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Milestones in Gay History

In the past 50 years—particularly after the Stonewall riots—social, political, and cultural changes have improved the standing of LGBT people. Watch

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Stonewall Riots

40 Years Later: A Look Back at the Turning Point for Gay Rights

stonewall veterans

— Photo: The New York Times/REDUX

“Progress has been enormous,” Kameny says. “Sodomy laws were repealed, so we’re no longer criminals. Mental health classification changed, so we’re no longer loonies. The government is finally recognizing and respecting us. Just this year, an openly gay man [John Berry] was appointed head of the Office of Personnel Management, the group [then called the Civil Service Commission] that fired me over 50 years ago in 1957, and I was acknowledged at his swearing-in ceremony. That is deeply satisfying. It’s a storybook ending. At age 84, I am not sure that I will see full equality in my lifetime, but I have no doubt that we’re heading toward it.”

What Does It Mean to Be Gay and Gray?

“The meaning of Stonewall to me is that we now have personal freedom and liberation, and that means a lot,” says Ellen Ratner, bureau chief for the Talk Radio News Service and an openly gay White House correspondent since 1993. “We’re not ‘less thans’ in society anymore. We have the freedom to marry … in several states. We have freedom to work and can’t be fired because we’re gay … in several states. To me, that means we’re equal members of society.”

It’s been 40 years since Stonewall, and systemic persecution of gay men and lesbians has given way to justifiable concerns of aging and care. Ratner wonders what will happen to gay and lesbian boomers as they age.

“Who’s going to take care of us?” Ratner asks. “Aging and caregiving is a huge issue for us. We are more likely to be caregivers, but what support systems will we have in place? What about our benefits? If I want to transfer my apartment to my partner, it’s OK with a state like Massachusetts, but it’s not OK with the feds. Why should I have to pay a 45 percent gift tax when [heterosexual married couples] don’t? We face housing issues if there are no specific laws to protect us.”

“This is a tipping point,” says Bob Witeck, coauthor 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 lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. “On the heels of Barack Obama, anything seems possible. The ‘what ifs’ become ‘why nots.’ The next 10 years will be dramatic ones. We will see resolutions to what we’ve started. By the time our community turns 50, we will be able to report that a lot of our biggest struggles are behind us.”

The memory of the Stonewall riots is kept alive through annual gay pride parades that are held in June around the country. During this 40th anniversary year, you can participate in celebrations in major cities such as Boston, Miami, Philadelphia, Washington, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Houston, Phoenix, Las Vegas or Chicago. Or visit the Stonewall Inn and New York-based events.

Dave Singleton is the director of planning and promotion with AARP publications.

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