NEW YORK (Reuters) – Lady Gaga electrified thousands of revelers who gathered in New York on Friday to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the LGBTQ rights movement, exhorting the crowd to honor the past by using its “power” to extend and defend a half-century of progress.
The rally, part of a series of World Pride events in New York this week, commemorated the so-called Stonewall uprising of June 28, 1969.
Early that morning, patrons of a Greenwich Village gay bar called the Stonewall Inn rose up in defiance of police harassment, triggering days of rioting in the streets of Manhattan. Their resistance gave birth to the national and global movement for equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and other queer people, historians say.
Lady Gaga, a Grammy award-winning singer whose signature song “Born This Way” has become an LGBTQ anthem, fired up the crowd, which began gathering in the park and public square outside the Stonewall early on Friday.
Appearing with a rainbow-colored jacket and thigh-high boots, she declared that Stonewall was the moment when LGBTQ people said “enough is enough.”
“I may not, to some people, be considered a part of this community, even though I like girls sometimes. I would never degrade the fight you have endured,” she told the cheering crowd. “You have the power. You are so, so powerful, and I hope you feel that power today.”
The rally, organized by NYC Pride, was part of a month’s worth of events that will include on Sunday what organizers are calling the largest gay pride parade in history. Some 150,000 marchers and millions of spectators are expected. Some 4 million people were forecast to visit New York this week.
While the anniversary has a celebratory air, activists see the occasion as a way to protest U.S. President Donald Trump’s record, which many consider hostile to LGBTQ people. They also want to highlight the still-precarious position of LGBTQ people in many parts of the world.
Police raided the Stonewall, a Mafia-owned gay bar, ostensibly to crack down on organized crime. But their mistreatment of the patrons, part of a pattern of abuse against LGBTQ people, touched off a riot, forcing police to barricade themselves inside the bar.
While celebrating 50 years of progress, many LGBTQ activists are sounding the alarm about a series of Trump administration initiatives, including a ban on transgender people in the military, cuts in HIV/AIDS research and support for so-called religious freedom initiatives that eliminate LGBTQ protections.
The White House claims Trump has long advocated LGBTQ equality, noting that this year he became the first Republican president to recognize Pride Month and that he has backed a global campaign to decriminalize homosexuality.
“President Trump has never considered LGBT Americans second-class citizens and has opposed discrimination of any kind against them,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement.
The message has been lost on many LGBTQ people, as the Trump administration opposes extending anti-discrimination protection to gay or transgender workers under federal employment law, a legal issue currently before the U.S. Supreme Court, with a ruling due within a year.
The Stonewall anniversary has revived interest in two of the LGBTQ pioneers of the era, transgender women Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, whose names are often evoked today in defense of trans people still fighting for their rights.
“I feel like I wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Sylvia Rivera or Marsha P. Johnson,” said a 33-year-old transgender, non-binary musician who goes by the name of D!. “I really feel like it’s because of all of the work they did so I could go to gay bars, dance and explore my identity because of the sacrifices my foremothers, forefathers, and foreparents made for me.”