Stonewall, Intersectionality, and the Pro-cannabis Movement

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Why Don’t You Guys Do Something?

“I was a radical. A revolutionist. I am still a revolutionist… I am glad I was in the Stonewall riot. I remember when someone threw a Molotov cocktail, I thought, ‘my god, the revolution is here. The revolution is finally here!'”

This is the powerful recollection of the 1969 Stonewall riot in New York by activist Sylvia Rivera, the founding member of the Gay Liberation Front. The Stonewall Riots are regarded as the most powerful demonstration for LGBTQIA+ liberation in American history. Stonewall Inn, the site of the riot, was a popular gay bar in New York during the 1960s, a time when queer culture was still very taboo and illegal. Police raided the Inn on June 28th, 1969, lining up the patrons and taking those dressed in women’s clothing to the bathroom in an attempt to determine their sex. Anyone believed to be engaging in gender deviance was subject to arrest. In New York, anyone who wasn’t wearing at least three items of clothing that were deemed “gender appropriate” was in violation of the law.

However, the rebellious atmosphere characterizing the anti-war and civil rights movements at the time meant that the brave patrons of the Stonewall Inn would not comply with arrest that night. They simply refused to go with the officers. Intensity piqued when a woman in handcuffs was escorted from the bar to the police wagon. She escaped repeatedly and fought with four of the police, after she’d been hit on the head by an officer with a baton. Bystanders recalled that the unidentified woman sparked the crowd to riot when she looked at bystanders and shouted, “Why don’t you guys do something?!”

Marsha P. Johnson, regarded as one of the most influential and groundbreaking activists at the time, played a tremendous role in the Stonewall rebellion. At the time, the gay community was especially exclusionary toward people of color and the transgender and gender non-conforming communities. Marsha, a Black trans woman, existed at the intersection of social oppression. Not only did she catalyze intersectionality between the LGBTQIA+ community and people of color, but she was a particularly active participant in the riots, allegedly throwing the first brick at the police that night.

“In the civil rights movement, we ran from the police. In the peace movement, we ran from the police. That night, the police ran from us… And it was fantastic.”

The history of Pride and cannabis are more closely intertwined than many people realize, especially given that both arose from the countercultural energy of the late ’60s. Pride activists played a crucial role in the legalization of medical cannabis. Following the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, people were quick to look for alternatives to the expensive and often ineffective conventional treatment options.

One of those advocates was Dennis Peron, a cannabis dealer who drafted Proposition P, urging the State of California and the California Medical Association to set up a medical cannabis program for people with any condition, but specifically mentioning HIV/AIDS. Peron also set up the San Francisco Cannabis Buyers Club, the first public dispensary in San Francisco. Through his dispensary, he served a large number of AIDS patients (who used cannabis to treat nausea, wasting syndrome, and other symptoms of AIDS).

These are merely a few examples that emphasize how the pro-cannabis and Pride movements are connected. The historical and cultural significance of Stonewall spotlights the dire importance of intersectionality between marginalized groups, and the need for representation across all sectors. In spite of the progress characterizing the past several decades in regard to both cannabis and queer liberation, there’s still much work to be done. Happy Pride Month!

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