Column/Vellner

On June 28, 1969 and July 20, 1969 – just 22 days apart – America experienced significantly different but markedly important events. Both were powerful, inspirational and historic happenings that changed our nation forever – and for the better.

The latter was when man landed on the moon for the first time and astronaut Neil Armstrong said it was a small step for man but giant leap for mankind. For its significance, however, the former item only recently has seen its giant leap measured and respected. And it was long overdue.

Some 50 years ago, the June 28 item was the Stonewall Riot in New York City considered the tipping point for the Gay-Lesbian movement and the modern fight for LGBTQ rights in the United States. For the first time, officials at the Montgomery County courthouse recently raised a rainbow-colored Pride flag for the month and Commissioner Chairperson Valerie Arkoosh said, “All are valued and welcomed.”

In the summer of ’69 — a time when assassinations, the Vietnam War, protests, and Woodstock shared the headlines — I was 12 years old and well aware of goings-on. The moonshot had my attention; the Riots didn’t. Many today still don’t fully grasp Stonewell’s importance and it’s why the flag raising was needed — to publically mark an historic event.

A large, smiling crowd gathered at Swede and Airy streets outside the courthouse in Norristown to see the colorful Pride rainbow cheerfully hoisted next to the county flag, a moment Arkoosh called joyous.

“The lasting legacy of the Stonewall Riots has been seem in celebrations throughout the month and we are doing our part here in Montgomery County,” she said. “We are leading the way to expand non-discrimination policies, embrace inclusiveness and promote our message that all individuals are valued and welcomed here in our county.”

The uprising at the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village neighborhood was one of the "most important catalysts" in the fight for LGBTQ rights in America, she said.

“Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, LGBTQ Americans faced legally sanctioned harassment,” said Arkoosh. “Local governments and law enforcement regularly raided the places where community members socialized to drive them out of their neighborhoods.”

Thankfully, things are different today. In fact, Pennsylvania leads the nation with the greatest number of LGBTQ-inclusive local non-discrimination ordinances, and some 34 percent of Montco municipalities have adopted ordinances that prohibit discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity. Openly gay candidates for elected and appointed positions also have seen the light of day, like Daniel J. Clifford who three years ago became the first openly gay judge on Montgomery County’s Court of Common Pleas. He attended the flag-raising ceremony and was recognized by Arkoosh.

A giant leap has made liberty and justice accessible to all.

Readers can reach Greg Vellner at gvellner@verizon.net.

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