|Thousands Protest in from t of the Stonewall in NYC (photo GETTY IMAGES/BRYAN R. SMITH)|
Why is the LGBT United in different causes of injustice or prejudice? They have been there!
“We have faced institutional oppression for as long as society has existed,” Corey Johnson, a young, gay New York City Council member, said on Saturday afternoon. “Progress is not guaranteed.” He was speaking to the several thousand demonstrators who had gathered outside Manhattan’s Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of the gay-rights movement. The last time such a large crowd converged on that spot, in June, it was to mourn: forty-nine men and women, many of them college-aged Latinos, had just been murdered at Pulse, a gay night club in downtown Orlando; the whole nation seemed to join in solidarity with its vulnerable citizens, even if Donald Trump, seizing on the shooter’s apparent allegiance to isis, tweeted that the murders proved him “right on radical Islamic terrorism.” Now, with Trump’s brand of hateful opportunism given the full force of law, the community came together again, to steel itself against threats to come and to protest the progress that has already been rolled back. As Johnson put it, referring to Trump’s anti-Muslim immigration ban, “We will treat injustices done against our neighbors as if they had been done against us.”
After more than a decade in which leading L.G.B.T.Q. organizations focussed their fight on same-sex marriage, a right held most dearly by affluent whites, Trump’s ascension is driving the gay-rights movement to embrace its greatest natural strength: its extension across lines of race and class. Zeke Stokes, a vice-president at glaad, told me, “Our top priority is to make sure that we are locking arms with other parts of the progressive movement,” and Hari Nef, the trans actress and model, led her remarks at the rally with the legend of Marsha P. Johnson, a black trans woman who is said to have thrown the shot glass that started the Stonewall riots. Thus, although the event featured many colorfully worded signs—“hell hath no fury like a drag queen scorned”; “rise up faggot”; “i want dicks in my 👄, not running my country”—the one that best captured the spirit of the day, and the great diversity of the crowd and speakers, was the simplest: “&.” “They don’t know that we are Muslims, we are women, we are transgender, we are Mexican,” Carmelyn Malalis, the city’s commissioner on human rights, told the crowd. “They don’t know that we are united and never leave a brother or sister behind. Not ever.”
Such unity, loving and warlike, is the only defense against an Administration whose treatment of the vulnerable seems, like its whole agenda, to combine pernicious intentions with minimal planning. After Johnson’s speech, as the wind chill began to outmatch the sun, he told me about the origins of the rally: the weekend before, he’d put out a call on Facebook, in response to reports that Trump was poised to revoke Obama’s anti-discrimination protections for L.G.B.T.Q. federal contractors. Then, last Tuesday, the White House appeared to change course, releasing a statement that championed Trump as “respectful and supportive of L.G.B.T.Q. rights.” (Reportedly, Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump had intervened.) After the reversal, word of the rally spread virally, Johnson said—a way of calling “total bullshit” on an Administration that includes Mike Pence, one of America’s leading homophobes. Johnson pointed to the leaked version of an executive order on “religious freedom,” which would allow almost any organization to exempt itself from federal regulations protecting same-sex marriage, transgender identity, abortion, and contraception. “That is a license to discriminate,” Johnson said.
The left is sometimes ridiculed for its factionalism—its thicket of nonprofit support systems, its acronym for every gradation of identity. But when you shake one part of that structure, you learn how durably it is fastened to all the others. Many of the speakers at the rally testified to how this crisscrossing can manifest on a personal level. A magnificent testimonial came from Olympia Perez, of the Audre Lorde Project, which advocates for queer people of color: “I cannot divide the pieces of me that are Dominican, Brazilian, Puerto Rican, and South Asian from the parts of me that are trans, a woman, and a fuckin’ New Yorker.” The crowd roared as Perez, her long black hair framing her face, read a battle cry from Assata Shakur, a Black Panther who went into exile after killing a New Jersey State Trooper. “It is our duty to fight,” she said. “It is our duty to win. We must love each other and protect each other. We have nothing to lose but our chains.”
The nationwide uprisings of the past weeks—from the Women’s March to the resistance to the immigration ban—have reminded us that, although the people’s power can be gathered by revanchist right-wingers and finance-friendly Democrats, it belongs ultimately to the people themselves. Neither Governor Cuomo nor Mayor de Blasio attended the rally on Saturday, but Chuck Schumer, the Senate Minority Leader, seemed to have absorbed the message of the protesters who mobbed his Brooklyn brownstone the week before, demanding total opposition to the new Administration: he led the crowd in a brief recitation of “dump Trump” and promised to defeat both Betsy DeVos, Trump’s nominee for Education Secretary, and Neil Gorsuch, his appointee to the Supreme Court. “Stop protecting Trump Tower!” someone shouted at Scott Stringer, the city comptroller. The pest, an Irish-born actor by the name of Donal (not Donald) Brophy, told me, “I think it’s unfair for our tax dollars to be used to protect the so-called First Family.” When I asked why he’d used the word “so-called”—Trump’s word, in a tweet from early that morning, for the judge who stayed the immigration ban—he said that the Electoral College system was disenfranchising coastal Americans. “We are the majority, and we’re constantly under attack.”
As the rally disbanded, I found myself sucked into a knot of people near Seventh Avenue. Some two dozen police officers had formed a circle around a group of five protesters. It seemed that they had refused to move out of the street, which was being opened to traffic, and now they linked arms tightly as they chanted, “In the name of humanity, we refuse to accept a fascist America.” A few cops moved in, taking hold of shoulders and arms and torsos, and a slow-motion struggle commenced. Along the border of the circle, a hundred cell-phone videos were being filmed, and, after the last protester was pushed into a patrol car, the crowd took up their chant.
By Daniel Wenger a member of The New Yorker’s editorial staff