It is 1969, and there's a storm brewing. I can see it in the air, in the way the clouds billow on the horizon, full of rain.
I can see it in the people I pass on the street, in the way their downcast eyes burn with a desire for change.
I can see it in myself, in the way I pace the streets restlessly, tired of rotten luck, eager for the storm to break.
Throughout history, there have always been those who are invisible, those who the rest of society refuse to see (Ellison, 1).
But in the last few decades, the people kept in the shadows are starting to rise, boiling with a contagious energy. African American leaders speak on television, calling for change.
Their people flood the streets, singing and chanting. I march with them, as do many others like me, for although some of us are white, we know what it's like to be ignored, invisible.
Because of their voices, laws were passed. Things improved for black people in America.
Watching this happen, the rest of the homosexual community and I begin to believe in the power of change, and were inspired to try and make a difference in our overlooked lives as well. (Rivera, par. 6)
But it's hard to know where to start, especially when your very existence is illegal.
For my girlfriend Lyn and I, the fight to maintain a job and a house means publicly denying the relationship we have over and over again, insisting to employers that we're just friends, sharing a flat just to make the rent on time.
We live life hiding under a mask, afraid to express our true feelings because we've seen what happens to those that refuse to live a lie.
We see the homeless on the street, begging coins from passersby. We hear the whispered stories of those that got caught, how they never last long in prison.
We shelter friends in the community at night, tend to the bruises on their face and arms that can only come from a police baton in the hands of someone trained to use it. (Prager, 164)
But there is one place that we can always escape to when the lies become too much.
Well, there are several gay clubs in downtown New York, but the only one where Lyn and I are regulars is the Stonewall Inn on Christopher St.
It has the best atmosphere, best liquor, and most of the staff and patrons are friends of ours.
Besides, most of the other clubs have been shut down by the city government in the last year or so, and it's the best of what's left.
As we walk down the street toward the inn, the warm night wind tugs at our hair. Lyn's eyes shine under every passing streetlamp, full of pent up energy.
Watching her, the storm inside me quiets. With her by my side, my luck doesn't seem so bad.
We arrive at the doorway of the Stonewall Inn and flash our IDs to the bouncer, a gesture more out of habit than anything else given the fact that we are here almost every night.
Still, security at Stonewall is tighter than most other clubs, mainly because everything about it is considered to be illegal.
All of the patrons are homosexuals or cross-dressers or both, and therefore considered to be criminals.
Any sort of gathering of criminals such as homosexuals is seen as inherently devious in nature.
And to top it all off, the State Liquor Authority has made it illegal to sell alcohol to "sexual deviants" such as ourselves. (Prager, 161) So understandably, things are a little tense here.
A wave of color and sound hits us the second we walk through the door.
Various neon lights illuminate couples dancing together to the latest Rolling Stones song pouring out of the jukebox in the corner.
The leather bar stools are filled with colorful people singing along, the cares that weigh them down in the outside world forgotten. Amidst the chaos, I can finally relax, take a deep breath.
The sense of freedom and joy in the air is tangible, the knowledge that there is no one who will judge you here, no one will tell you that the way you feel or act is wrong.
It's a wonderful feeling, one that lifts you up and carries all your worries away.
Smiling for the first time in days, I take Lyn's hands and pull her onto the dance floor as she laughs in surprise.
The music plays, and we sing off-key as we spin, and the world spins around us.
The night goes on, songs are sung, drinks are drunk, and the darkness cut by the few neon lights begins to feel comfortable and safe.
Suddenly, the world is struck with a harsh, blazing light. The music has stopped, and in its place are panicked murmurs humming through the air.
Lyn's eyes widen as she looks at me and whispers "It's the police." The still warmth of a few minutes ago is gone as the murmurs turn to screams.
People run for the closest exit, hoping to escape, but the club is surrounded. I grab Lyn's hands again, this time pulling her to the exit, towards the harsh lights and gruff voices.
We've survived police raids before, and we know that as long as we cooperate and show that we have valid IDs, they can't prove anything against us. We'll be safe.
The police wave us through, and Lyn starts to run away from the club, but I hesitate, holding her back, wondering what will happen to the others, those without IDs.
We stand outside the barricade, and the others who escaped gather around us, waiting, wondering, apprehension crackling through the air as the wind blows us towards those still trapped inside, a silent plea for help.
The police start dragging people out, and screams pierce the night again as our friends are beaten, bloodied, shoved into cops cars and driven away.
Fear fills the air, and yet we don't run. Maybe we're tired of running. Even behind the safety of the barricade, every blow delivered to one of my friends, hurts me with equal force.
Blood and screams flow through the night, and the storm above grows heavy, ready to break.
Through the mess of faces and lights, I see one face in particular. Not the face of anyone I recognize, but one that stands out because the emotion painted on it is not one of fear, but anger.
As the angry young woman is shoved into a cop car, her voice rings out to the crowd standing in safety, "Why don't you guys do something?!" (Prager, 162)
A murmur goes through the crowd, fear turning to anger, a realization that it is indeed time to do something.
Something flies through the air, a single coin arching towards the cop cars, hitting one of the windows and plinking to the ground. The first drop. The storm breaks.
More items fly through the air: coins, stones, bottles, bricks. Those held by the cops free themselves in the ensuing chaos as the crowd surges forth.
The police may be trained, but they're also outnumbered, and caught by surprise that their previously helpless prey has found a sudden taste for blood.
We're tired of being ignored, tired of being beaten, tired of being killed. (Gold, par. 13-14)
The anger of a thousand years of oppression boils over, and the police are forced inside Stonewall, barricading the door behind them as the crowd grows and emotions surge.
My heart pounds, and blood rushes in my ears as I take it all in. This is it, I think. Our revolution has begun!
The crowd leaves in the morning, but the storm is just beginning.
In the month that follows, New York City becomes a maze of hundreds of riots and marches, and Lyn and I attend every single one of them, making our voices heard.
The vast, diverse homosexual community so long kept underground rises into the spotlight, informing the world that we're not going to be pushed around by those in power anymore. (Prager 165-166)
It's not easy, and we're beaten down by the police again and again. But courage isn't standing up when you know you'll succeed, it's standing up even when you think you'll fail. It's daring to hope for something better. (Lee, 107)
By the end of the summer, no laws have changed, but our society has. The police force is under new, and hopefully better, leadership. (Leitsch, par. 3)
Stonewall reopens almost instantly, and now serves as the stepping off point for a new movement, one focused on backing up our actions with diplomatic words focused on changing laws and improving the lives of the impoverished members of the community.
I've never been great with words, but Lyn is a natural in the political world. Watching her step into a leadership role effortlessly after years of being world-weary and submissive is incredibly inspiring.
Her vivid descriptions of a brighter future give me hope for the first time in years. (Rivera, par. 36)
But the most notable change in the city is harder to put into words. There's a new feeling in the air, the feeling of new respect from a society that thought we did not matter.
They realize we're people, with hearts and opinions and strong emotions, ready to fight whatever the world throws at us.
It is 2020, and the storm is far from over. I can see it in the couples I pass on the street, holding hands amidst the still-lingering stares of disapproval.
I can see it on the news, how the hate crime statistics constantly rise, but the people fighting back against hate rise too.
I can see it in myself, in the newfound sense of peace I've found in a real home, and real job, and the twin rings on Lyn's finger and mine symbolizing a real life without lies.
Last year, the NYPD made a formal apology for that night 51 years ago, finally admitting that senseless violence and oppression is bad. (Gold, par. 2) It's late, but it's better than never.
Besides, it shows that eventually, things do get better. When people get together and decide to make a difference, a difference will be made.
The community that Lyn and I helped build has changed the world for the better, and continues to change things today.
Every year in June, we celebrate the anniversary of the fated night that started it all, and remember that loud, dangerous emotions got us started, but a sense of tact and purpose carried us further, and both hard actions and soft words will be necessary to carry us through the storm and under peaceful skies at last.