I was standing outside the Stonewall Inn last June 24 at the moment gay marriage came to New York State. I had come to the Stonewall not to await the verdict, but as one of more than 200 fabulous queers who had gathered at Tompkins Square Park in the East Village and paraded gaily together across town in the 18th annual drag march commemorating the 1969 Stonewall Riots that marked the birth of the lesbian and gay rights movement.
We reached the Stonewall just after 9 p.m. and had a party in the streets. At one point the police roughly tried to push everyone onto the sidewalk, and for a tense few minutes I thought of [the Stonewall Riots on that very spot in June] 1969 as the crowd moved en masse — one voice, one purpose — to take back the street, our chants drowning out the dance music down the block (“The people! United! Will never be defeated!”). Though I often satirize movement sloganeering (“The slogans! So tired! Will always be repeated!”), the moment was powerful as the police receded and we reclaimed public space for queer public use.
I looked sentimentally over the crowd, amazed at the interconnected constellations of my community. I like to call them constellations — lots of glittering amid that crowd.
The gathering felt homey, like the small-town fairs of my childhood. I saw a gay male couple — one in a magenta bridesmaid’s dress and luxurious peroxide blonde wig, the other in a black corset and heels — who had welcomed me to their Thanksgiving table at the last minute, the token dyke at a table of radical fairies; two partnered elders who had been close with Sylvia Rivera; a genderqueer friend in a ’40s-looking black negligee; her ex moving in her own circles, both welcome in the crowd; my smirky babydyke next-door neighbor; our impish redheaded friend from down the block (who had just domestic partnered her roommate, though they weren’t romantically involved); numerous polyamorous permutations; the populace of various Brooklyn queer shared houses; and even my friend Ruby’s ex, who is also the ex of one of my exes (which reads like an old lesbian joke).
When I fled to the city from upstate 17 years ago, I dreamed of being ensconced in queer community; looking over the crowd, I knew I’d brought at least part of that dream to life. And as I watched that loud, lovely community, dancing in the space we had made for ourselves, marriage was the farthest thing from my mind.
It would be convenient to say we were dancing to Sister Sledge’s “We Are Family” when the rumor of statewide gay marriage spread through the crowd. People looked down at their devices to confirm the news; then a wave of cheering came down Christopher Street, and we knew it was true.
“Be careful, you know they’re going to say this was a party for gay marriage instead of an anniversary of a protest,” a friend joked. A few hours later the Associated Press claimed, “A huge street party erupted outside the Stonewall Inn Friday night, with celebrants waving rainbow flags and dancing after the historic vote.” The gathering may have ended as a marriage celebration, but it hardly began that way — neither that night at the Stonewall nor in 1969. Gay marriage is not the Stonewall Riots’ happy ending. The story of queer liberation is far from over.
And in the New York Times, the drag march had become little more than a footnote: “A drag parade on Friday from Tompkins Square Park in the East Village to Stonewall in the West Village also went on as planned — the ranks of the marchers augmented by people who gathered to be part of history.”
Were we at the drag march to commemorate the bulldykes and drag queens fighting back at the original Stonewall Riots, replete with its own tradition, custom and ceremony — somehow no longer “part of history” now that gay marriage had been achieved? Or were we just being written out of history — fast?
Gay marriage is a happy victory for many LGBTQ New Yorkers. But I am concerned that, as my comrade Sloan Lesbowitz wrote on her blog True Queer Love, “marriage might narrow the group of people we care for into a ‘family’ at the expense of the expansive group of cared-for people we currently call our community.” As we approach the one-year anniversary of gay marriage in New York State — not to mention the 43rd anniversary of the Stonewall Riots — let us remember to think collectively, to recognize ourselves as part of a larger whole. To multiply life not by “the power of two,” as the Indigo Girls would sing, but by the power of millions.
Gay marriage is a great step forward for many families; but let us never forget that we are family.
An earlier version of this article was published on bilerico.com.