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LGBT Leaders Age 50+: What Does Stonewall Mean to You?

"The younger generation should know about Stonewall so that they will realize it is possible to make change. It is possible to overcome entrenched, institutionalized prejudice, discrimination, and bigotry. And that they can live full equal lives."Frank Kameny, founding father of the modern gay-rights movement

"Stonewall flourished because of the hard work of the civil rights movement, student uprisings around the country and the world, the anti-war movement, and the second wave of feminism. The late 1960s was a time for people to demand their rights, not hope that the courts or the legislatures would graciously provide them if we waited patiently for another century."Karla Jay, first woman chair of the Gay Liberation Front in New York City, Distinguished Professor, English and Women's and Gender Studies, Pace University, and the author of several books, including the memoir, "Tales of the Lavender Menace," which recounts those early years of the post-Stonewall movement

"Before Stonewall, you took your life into your hands when you tried to be openly gay. Whenever we celebrate pride, a component of that pride should be that we are proud of our history and struggle and [that we] fought back against oppression and managed to have lives under that difficulty."–Martin Duberman, author of "Stonewall"

"It’s very symbolic that the two entry doors to the Stonewall bar were always closed, with just a peephole to allow entry. We were trapped inside. That night when the police came in for the raid, the people inside rebelled and busted the doors down. There was such a feeling of freedom from that. We were out in the open, and we weren’t going back in."Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt, participant in the Stonewall riots

"Stonewall is the beginning of a true movement where we said, ‘I will not let you harass, beat, and arrest me just because you don’t like me.’ Of the big things that happened in 1969, such as the moon landing, Stonewall is remembered. It could have been forgotten. Instead, it inspired generations."Sabrina Sojourner, author, LGBT advocate, and the first openly lesbian African-American to hold the title of U.S. Representative (from Washington, D.C.)

"The area around Stonewall was the only gay ghetto in the country at the time. It was sort of like Brer Rabbit in the briar patch. He knew it like the back of his hand. Whereas the riot police were coming in from Queens and Staten Island [and] didn’t know it that well. The irregular layouts of the streets made it hard for the police to contain the crowds, but easy for the crowds to break out."Martin Boyce, participant in the Stonewall riots

"Building community, and a community center, was on the minds of LGBT folks immediately after the Stonewall riots. Marking the Stonewall anniversary is a way for older LGBTs to remember that this is our story, our history. It’s important for us to speak up about the issues that impact us now."Robert Woodworth, Director of Meeting & Conference Services and Capital Projects for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Center in New York City, one of the community initiatives developed in the wake of the Stonewall riots

"When I came out, there were no role models. I didn’t know where to go. I was depressed. Today, people who aren’t out have options. Forty years ago, we were fighting to go to a bar and not get arrested. Now we’re fighting for marriage. After we get married, we’ll be fighting with our spouses to be able to go out to a bar, just like every married person does."Michele Balan, comedian and finalist on "Last Comic Standing"

"Before Stonewall, for most lesbians and gay men, being open on the job was to invite an almost immediate dismissal and the stigma that came with it. Workplaces were merely extended 'closets,' where gay men and lesbians concealed themselves completely, and made very sure to cover their tracks, and bring opposite-sex dates to company occasions and parties. Instead of 'don't ask, don't tell' corporate-style, the real litmus test was conformity and hiding any traits, especially sexual orientation, that violated company (or society's) norms. After Stonewall, even these walls began to tumble down; visibility changed everyone's expectations."Bob Witeck, co-author of "Business Inside and Out" and CEO and cofounder of Witeck-Combs, a strategic-communications firm that’s been instrumental in giving voice to the LGBT community

"Little did my wife and I know when we got married in June 1969 that our marriage and the birth of the gay rights movement would coincide. Now when we celebrate our anniversary, we also celebrate our wonderful gay son, and we are committed to seeing that he has the same civil rights as his straight brother."John Cepek, national president of PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)

"In 1999, the 30th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, the Stonewall Inn, and the sidewalk and the streets around it, and the park across from it (Sheridan Park) were entered in the National Register of Historic Places. That was the first time a site was ever recognized by the federal government, officially, as being of historic significance because of its role in gay history. A year later, the Stonewall Historic District was declared a National Historic Landmark. That's the highest level of recognition given by the federal government. The site of the Stonewall riots was given the same historical recognition as the Statue of Liberty, Mount Vernon, and the Gettysburg Battlefield."David Carter, author of "Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution," the most in-depth account of the Stonewall riots

"We all stand on the shoulders of those pioneers. And already the next generation is leapfrogging us. I turned 50 this year, and I am happier and gayer than I’ve ever been. And I am inspired by the younger generation, who has embraced the challenge of equality with fearlessness and gusto."Hilary Rosen, CNN contributor and Huffington Post editor at large

"For LGBT age 50+, Stonewall today is a reminder of the dramatic progress we've made and a chance to look forward and hope for similar change in the decades to come. Now LGBT 50+ are called on to be pioneers in how our society deals with aging issues so that we’re LGBT-inclusive. What we've got to focus on now is really achieving health and financial security, two things which are more tenuous for our community, based on discrimination we still have to overcome."Michael Adams, Executive Director of SAGE (Services & Advocacy for GLBT Elders)

"Although an overwhelming majority of Americans support a federal hate-crimes law that protects the LGBT community, 40 years after Stonewall, we have yet to see this legislation signed into law. The old adage that those who forget the lessons of history are doomed to repeat it could not be more relevant today. Although we live in an environment where equality for the LGBT community is moving faster than at any other time in our movement’s history, it is imperative that we not forget our lessons from the past. Those who are old enough to remember being thrown in jail and suffering brutality for no other reason than for being themselves are living reminders of the hate and intolerance that can too easily permeate the fabric of our society."Joe Solmonese, President of the Human Rights Campaign

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