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Gays Mark Stonewall Anniversary

June 26, 1999

NEW YORK (AP) _ Thirty years ago, police raids on gay bars were a fact of life.

``You took them for granted the way you took being hated for granted,″ says Joan Nestle, a writer and activist who started going to Greenwich Village bars as a teen-ager in the 1950s.

So when the patrons of a bar called the Stonewall Inn fought back June 27, 1969 _ attacking police with rocks, bottles and fists _that startling act of defiance became an instant watershed event. Gay activists consider it akin to the Montgomery bus boycott or the lunch-counter sit-ins that galvanized the civil rights movement.

This weekend, parades and rallies in New York, San Francisco and dozens of cities worldwide commemorate the Stonewall riot and mark three decades of remarkable change.

While gay people are not universally accepted _ a Time/CNN poll last fall found that 48 percent of Americans believe homosexuality is morally wrong _ lesbians and gay men are becoming increasingly integrated into American society.

``We’ve made a sea change in not just public opinion but public policy as well,″ says Kerry Lobel, executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, a lobbying group based in Washington, D.C. ``We see that in areas like civil rights, hate crimes, family issues and sodomy repeal, we have more possibility of legislative change than ever before.″

Lobel cited Nevada, whose Legislature recently banned job discrimination against gays, and New Hampshire, where lawmakers repealed a 1987 law that barred gays from adopting children or serving as foster parents.

``You can sort of pick the state and measure progress in every state on the legislative front,″ she said.

Unimaginable in 1969 was the visibility of gay people today in politics, entertainment and everyday news coverage. Think Ellen DeGeneres, k.d. lang, Melissa Etheridge, Elton John, Ian McKellan, Rupert Everett. Three current members of Congress are openly gay _ Democrats Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin and Republican Jim Kolbe of Arizona _ as are scores of other elected officials around the country.

``The love that dare not speak its name now won’t shut up,″ says Tom Ammiano, president of San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors.

In 1969, Ammiano was a 27-year-old special education teacher and not yet ``out″ as a gay man, although, he says, ``it wasn’t hard to surmise _ the wrists and everything.″

He subsequently became a stand-up comic and a member of the Board of Supervisors, where three of 11 members are openly gay. President of the board since November, he’s considered a likely challenger to San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown Jr.

The progress made by lesbians and gay men has been accompanied by setbacks as well.

Eighteen states still have sodomy laws on their books, five of which single out homosexual sodomy. Efforts to include gays in federal civil rights and hate-crime laws have stalled. Current law prohibits crimes based on race, color, religion or national origin.

Recent murders of gay men _ Matthew Shepard, a University of Wyoming student who was beaten and tied to a fence last October, and Billy Jack Gaither, an Alabama textile worker who was beaten with an ax handle and set on fire _ raised awareness of the persistence of anti-gay violence.

AIDS has decimated a generation of gay men, and nearly 20 years into the epidemic there is no cure.

Still, few could dispute that lesbians and gay men in 1999 enjoy rights undreamed of in 1969.

Karl Rusterholtz lives in Mission Viejo, Calif., with his partner and their two foster sons. They are active in their church, where Rusterholtz and his partner celebrated their union with a commitment ceremony.

``I would say that we’re just pretty average,″ says Rusterholtz, 36, a microbiologist. ``We’ve gone to pride marches and stuff, but it’s not our cup of tea.″

Rusterholtz says he ``would like to see federal protection, that gays and lesbians would not worry about losing their jobs or losing their homes or losing their children.″ But his own experience negotiating the foster care system in conservative Orange County has been ``nothing but fabulous.″

Margaret Blankenbiller, 21, works in a florist’s shop in Provo, Utah.

``I’d like to be able to hold my girlfriend’s hand when we go out to dinner and not worry about someone slashing our tires,″ she says.

Still, her family is supportive and her co-workers _ many of them members of the socially conservative Mormon church _ treat her lesbianism ``like it’s pretty normal.″

Nestle, who founded the Lesbian Herstory Archives and is now 59, remembers when being a lesbian was anything but normal.

At one bar she frequented, Nestle and her friends had to line up to use the bathroom one at a time ``because we couldn’t be trusted″ not to misbehave inside together. Toilet paper was doled out sheet by sheet.

``Something in me was moving from knowing I was a freak to saying that someday I will refuse this moment of humiliation,″ she says.

Nestle has been chosen one of two grand marshals for Sunday’s gay pride parade in New York.

``It’ll be a very special moment,″ she says. ``I see it as the largest grassroots demonstration in the world.″

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