Organizers of the seventh Annual Stonewall Celebration and Rally placed six toilets painted red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet at the steps of the Capitol on Wednesday evening, leaving no doubt what the top legislative concern is for members of the LGBT community and their supporters in Texas.
Some lawmakers are “so concerned with bathroom stalls, so we took down the walls,” said event organizer Paul Huddleston as he gestured toward the toilets, eliciting cheers from the audience. Huddleston was referring to Senate Bill 6, which would require people to use restrooms and other facilities that match the gender on their birth certificate. It will be one of the items up for consideration during a special session of the Legislature set to start next month.
The display was part of a local commemoration of the Stonewall Riots, a series of demonstrations that followed a New York City police raid at a gay bar in 1969. It is widely considered as the catalyst of the modern gay rights movement.
More than 200 people attended Wednesday night’s event. Throughout the evening, guest speakers encouraged the community to make their voices heard.
“Make sure to keep this going,” Ash Hall, an event speaker who worked with Equality Texas, said to the audience. “We have to make sure (elected officials) do what they’re supposed to do and protect all of us, not just some of us.”
Jimmy Flannigan, Austin’s first openly gay man to serve as aCity Council member, urged the audience to vote, saying that while the fight began with the riots, it ends in the ballot boxes.
In addition to SB 6, The “Freedom to Serve Children Act” — which was passed in May — also affects the LGBT community members as it allows state-funded child welfare agencies to reject same-sex couples as prospective parents on the basis of the organizations’ religious beliefs.
“If we show up and don’t give up, we can change Texas for the better,” Flannigan said.
Part of the event was also dedicated to remembering the victims who died at Pulse Nightclub in Orlando last summer and 15 transgender people who have been killed this year.
There was also a reading of eyewitness accounts of the Stonewall Riots, which included stories of individuals fighting off police officers and rioting, which reminded the audience why the event is held on June 28, the day the riots began. This portion of the night was especially powerful for rally attendee John Bush, who said he believes it is important to remember the history.
“The young (queer) kids, they see pride as an excuse for a street party, and they need to see that it’s more than that, and that’s why this event is so important,” Bush said. “It tells them the history and gets them curious.”
After the speakers and performances, Huddleston, the event organizer, gave closing remarks calling on the community to remember that they are part of a family.
“Know you are loved, I love you, and you are not alone,” he said.
The night ended with singing and dancing in front of the Capitol to the song “We Are Family” by Sister Sledge.