The Stonewall riots are credited for galvanizing the gay rights movement in the United States. As the movement celebrates its 40th birthday this weekend, it's critical to note gay rights are not yet over the hill.
But neither has the struggle been a consistent movement toward equality, argues Sarah Chinn, Executive Director of the Center for Gay and Lesbian Studies at CUNY.
Chinn cites major setbacks including Anita Bryant's campaigns to repeal non-discrimination legislation, the Briggs Initiative and the continuing specter of HIV/AIDS which "gave people an excuse to feel comfortable with their homophobia."
Stonewall's anniversary ultimately raises questions about where the gay right's movement is going--and where it should be going.
Chinn recognizes the separation between the grassroots movement and those lobbying at the state and federal level. She feels that while lobbyists are mainly concerned with the Defense of Marriage Act and Don't Ask, Don't Tell legislation, the grassroots movement sees gay rights as a thornier issue of social justice, or what she calls "hearts and minds stuff."
As the Stonewall generation now enters their 70s, Chinn notes that the gay rights movement will need to advocate more strongly for end-of-life issues including medical decisions and widow benefits. She also worries about how accepting assisted living facilities will be of elderly gays.
In terms of legislation, Chinn adopts a professorial tone and confidently gives Obama a mediocre grade.
"The B- student is that student who could do better if they got their act together," she jokes. "You know you can do better. You just don't feel like it."
Chinn thinks Obama should put a moratorium on Don't Ask, Don't Tell to see if it is an effective policy. Along with most gay rights activists, Chinn is disheartened that Obama has not followed through on his campaign promise regarding the policy.
This Sunday 265 activists will be leading a protest march in Washington in opposition to Don't Ask, Don't Tell. The number represents the number of service members discharged for their sexuality during Obama's five months in office.
While the demonstration is expected to be a powerful reminder of discriminatory legislation that still exists, Chinn does not want to lose sight of the gay rights movement as fundamentally a movement for civil rights. She argues that a movement can't only fight for gay people but also must fight for other minorities such as seniors and people of color.
Regardless of their sexual orientation other groups will at least benefit from accomplishments into gender equality, she argues. Moreover, if gay rights activists don't fight for everyone, they risk "losing a sense of what it means to be a person in a complex world."