of Empire; Taiwan has legalised same-sex marriage and Hong Kong are now issuing visas to same-sex couples. There remains a challenge from conservative opponents and there is often a gulf between the legal status of the heterosexual and LGBT community in many countries. It is a gap between a heteronormative world and what is considered by some to be an alternative lifestyle of choice, this, in essence, is why the LGBT community continue to march 50 years after Stonewall. There are still many countries where being gay is a criminal offence and recent media reports of law changes in the Far East have called for boycotts of countries and corporations.
So why is it important to march and celebrate Pride today? In simple terms, it is to celebrate diversity, to be proud of the past and the future of the community but also to educate and to inform. The need to march remains because of the continuing challenges that are faced by the LGBT community both at home and abroad. Even in Britain discrimination and disparity exist, with Northern Ireland remaining the only part of the United Kingdom not to allow or legislate for same-sex marriage. During Pride season, marches take place to ensure that voices are heard, and as students of The Open University, we are fortunate that they too embrace the diversity of the student community. Now more than ever participating in Pride is as important as it was back in 1970 during those first parades, and if Stonewall has a legacy, it shows that by coming together the LGBT community is stronger in the face of a challenge.
This year PLEXUS, the Open University’s Student Association LGBT+ society will be taking part in Pride events in all four home nations with plans to participate in Edinburgh, Cardiff, Belfast, Bournemouth and Nottingham Pride as well as going to Dublin in late June. As Pride season gets underway we look forward to welcoming our members, friends and allies and as we march for Marsha, for Harvey and for each other continue a legacy in the campaign for awareness and equality. Happy Pride!