Earlier today, I met with the Spirit of Life Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Odessa, FL. I had the pleasure of being invited to come and speak to the congregation in honor of Gay Pride Month. We talked about the history of the LGBT civil rights movement and how the June 28th, 1969 Stonewall Riots are widely considered the birthplace of the modern-day LGBT civil rights movement.
We also talked about how a lower key civil rights movement preceded Stonewall and actually dated back to 1924 and the founding of the Society for Human Rights in Chicago, IL. Interestingly, the society was founded by a German immigrant who realized the US was far behind 1920's Germany in supporting gay culture. While being gay was technically illegal in Germany, gay culture was very much tolerated, especially in Berlin. By comparison, most of the US was intolerant. Not only was it illegal to be gay in the US, but it was illegal for gays to even congregate. Bars were routinely shut down and people arrested simply for coming together. Even the Society for Human Rights was eventually forced to shut down due to police raids on their meetings and arrests of its members. By 1969, not much had changed, as the Stonewall Riots were ignited by just such a raid on the Stonewall Inn, one of the few remaining gay bars in New York.
I wanted to take a moment and share this piece of history here on the blog. It reminds all of us that the march toward equality is not inevitable. Clearly, Germany took a huge leap backward, going so far as to imprison and kill members of the gay community right along side members of the Jewish faith, gypsies, and numerous other groups. It was one of the darkest chapters in human history. Unfortunately, such expressions of hate are not a thing of the past, as a similar debate is going on today in Uganda, instigated by the teachings of US-based preachers.
The lesson seems to be that full equality is simply NOT inevitable, though it sometimes seems so. Rather, our march toward equality depends on each of us being vigilant about denouncing bigotry whenever it arises.
A key value of Unitarian Universalists is the recognition of an interconnectedness of all things. This has never been more true than in the area of bigotry. Racism, anti-semitism, and homophobia - among other forms of bigotry - hurt all of us and we all move forward together when each of us takes a stand against discrimination. When we don't, we allow hate to grow. And we've seen where that can lead.