Amid the ongoing pandemic, the most profound social upheaval since the 1960s, we reflect on the origins of the LGBTQ liberation movement and GLIDE’s historical support of LGBTQ communities, including LGBTQ communities of color. Since the early 1960s, GLIDE has embraced the demand for and celebration of radical inclusivity.
GLIDE as a place for all people, whatever their experience or background or faith, goes back to 1963. In that year Reverend Cecil Williams joined a group of progressive pastors who together took an early stand for same sex couples, presiding over their weddings nearly four decades before the legalization of gay marriage in California.
At a time of intense criminalization of homosexuality, which included the practice of arrest and police violence leveled at LGBTQ communities, Rev. Williams and other GLIDE ministers were also among the founders of The Council on Religion and the Homosexual in 1964—along with the renowned LGBTQ rights pioneers and activists Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon. The San Francisco-based community organization joined LGBTQ activists and religious leaders in an effort to educate religious communities about gay and lesbian people and to speak out against homophobia and discrimination through inclusive, collective dialogue. It was the first organization in the U.S. to use “homosexual” as part of its name.
On January 1, 1965, the Council famously sponsored the Mardi Gras Ball at California Hall, to celebrate both the founding of the organization and the inclusivity it aimed to cultivate. Although the SFPD had issued a permit, the evening celebration was interrupted by a forceful police raid. The event would later become known as “San Francisco’s Stonewall.”
The following year, one of the first LGBTQ uprisings against police brutality took place in the heart of the Tenderloin, marking the beginning of the transgender liberation movement in San Francisco. The pivotal revolutionary act—among a group whose members included young people who had found a safe space and support at GLIDE—came to be known as the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, which preceded by three years 1969’s famous Stonewall Riots in New York City. In her 2005 film, Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria, filmmaker, author and professor Susan Stryker called the uprising, “the first known incident of collective militant queer resistance to police harassment in U.S. history.”
GLIDE’s commitment to the self-expression and liberation of each member of our community continues to this day. On August 26 of last year, the 53rd anniversary of the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, GLIDE held a Reflection and Reconciliation Session in which leadership from the San Francisco Police Department (SFPD) listened to the lived experience of LGBTQ residents and formally apologized for a history of violence and injustice against the community. The community conversation was facilitated by GLIDE’s Minister of Celebration, Marvin K. White; Pastor Megan Rohrer, a trailblazing transgender Lutheran pastor and SFPD chaplain; and Commander Teresa Ewins, the highest-ranking member of the LGTBQ community in SFPD. Reconciliation is a road we’re still on, and one that requires real structural change. Meanwhile the hopes, needs and critiques that were courageously shared at the gathering were only the first in a planned series of ongoing listening sessions.
While we are a long way from justice and reconciliation, particularly for LGBTQ folks at the intersections of racial and economic injustice, vital victories continue to be won in the struggle for love and equality as the basis for a better world. In our second PRIDE Month during the struggle of the COVID-19 pandemic, we must remember to celebrate our victories — particularly the decisive 6-3 vote that came in June 2020, when the Supreme Court ruled that the section of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 that forbids discrimination in employment based on race, religion, national origin or sex extends to protections for gay and transgender people.
Even with this historic step forward, one which makes a profound difference in the lives of millions of people, it is still legal under federal law for landlords, stores, restaurants and hotels to discriminate against LGBTQ people.
We proudly celebrate the steps toward the better world we have fought for together with unconditional love and solidarity, and we also recognize that there is more to be done. The struggle continues. But this year’s Pride celebrations, both online and in the street, send the message loud-and-clear: The time for radical inclusivity is now!
By Erin Gaede