Honor and Pride: 50 Years Since Stonewall

Robert Sammons • 5/29/2019
Personal experiences shared by Cushman & Wakefield Senior Research Director Robert Sammons.

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I comment on topics related to real estate and the economy all the time. But while not always easy, those flow a bit better than a topic such as this. I imagine it’s because this subject is more personal, and that wherever one fits on the spectrum within the LGBTQIA community—or in the straight world—we would have a unique story to tell. I certainly don’t represent everyone. I can only tell of times as I view it.

Let’s start with the anniversary that the LGBTQIA community is “celebrating” in 2019. I put celebrating in quotes because I’m not sure that’s the right word for it, though it’s used a lot for the occasion. I would say honoring it likely more appropriate.

Fifty years ago, on June 28 1969, is noted as the moment when the veil was lifted and the gay community came out of the shadows. I have added a couple of links (The Atlantic and National Park Service) that can explain more fully what happened much better than I. But my short version is that there was a raid on a place called the Stonewall Bar in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, which was a “safe haven” catering to a variety of the era’s disenfranchised, from gay men to lesbians, transvestites to drag queens. Among them were “sexually deviant” runaways, escaping abusive homes and hometowns, too.

Notably, the bar’s operations weren’t exactly legal. Everywhere in the U.S. at the time — even in New York City — gay establishments were verboten. As such, it was common practice for businesses serving such clientele to be “policed” by law enforcement. Often this entailed verbal/physical harassment and arrest. Because, well, back then being “gay” was also against the law.

So when the paddy wagons came again that particular weekend, Stonewall’s patrons, and their allies, felt pushed to the limit. Their subsequent rioting and deliberate protest on that “Last Sunday in June” was the catalyst for the modern “gay” movement.

A lot happened following those fateful hours. Including in 1970, the establishing of the parades, first in New York City and San Francisco, and now across the globe, in commemoration.

I’m extremely lucky to have lived in both of these historical centers of LGBTQIA culture, and have felt relatively safe from the troubles others in our community have dealt with. But growing up in the rural South under less than tolerant conditions, I can attest to how difficult it can be “coming out” or just living in safety and security. Remaining closeted was the norm.

Yet even in 2019, just basic tolerance is not as prevalent as one might expect. Within the Bay Area, a region thought to be demonstrably liberal in policy, beliefs and actions, there are still issues. I’ve heard disparaging remarks here on the streets, seen tourists treating those within The Castro as “freaks in a sideshow,” and even pockets where our own UNITY group is not getting the support they deserve. Plus, the same type of yesteryear’s runaways escaping abuse at home are living this very day on the streets of San Francisco.

But there has been a LOT of progress. Whether it’s gay marriage in the U.S., Canada, and many places across Europe, and now even Taiwan, or having a spectrum of the world’s greatest corporations, Cushman & Wakefield at the forefront, openly advocating and supporting us and our causes, it’s a breathtaking change from how it used to be. However, we can never think it’s “done” and “all is fine.” I’m old enough to realize unity, no matter the foundation, can too easily be undone. I hope others, not just younger, but those far removed from this kind of strife, understand how precarious it can be and not take things for granted.

So this year let’s celebrate Pride, honor Stonewall, thank those who fought hard for the freedoms we now have, and cherish those continuing the struggle to acknowledge, expand and keep for us what is rightfully ours.

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