The Power of LGBTQ History

I figured I’d share a special story from my time as a reporter in Palm Springs. Each news station I’ve worked at has brought me one or two memorable pieces, but none of them beats this one. If you’re not aware, Palm Springs is a place where many LGBTQ men and women go to retire and enjoy their later years of life. For others like me, it was a place I’d heard about through friends of mine who were older in age. They said it was an amazing town with beautiful sunrises and beautiful men. I had to experience all of that and more, but there’s something else I learned during my time in the desert. I learned how important history really is when it comes to the growth of our community in 2019.

It started at a place called Stonewall Gardens. It’s an assisted living community for the LGBTQ community, and the name is quite fitting especially for two men, Richard Pass and Dick Busby.

I first heard of them through staff at Stonewall Gardens. Dick was a resident at the facility while Richard volunteered throughout the week. Neither one had any idea just how connected they were to each other, but the night of June 28, in New York City’s Greenwich Village, their fight for equal rights began at the same time.

This is where the story gets really interesting, and as they were telling me this, I think I had to pick my jaw up off the ground because I was truly speechless. Dick was visiting New York City from Los Angeles, and Richard was living in the Big Apple at the time of the riots. Richard told me he was in the back room of the Stonewall Inn that night making out with some guy, and when he emerged back into the bar, it was almost empty. That’s when the raids were taking place, he says. Outside of the bar, Dick and several of his friends had made their way to the village for another drink at Stonewall when he noticed cops loading drag queens and others into the backs of paddy wagons. Minutes later, a full-blown riot began, lasting for nearly four days.

They lived two very different lives for 50 years, never knowing who each other was until one afternoon at Stonewall Gardens. I remember there was a painting hanging on the wall in the community room where meals were served and games were played. The picture was of the Stonewall Inn. It’s actually where I did the video interview for my story, and I remember Dick pointing to it saying that picture was how he realized he and Richard were there on the same night but in two different locations. I couldn’t speak afterward because all I had were tears flowing down my face. I think I cried several times that day and felt such a release of emotion knowing that I live this life now because of the fight others put up 50 years ago. It goes down as one of the most powerful, emotional stories I’ve ever done as a reporter. It’s just another moment where I realized how important it is for everyone in our community to know our LGBTQ history.

I felt honored to be sitting in the presence of two men who witnessed history and were able to share the intimate details of their personal fight for equality. You could hear the emotion in their voices and see the happiness on their faces as they reminisced on a time that was scary yet liberating. If only the younger men in our community could take time to listen and learn what it took to get where we are today, I think we’d all be more grateful to love who we love and live how we live.

Here’s what we should take away from the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots: Enjoy the parade in New York but remember, it started as a protest and march for injustice against our community. As for those who experienced the birth of the Stonewall movement or even lived through the AIDS epidemic in the ’80s and ’90s, be an open book to those younger than you. Share your stories, your memories, your emotions, your defeats, and your triumphs. If you’re part of a younger generation, don’t be afraid to ask questions and learn about the battles fought so that you can hold your partner’s hand while walking down the street or get married to the person you love. It’s a two-way street for us all and no one should steer away from teaching or learning. It’s how our community will stay strong, resilient, and continue to fight in the face of hatred and inequality.