By BOB KECSKEMETY
WILTON MANORS, FL – The Stonewall National Museum and Archives has teamed up with this year’s Stonewall Street Festival and Parade to be held on Sunday, June 19 on Wilton Drive in a joint program to help educate the community of the meaning of “Stonewall” and its relevance to the gay community and LGBT history.
The Stonewall Street Festival and Parade was founded in 1999 by a small group of people when the annual Pridefest had been moved from the traditional gay pride month of June to March. The festival founders wanted to commemorate the month of June and also wanted to bring the true meaning of gay pride back to the festival and thus named the festival after the founding of what is considered the birthplace of the modern gay pride movement, the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, New York. The first Stonewall Festival was held in June 2000.
The Stonewall National Museum and Archives, located on Sunrise Boulevard in Fort Lauderdale, was founded in 1973 and has grown into the largest library of its kind in the United States. The library has over 18,000 books and audio-visual materials and documents a century of LGBT cultural and social history with an emphasis on the southeastern United States. The Stonewall Museum has numerous traveling exhibits that are on display throughout the country.
Though the close proximity of both the location and the names of the two organizations, this is the first time the two organizations have teamed together to present an exhibit.
“They [the festival organizers] contacted me right after I started here after the first of April,” said Bryan Knicely, president of the Stonewall National Museum and Archives. “They came to me with the idea that we should partner together on this as community partners.”
“The parade and festival is one to celebrate the history of what happened at the Stonewall Inn in New York and that’s how we got our name,” continued Knicely. “We [the Stonewall Museum] is here preserving LGBT history. For the last 37 years that’s been our focus, to preserve all that history. For us it was a natural fit. And it [the Stonewall Street Festival and Parade] is the only gay pride in the country that’s named after the actual Stonewall event.
The Stonewall riots, which took place June 27, 1969, is often considered the defining moment of the modern gay rights movement. At that time, a routine police raid on the Stonewall Inn, a Christopher Street in Greenwich Village hangout for gays run by the Mafia. It was not unusual for police to raid gay bars and regularly did so to arrest transvestites and harass customers. Generally, angry customers cowered to police and left. What made this particular raid so unusual was that this particular evening, gay and lesbian patrons fought back tossing beer cans, bricks and anything else they could get their hands on at the police
officers. Police responded by beating the protesters and arresting dozens of others.
Word of the first protests that first night spread throughout the gay community and for the next two nights, the protests continued, each night becoming larger than the night before. By the end of the decade, marches were held in Washington D.C. on behalf of civil rights for blacks, protests against the Vietnam war and gay pride was born.
Since 1970, the Stonewall riots have been celebrated with an annual gay pride march down Fifth Avenue and Christopher Street in New York and gay pride celebrations have spread worldwide.
The Stonewall National Museum and Archives exhibit will be on the corner of Wilton Drive and N.E. 21 Court at the Gables Wilton Park complex for a week leading up to the June 19 festival and parade. The event is free and open to the public.