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Locals remember Stonewall, prepare to march again

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REGION — In the early hours of the morning June 28, 1969, police raided a bar in Greenwich Village, New York City. It was typical, then, for plainclothes officers to infiltrate bars frequented by LGBTQ+ community members and make arrests on charges such as “soliciting” or for cross dressing.

What was not typical was for patrons to fight back. At least not to the extent that the customers, mainly drag queens, at the Stonewall Inn did on that night.

“It’s the people that make it real. It’s the people that matter. And that night, those people rose up,” said Dave McCracken, treasurer of Catskills Pride, recalling how that fateful event influenced the next 50 years.

The gay rights movement has progressed at “lightening speed” since then, said McCracken. Yet the current political climate, along with disagreement among the LGBTQ+ community on how to commemorate Stonewall, make this year’s march seem especially significant, he added. “I have a T-shirt that says, ‘Never assume your rights are assured,’” McCracken said. “[Recently], we’ve seen a nibbling away at even the hard-fought-for rights in the last 50 years.”

As a reminder of this history, Catskills Pride hosted a fund-raiser and celebration of the 50th anniversary of Stonewall at the Stickett Inn last Saturday. The group is preparing to march for the first time in the WorldPride march this weekend in New York City. McCracken and his crew will be joining more than four million people expected to descend upon the metropolis for the same reason.

As they head into the historic weekend, McCracken and other local LGBTQ+ community members are conscious of its roots as a rebellion, not a celebration.

“That is why I march: to make my presence. [As] a statement to the unjust, unfair policies being leveled at the LGBT community, and especially at the transgender population,” said Petra Simone Kraus, a member of Triversity in Pike County, PA, and an advocate for transgender rights. “And this is why this is a march and not a parade. A parade will be for when we have the rights to live a life equal to every other American in this great country.”

Kraus, who lived most of her life identifying as a man, has sped up the process to legally change her name, concerned about the “Trump and the White House.”

Despite statements President Donald Trump has made seemingly in support of LGBTQ+ rights, his administration has not been as favorable. Some measures imposed or proposed in its tenure include a ban on transgender military members, bills that would restrict the definition of sex to exclude transgender individuals from coverage in the Affordable Care Act and the potential for federally funded organizations, including adoption and housing centers, to discriminate against same-sex couples.

At the same time, representation seems greater than ever. There are 10 openly gay members of Congress. Pete Buttegieg, an openly gay mayor from Indiana, is running for the Democratic presidential nomination.

This dichotomy has created a state of “cognitive dissonance” for many heading into Pride weekend, wrote New York Times opinion columnist Frank Bruni. “[We’re] staring at a split screen: insults from the White House on one half of it, positive reinforcement from elsewhere on the other.”

That dissonance is part of why McCracken said he wants young LGBTQ+ Americans to know their history, especially Stonewall.

While producing an off-Broadway comedy in which the entire cast was gay and under 25, McCracken was stunned to learn that none of them knew about the uprising. He bought the entire cast books on its impact, “for everybody to know their heritage.”

Some, notably the group Reclaim Pride, feel Pride has become too corporate—too far removed from what the movement once was. After all, McCracken remembers, his friends in the city referred to the inn as a grungy place, where police were not welcome.

In a return to those roots, A Queer Liberation March, planned by Reclaim Pride, is scheduled to take place across from the Stonewall Inn before the NYC Pride march Saturday. It will feature no corporate sponsorships or floats. McCracken will also be there, with the Lambda Legal organization. He sees value in both events.

“Sometimes you need to get out of your offices, you need to get out of the bars, you need to get out of your condo on Fifth Avenue and you need to pick up a flag and march,” he said.

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