Here's the thing: Shadows worth following

Poetry is one of my favorite past times. I can’t write it- I’ve tried- but I can enjoy it.

I appreciate the way writers can turn ordinary objects and experiences into metaphors that open up a new world and way of thinking. One of my favorite poets is Rudy Francisco.

He performs at spoken word events often and has a way of making you see exactly what he’s speaking about. One of my favorite lines of his is, “My hobbies include editing my life story, hiding behind metaphors · and trying to convince my shadow that I’m someone worth following.”

I had never really thought about shadows in that way before. Oftentimes we use them as ways to describe dark and sinister things but not often do we take that dark spot and realize it can be used to encourage and uplift the spirit.

June is a historic month for a lot of reasons. June 1 marks the beginning of Pride month and in 2020 the news has been dominated by the amplification of voices in the Black Lives Matter movement.

Although two separate movements, they intersect in an interesting way. Pride month all began with the Stonewall Inn riots in Greenwich Village, NY in 1969.

In the early 60s, gay Americans could not be served alcohol with the argument being that by simply gathering they were being “disorderly.” This was overturned in 1966 and patrons began to flock to gay bars, seeking them out as a refuge.

Anything defined as “gay behavior” such as same-sex couples holding hands, kissing or dancing together was still illegal and police harassment of gay bars increased dramatically. However, the mafia saw a loophole in this and purchased several bars, turned them into gay bars and used bribery and blackmail to avoid police interference and run the establishments as they wanted.

The Stonewall Inn in particular became an important establishment not only for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Questioning, plus (LGTBQ+) community, but the outcasts such as drag queens and gay homeless youth that were shunned from other clubs.

Because of laws criminalizing homosexuality, raiding gay bars became routine in New York City. But, with the mafia running the establishment, word almost always got back in time for patrons and staff to right any wrongs before the police arrived.

On June 28, 1969 they were not so lucky.

With nobody inside the Stonewall Inn aware of the upcoming raid, police stormed in with a warrant and roughed up unsuspecting patrons, found bootleg alcohol and arrested 13 including employees and those violating the state’s gender-appropriate clothing statute that made cross-dressing (drag) illegal.

Instead of fleeing the scene, patrons stood outside the bar to protest and within minutes a full-blown riot ensued. The police, recognizing they were outnumbered, took a few prisoners inside and tried to barricade themselves in.

The angry mob outside attempted to set the building on fire but it was eventually put out by the fire department who arrived shortly after. Everyone escaped unharmed and the riots continued in the city streets for five more days.

The Stonewall riots did not start the gay rights movement but they did add fuel to a fire that had been burning for decades. Multiple gay rights organizations such as the Gay Liberation Front and Human Rights Campaign were started as a result.

One of the major players in the Stonewall Riots was Marsha P. Johnson, a black trans woman from New Jersey. Johnson worked her way up from living on the streets to working in a nightclub and eventually became a well known drag queen in New York City.

I’ve seen several posts commemorating her and I’ve thought a lot about her this month as the Black Lives Matter movement has been amplified once more. Without black Americans and their courage to stand up for the rights every American deserves, we might not have pride month and for many, this is a month of hope, security and love.

So when I see posts where people say the Black Lives Matter movement has started, I have to disagree. The movement has been going on for decades. There are leaders out there who have sacrificed everything to ensure people like them can continue to live their lives to the fullest. The world changes by example; not opinion.

All black lives matter. And the people who started this fight, well, I’m convinced their shadows are the ones worth following.