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VOICES FROM THE MOVEMENT

28 June 2019

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, a key moment in the struggle for LGBTQI liberation.

On 28 June 1969, in response to a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York City, the LGBTQI community demonstrated against police brutality, homophobia, transphobia and inequality in American society.

Against the backdrop of other civil rights and social justice movements, the protests, led largely by trans activists of colour, went on to inspire generations of activists.

Marked by Pride marches every year thereafter, the Stonewall riots are considered a turning point for the LGBTQI movement in the USA and hold huge symbolic value for many LGBTQI activists around the world.

GiveOut is working to grow giving to support the ongoing struggle for LGBTQI equality, enabling individuals and businesses to donate in one place to fund LGBTQI activism globally.

50 years since the Stonewall riots, we asked our partners, supporters and team to reflect on the anniversary, their own activism and LGBTQI human rights today.


Amir Ashour is the Executive Director of IraQueer, the first LGBTQI-focused organisation operating in Iraq.

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What is IraQueer’s role in the movement?

IraQueer tries to support Iraq’s LGBTQI communities by leading the country's first queer movement, through education, advocacy and direct services. We publish the stories of community members to raise awareness of LGBTQI people’s struggles and triumphs, engage with states and the UN to push for legal reforms and protections, and provide safe housing, medicals services and legal advice. 

What does the 50th anniversary of Stonewall mean to you?

For me, it’s an opportunity to remind the world that Pride started as a riot, and we should be making a political statement. It’s easy to celebrate Pride in many cities around the world, but these cities have the obligation to use the space to give voices to those who might not have such spaces in their home countries. As a movement, we definitely need to hold celebrations around Pride and recognise the result of the fights we’ve been having for so many years now. It’s important to remember that politics should always be a part of Pride

What does the next 50 years look like for the global LGBTQI movement?

It’s important to remember that politics should always be a part of Pride.

Over the past 50 years, the LGBTQI movement around the world has been more organised and smarter about how to use the resources available and how to build partnerships. I hope, in the next 50 years, that the progress we’ve made on LGBTQI equality will inspire more conservative countries to start making changes to their own laws, policies and cultures. I am very hopeful that things can change – I mean, who knew that the changes we’ve seen over the past 50 years would be possible! A lot of countries have gone from extremely homophobic to protecting LGBTQI people within just a few years; Ireland, which has a conservative religious history but voted in favour of equal marriage, is a good example. What we’d achieved really gives me hope for the next 50 years of LGBTQI activism.


Jayna Kothari is the Executive Director of the Centre for Law & Policy Research (CLPR), based in Bangelore, India.

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What does CLPR do?

We work to make sure the Indian Constitution works for all, and we work especially on the rights of transgender persons, providing free legal advice and representation and lobbying in the courts for law and policy reform.

What are some of the milestones CLPR and the trans movement in India have reached? 

Up until now, we’ve made huge progress in ensuring that legislation criminalising transgender persons is repealed. In fact, in September 2018, CLPR represented one of the only trans litigants petitioning the Supreme Court to have Section 377 (criminalising sexual activities "against the order of nature", i.e. same-sex relations) removed from the Penal Code.

MUCH HAS CHANGED, AND this shows the power of a united LGBTQI movement representative of all voices.

Trans activists and community members were instrumental in the Stonewall riots. Do trans people have a strong voice in India?

The trans movement in India hasn’t always been fully realised. Now transgender persons are more visible and are at the forefront of the LGBTQI movement. Previously, for example, Section 377 was seen a gay rights issue. At earlier, unsuccessful court petitions, it was LGB voices and organisations doing the campaigning, and although they referenced ‘LGBT’, there were no identifiable, strong trans perspectives or voices. That has changed, thankfully, and this shows the power of a united LGBTQI movement representative of all voices.

What does the next 50 years hold for trans activism in India?

We have a lot of work to do. I think the next step will be to ensure that positive rights for trans persons in all areas are guaranteed, including in education, access to employment, marriage, adoption, inheritance, and so on. For this, we need an anti-discrimination law in India, which will safeguard the rights of all LGBTQI people. For trans persons especially, though, we need a Gender Recognition Act to ensure the right to change gender markers on legal documents. I’m hopeful we can achieve that!


Rachel Reese is a diversity and human resources expert. She is the founder of Global Butterflies, a consultancy that helps firms develop trans-inclusive work environments, and a Trustee of GiveOut.

What is the significance of Stonewall today? 

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It was an important movement for the community to come together and fight, and since then, it’s become a benchmark every year to remind ourselves about how the LGBTQI community is doing. For the trans community things are getting worse. Looking back at Stonewall, we must remember how well the T and LGB movements worked together in the face of prejudice and police brutality. We could stand to learn that lesson again in 2019. 

What is the situation like globally for inclusion and equality?

As we break out of Europe and lots of governments are becoming more right-wing, things are going backwards. The pendulum always swings from the Obamas of the world to the Trumps of the world, and at the moment, we’re on the less progressive side. In the UK, things are certainly going backwards. With the rise of general anti-LGBTQI violence and hate crimes, and trans people being disproportionately affected, as a trans woman in the UK, I don’t feel safe. That is why what GiveOut is doing is so important because we are taking the fight to the war, so to speak. And, hopefully, the positive changes we’re starting to see abroad will have an impact back here at home. It used to be that the UK was a world leader in terms of progressiveness; now we need to learn from other countries that are getting it right.

What is the role of corporates?  

20 years ago, when I transitioned, I couldn’t get a job. I had to present as male and become a bit of a ‘Trojan horse’ to get hired. Now, not only do I go into law firms and talk to them about trans rights and inclusion, I also know many corporate lawyers who have transitioned because their firms have shown trans inclusivity and allyship. According to a study by the Human Rights Campaign Foundation, nearly 50% of LGBTQI Americans are not out at work, and GLAAD estimates that around 12% of American workers are trans or non-binary. Corporates can’t afford not to be inclusive and engage so much of their workforce. But change will come in baby steps.

Corporates can’t afford not to engage so much of their workforce. change will come in baby steps.

Are you hopeful for the future?

My activism through Global Butterflies is based on the ‘one company at a time’ approach. We help them develop their policy and practice on trans people. The future is all about corporates. Governments come and go, but corporates are longer-lasting and can effect huge change. Global Butterflies is travelling to Hong Kong to train people on trans inclusion in an environment that is very different to the UK, and we’re doing so through corporates. I’m hopeful we can make a difference.


Steve Wardlaw is the Chairman of the inclusive insurance provider Emerald Life. He established The Emerald 50 Fund, an initiative managed by GiveOut, supporting LGBTQI activism in Southern Africa.

What do the Stonewall riots mean to you?

Culturally, I believe it to be a turning point. Everyone was amazed that we fought back, and by ‘we’, I mean a united LGBTQI movement that includes all identities, and that unity is something we haven’t seen for a while. The riots were led by trans people of colour – such as Marsha P Johnson – and it took a while for that to coalesce into a unified movement. Of course, it had an impact globally too: Peter Tatchell organised the first Pride march in the UK in 1972 because we’d had enough and saw what was happening in New York. 

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Does Pride have the same significance today? 

People forget that Pride didn’t used to be a celebration, or even a protest, but a riot. We don’t riot anymore! Maybe that’s a good thing, but I would like to see us go back to that. We nearly charged the Houses of Parliament to protest the unequal legal age of consent in the UK. A riot is an emotive act. A campaign or march has a more calculated presence – it takes a while to convert emotion into a plan. But now that we’ve claimed so many rights, we have become complacent. We even used to call Pride in London ‘London Mardi Gras’. At the time, we thought that this was an evolution in the same way that we went from the pink triangle to the rainbow flag. We thought we’d made it and forget how easy it is for those rights to be taken away from us again. If you win a right, you need to continue fighting to keep it.

What is the role of businesses in Pride? 

I’m not against corporate sponsorship at all - the world is run by corporates, and I work in the corporate sector myself. We may call corporates’ presence around Pride ‘pinkwashing’ and find it tedious, but rainbow flags and sponsoring the local Pride march means a lot to employees working in businesses where being LGBTQI is more difficult.

We thought we’d made it and forget how easy it is for those rights to be taken away from us again.

What does the future hold for LGBTQI activism?

Up until now, countries have been making progress at different, sometimes surprising rates; we didn’t expect Botswana to decriminalise same-sex relations but were disappointed that Kenya didn’t. I hope to see more empowerment of local activists, who know best how to make change happen in their own contexts. This is one of the reasons we set up The Emerald 50 Fund: to provide activists with the resources they need to do what they do best. I’d also like to see more and better education for young people on LGBTQI issues and identities. We need to teach the next generations to protect the rights we have claimed, because rights aren’t a given.


Rosanna Flamer-Caldera is the founder and Executive Director of EQUAL GROUND, Sri Lanka’s foremost LGBTQI human rights organisation. She is Chair of the Commonwealth Equality Network and a Trustee of GiveOut.

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What do the Stonewall riots mean to you?

The riots signalled a new era in activism in the USA, which then mushroomed out to the rest of the world through Prides and so on. But there was a vibrant LGBTQI movement before then. With Stonewall, a very timid LGBTQI movement suddenly fought back with more of a lion’s roar and voices were heard across the world. It sent the message that we are not going to get anywhere without fighting for it. Stonewall was a signal-flare. We need to fight, be heard and be vibrant.

Does Pride play a role in fighting for equality?

In this day and age, the Pride celebrations in some countries are celebrations, but in others they are protests that highlight human rights inequalities and abuse. Many say they are overcrowded with corporate participation – I see nothing wrong with this. Everyone should be involved and it is great to see so much support from allies. I would love more corporates to be involved in Sri Lanka – but we struggle because same-sex relations are still illegal here.

Our job as activists is based on hope and on a world that doesn’t exist. We need to make that world for ourselves.

What is the situation like for LGBTQI equality now? 

We are moving in the right direction, but other people are moving backwards. Because of all the positive changes that are happening in the world, we are seeing more backlash and more conservative, extremist views. The world right now is full of politically-motivated ‘haters’, who are propagating homophobia, transphobia, Islamophobia, and every other kind of bigotry, because they feel like their way of life is changing. Alongside this, there are many politicians around the world who have nothing else on their minds other than causing hatred, causing divisions and trying to split communities so they can rule. But whether it’s an LGBTQI person or a woman or anyone else being subjugated, we have to fight, as long as it takes.

Are you hopeful for the future?

One always has to be hopeful, otherwise you might as well pack up and go home. Our job as activists is based on hope and on idealistic notions of the way the world should be, and that world doesn’t exist. We have to make that world for ourselves. For us in Sri Lanka, with the upcoming elections, things could become worse and we can’t plan another 50 years ahead – we are unsure whether we are going to be safe or not. The way it’s looking now, we are set to lapse back into another authoritarian regime, which will come down hard on minorities of all kinds. As far as the rest of the world is concerned, I have more hope. The LGBTQI movement is gaining strength year by year. My message to activists out there would be never to give up, even if they are in countries like ours.


Glenroy Murray is an activist and legislative reform advocate from Kingston, Jamaica. He is an Advisor for J-FLAG, Jamaica’s foremost LGBTQI human rights and social justice organisation.

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This year marks 50 years since the Stonewall riots. What is the significance of the riots to you? 

For me, the Stonewall riots act as a reminder that revolutionary, community-driven action is at the heart of the global LGBTQI movement. It started, in its current form, because a set of people living their lives decided that they would no longer sit down and take oppression, and that they would stand up for their own rights and dignity. It reminds us that, as we become more advanced, technical and specialised, at the heart of what we do is a desire to make all queer lives liveable and worthwhile.

How do you see the global LGBTQI movement at present? Are attitudes moving in the right direction or are we going backwards?

Cliché as it is, I think the arc of history bends towards justice and we are undeniably in a better place than say 50, 40 or 30 years ago. We've seen significant legislative change globally as far as securing LGBTQI inclusion and rights protection. Yet that hard-won progress is not absolute so nothing we won can be taken for granted and recent policy decisions in the United States prove this. But we must remember that pushback is not necessarily the antithesis of progress, but is certainly proof of it.

The LGBTQI community are being bolder, more visible and more strident, and that can only mean a future worth being excited for.

What do the next 50 years of LGBTQI activism look like? What are you looking forward to, dreading or hoping to see?

I hope the next 50 years see a greater focus on intersectionality and diversity within the community. White gay male hegemony hurts the movement as it keeps the voices of queer and trans people of colour muzzled. There needs to be greater focus on non-traditional issues beyond decriminalization and gay marriage, and greater emphasis and funding on economic, social and cultural rights and addressing poverty within the community. While I say this, I think this is best achieved through open dialogue and experience sharing. This means we have to be weary of our overinvestment in "cancel culture" and "performative wokeness". The future is not the time to prove how right we are as a community but how much stronger we can be with our allies. 

Are you hopeful about the future of LGBTQI activism?

I am very hopeful for the future. I have seen so much change in my short time on this Earth and I see no reason why that progress would halt. More and more, especially in Jamaica, the younger members of the LGBTQI community are being bolder, more visible and more strident in their demand for equality and recognition, and that can only mean a future worth being excited for.


Antonia Belcher is a founding partner of the building consultancy MHBC and a role model and mentor for the trans community and allies. She established The Antonia & Andrea Belcher Trans Fund, an initiative managed by GiveOut, supporting trans activism around the world.

What is the situation like for trans people and the wider LGBTQI community in the UK today? 

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I think it’s hard to tell whether we’ve moving backwards or forwards. My worry is that by including trans people in the wider LGBTQI community, we made it easy for people within and outside of the community to conflate sexual orientation with gender identity. And that is because attitudes and understanding have yet to catch up with the times. The solution is, of course, education. What’s happening in Birmingham at the moment [that is, protests against including LGBTQI identities and relationships in primary education] is worrying because we need to make sure that young people know what being L, G, B and T means and looks like.

What would you like to see change?

I put my head above the parapet back in 2010 because I was fed up with the horrid, damaging press coverage of trans people at that time. We were being treated as sad, destitute cases, and that’s just not true for everyone – least of all for me. To be the true me, I have had a lot of luck, and an accepting and loving family and workplace. I know only too well that for many others this is not the case. And so, the coverage in the media has to be more reflective of all the positive stories there are out there of trans people succeeding, be it personally, in business or whatever.

How do you see the trans movement progressing globally?

I set up The Antonia & Andrea Belcher Trans Fund with GiveOut because I saw how trans people around the world were suffering and that there were limited resources available for them to fight back. Criminalisation is one of the major barriers to trans people being themselves and my hope is that we can put a stop to that in this or the next generation’s lifetime. In many places, homosexuality is still criminalised but, thankfully, that’s changing – and pretty rapidly. But for trans people, it is going to take longer, and the resources available are so minimal.

Coverage in the media has to be more reflective of all the positive stories of trans people.

What does the future hold for the global trans movement?

Recently, I was watching the documentary Martina Navratilova made with the BBC about trans sportspeople. She made some unconsidered comments about trans athletes having an unfair advantage in sport, and later apologised. Over the course of the film, she starts to realise that we want to go about our daily lives, just like cisgender people do, and enjoy the same things that anyone else does, including participation in sport. And our human rights allow us to do that. I want to see more research on trans populations, more education about trans identities and experiences and more of a push towards equality before the law and a change in attitudes. That’s what The Antonia & Andrea Belcher Trans Fund aims to do.


Claire Tunnacliffe is the Supporter Engagement and Partnerships Officer at GiveOut. She is undertaking a part-time PhD at the Bartlett School of Architecture in LGBTQI+ activism in London as a queer practice of placemaking.

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This year marks 50 years since the Stonewall riots. What is the significance of the riots to you? 

The riots were a rumbling, loud-and-clear message: we’re here and we’re queer. While queer people have always existed and pre-dated the riots, there’s so much about the LGBTQI experience that is hinged on that moment, in particular from a European/American perspective. The riots remain significant because they are part of this inherited history, a history that all queer people are a part of, and one we have to keep both relevant and remembered, while making room for differences of experiences within the LGBTQI community. It is crucial to think of ourselves as a community, but recognise there is an individuality within it that is incredibly important. The history of these riots remains important to me because they allow me to locate myself in this history but also where the differences lie, and work towards platforming other voices that have been less heard. 

How do you see the global LGBTQI movement at present? Are attitudes moving in the right direction or are we going backwards? 

I think for many in the community, particularly within the European/America context, there’s a real clarity that LGBTQI human rights are not a linear process, that things are currently precarious if not incredibly dangerous, and there’s a real risk of complacency. The drive towards equal rights, respect and safety for LGBTQI people is far from over, and there is a responsibility on members of the LGBTQI community to support one another, to use our platforms to empower others within it.

The drive towards equal rights, respect and safety for LGBTQI people is far from over.

In the current socio-political climate across the globe, the growth of right-wing nationalism and with a rise in hate crimes in the UK, there is a sense that things have become more precarious, our rights more fragile. But things are different from 50 years ago: imagine what the Stonewall Riots would have been like with the internet or social media! If anything, I think we’re just getting louder and queerer! 

What do the next 50 years of LGBTQI activism look like? What are you looking forward to, dreading or hoping for? 

One thing that feels important to me personally, is the need for this inherited history not to be forgotten, and to be taught to our young people. How can we locate ourselves in the world, if we are not told our stories? And this inherited history is often so different from perhaps our parents or our siblings, it allows us a way to locate ourselves in the world. In the next 50 years, I’d like to be celebrating the Stonewall Riots 100 years on, and all of the important LGBTQI milestones in between. I’ll be 81 years old at that point, and hopefully still covered in glitter!


 

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