Stonewall At 40: Gay Rights Hits Middle Age

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Marc Acito

Marc Acito is the author of How I Paid for College and Attack of the Theater People. Courtesy of Marc Acito hide caption

itoggle caption Courtesy of Marc Acito
New Yorkers celebrate gay pride parade i

People on fire escapes watch the 2007 Gay Pride Parade in New York City. The parade celebrates lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride, and honors the Stonewall riots of 1969, when gay bar and nightclub patrons resisted a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village. Michael Nagle/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Michael Nagle/Getty Images
New Yorkers celebrate gay pride parade

People on fire escapes watch the 2007 Gay Pride Parade in New York City. The parade celebrates lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender pride, and honors the Stonewall riots of 1969, when gay bar and nightclub patrons resisted a police raid at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village.

Michael Nagle/Getty Images

Sure, the gay liberation movement may be turning 40, but since a lot of gay guys moisturize, we look a lot younger. For those of you who are what we call "homosexually impaired," let me give you a quick history.

While our fight for equality goes back to the time Oscar Wilde was imprisoned for the "love that dare not speak its name," Gay 2.0 began when patrons at a Greenwich Village bar called the Stonewall Inn finally got fed up with years of systemized harassment by the police, sparking six days of violent demonstrations.

From that birth we moved straight — no pun intended — into a libidinous adolescence with "macho, macho men" and "bad girls, talkin' bout the sad girls, toot, toot, yeah, beep, beep." The party came to an abrupt end, however, with the advent of AIDS, forcing us to grow up fast while we watched a generation disappear before our eyes.

By the time we were 25, we defied expectations by asking, telling and ultimately getting thrown out of the military.

When we reached 35, we were finally ready to settle down and get married, which we can now do in Belgium, Canada, Netherlands, Norway, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, plus civil union arrangements in more than 20 other countries like Israel, Brazil, Croatia and Uruguay. But here in the land of the not-so-free and the home of the not-so-brave — not so much.

So as we hit the big 4-0, is it time for the gay liberation movement to buy a red sports car and have an affair? According to Gail Sheehy's Passages, when we turn 40 we experience "a major upheaval of the roles and rules that may have comfortably defined us in the first half of life." As someone who's just slightly older than Stonewall — though I'm told I don't look it — that means sulking around the house in my boxers singing Peggy Lee's "Is that all there is? Is that all there is?"

It's not as self-pitying as it sounds. Forty is the time you look over your shoulder to see how you got where you are, so you can figure out how to get where you're going. For the past 40 years, homosexuality has been like duck hunting — interesting only to those who practice it or those who want to stop it. But in order to move ahead and make history, the gay movement must engage our straight allies, people who realize that a society with civil rights for some is not a civil society. Imagine how much we could change if even a few marriage announcements read: "The bride and groom are delighted to announce their nuptials while saddened that the caterer and florist cannot."

Together, all of us need to look at the rights still denied to our fellow citizens and ask ourselves, "Is that all there is? Is that ALL there is?"

And by the time the gay liberation movement turns 50, we can all look back and see how inequality was just a part of history.

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