Prizm News / December 31, 2018 / By Bob Vitale
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, we can’t turn the clock back.
Commentary by Bob Vitale
Happy New Year!
How happy was it for LGBTQ Americans 50 years ago, at the dawn of 1969?
If they celebrated the holiday in a gay bar, they needed to be aware of whatever signal had been set up to warn patrons that police were about to enter. Men needed to stop dancing with men, and women needed to stop dancing with women; it was illegal to do so in most places.
Who knows what anyone did if they were trans or gender-nonconforming, if they were in drag, or if they just felt like painting their nails that night or wearing a suit and tie. At the dawn of 1969, in Cincinnati, Columbus, Toledo and most likely hundreds of other cities in Ohio and across the nation, local laws required people to dress in clothing associated with their gender at birth. Toledo’s law classified those who failed to do so under the label “pervert person.” The law in Columbus was one of the oldest in the country, on the books since 1848.
In 1969, sex between men was still punishable in Ohio by up to 20 years in prison. The American Psychiatric Association still classified homosexuality as a mental illness.
But the long, slow road toward acceptance and equality began that summer.
On June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Uprising began. LGBTQ patrons of the Stonewall Inn in New York fought back when police staged yet another raid. The uprising was the catalyst for a more visible, activist movement that has gotten us far and hasn’t finished yet.
We have much to celebrate in this Stonewall anniversary year. The Ohio General Assembly repealed the state’s sodomy law in 1972, and the Ohio Supreme Court struck down local clothing dictates in 1975. The American Psychiatric Association stopped calling homosexuality an illness in 1973.
In this decade alone, we’ve won the right to marry and serve our country. We’ve elected more LGBTQ people to political office than ever before. Ohio cities are enacting nondiscrimination laws to protect us from losing our jobs and homes to prejudice, and Ohioans such as Chris and Jessica Cicchinelli, who founded the Living With Change Foundation in Cincinnati, are going to great lengths to ensure that our community’s youngest receive the support and help they need.
New York will host World Pride in June as a monthlong celebration of LGBTQ liberation and history. Gay men’s choruses in Cincinnati, Cleveland and Columbus plan June concerts to celebrate the Stonewall anniversary (Cleveland’s concert also will mark the 50th anniversary of the Cuyahoga River catching fire). Across Ohio, an ever-growing calendar of local Pride events no doubt will keep the Stonewall anniversary front and center.
We certainly can’t celebrate complete success as a community, though.
In 1969, bosses and landlords could fire or evict LGBTQ people just because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. In 2019, they still can do so in communities that are home to 72 percent of Ohioans.
In 1969, a new president took office who, as Oval Office tapes made public years later would reveal, thought a gay character on a TV sitcom would destroy American culture. In 2019, a new governor is taking office in Ohio who also has a lot of evolving to do.
A week before the November election, I criticized as cynical Mike DeWine’s comments in a Dayton Daily News story. In that piece, he said marriage equality is the law of the land. He said he would continue a policy prohibiting discrimination against gay state employees. He said state law shouldn’t stop gay people from adopting children.
What DeWine didn’t say was that acknowledging the existence of a law doesn’t stop one from working to rescind it. He didn’t mention that the nondiscrimination policy he supported covered sexual orientation but not gender identity. (Gov. John Kasich added gender identity to the policy earlier this month.)
DeWine didn’t point out, either, that even if state law doesn’t stop gay people from adopting, it can still leave room for adoption agencies to do the stopping.
Time will tell if those comments by our incoming governor are a sign that he has re-examined his longstanding hostility toward LGBTQ civil rights or whether he simply realizes that he needs to sound like he has.
Regardless, I wish our new governor a happy new year. I just hope he knows it’s 2019 in Ohio and not 1969.
Bob Vitale is the editor of Prizm. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.