On a summer night in 1969, a movement years in the making was invigorated and sparked at the Stonewall Inn.
On June 28, 1969, New York City’s then-underground queer community fought back against police oppression when officers raided the popular bar. The Stonewall riots became a pivotal moment in the history of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) rights movement.
This Pride Month, on the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, Human Rights Watch celebrates global progress towards decriminalization of consensual same-sex relations and marriage equality in a series of maps highlighting the state of LGBT rights around the world.
Since January, Angola and Botswana have decriminalized same-sex relations. Bhutan has taken similar steps, while Austria, Ecuador, and Taiwan have removed legal obstructions to same-sex marriage. Hong Kong’s high court struck down penal code provisions that discriminated on the basis of sexual orientation and recently granted same-sex spousal benefits, finding that “the absence of a majority consensus as a reason for rejecting a minority's claim is inimical in principle to fundamental rights.”
Botswana’s high court struck down “unnatural offenses” laws, stating any laws that “oppress a minority” amount to “discrimination against all.” Ecuador’s constitutional court, citing its constitution’s equality clause, ruled that authorities have an obligation to provide for same-sex marriage.
But a year worthy of celebration also witnessed setbacks. Kenya’s high court upheld its colonial-era discriminatory law and the US proposed reversing nondiscrimination policies protecting transgender people’s right to health. Brunei adopted an abusive penal code imposing the death penalty on sex between men, though responded to the international outcry by declaring a moratorium on capital punishment.
The fight will continue so long as governments do not fully respect and protect the “inherent dignity” and “equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family” – as the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights eloquently pronounces – regardless of their gender identity, gender expression, or sexual orientation.
Fifty years ago, those who had grown tired of running away from the authorities – transgender people, bisexuals, lesbians, gay men, runaway youths – stood up against oppression at Stonewall. They have inspired generations of activists and jurists around the world, who have worked tirelessly to overcome legal obstructions to equality. Much of the progress we see today is owed to their courage. While we share both joy and tears this Pride Month, we continue to carry the spirit of Stonewall forward. We must not let the light go out.