Metro Inclusive Health and The Dru Project joined forces to host “Stonewall to Pulse: A Community Discussion,” which is the first-ever community-wide, intergenerational panel event featuring individuals who experienced milestones in LGBTQ+ history.
The event was held just days before the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, which occurred on June 28, 1969, after New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay club located in Greenwich Village in New York City. The raid sparked a riot, which transitioned into six days of protests and physical altercations with police. The Stonewall Riots will be forever marked as a catalyst for the gay rights movement.
Wanting to honor its significance with the community, Cole Foust, the LGBTQ+ division manager at Metro, assembled five panelists for the discussion, including Brandon Wolf, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse Massacre; Jason Marsden, the executive director of The Matthew Shepard Foundation; Jay Chetney, a Stonewall Riots activist; trans rights advocate Kia’la Emmons; and HIV rights advocate Stephanie Stuart.
Foust was adamant about having generations share their experiences as a way for the LGBTQ+ community to learn about and connect over events every generation should know and learn from.
Whenever Foust hosts a community program, he makes it a point to say to LGBTQ+ youth, “Hey, 50 years ago, police could have just come in here and started arresting people and start beating people and that would’ve been the norm."
It's a reality that Foust says is hard for this generation to even imagine.
“Because of people that spoke up and got involved in activist work, we can comfortably gather as LGBTQ+ people and have a safer space for us to discuss our experience and share joy,” he says.
Foust says that allow the community has made strides over the last five decades in many facets, there is still a long way to go.
“I think that there’s kind of a misunderstanding that since we received same-sex marriage in 2015 that we’re done — that we’ve finally achieved equity and equality and that’s just not the case.”
He then goes on to explain the atrocities and violence against members of the community today.
“There are still trans women of color that are being murdered on a regular basis. We are up to six for the month of June, which is unacceptable,” Foust explains.
Panelist Jason Marsden, the executive director of The Matthew Shepard Foundation, was also eager to speak on the mission of the organization that was founded by Matthew's parents, Judy and Dennis Shephard, as a platform to advocate for LBQTQ+ laws and a more inclusive society after their son, who was a student at the University of Wyoming, was beaten, tortured, and left to die in a hate crime in 1998.
“I like to say we persuade for people to behave the way they already know they should, but for whatever reason they don’t,” Marsden explains.
Marsden weighed in on the foundation’s initiative for hate crime prevention and bias-motivated crime, which he says is largely racial or religious, and is continuously growing.
The FBI’s latest report on hate crime statistics was released in 2017 and outlined that for the third year in a row, there was a consistent increase in hate crimes. In 2017, hate crimes were up 17% over the prior year.
“There’s something going on in our culture, there are a variety of factors ranging from our political leadership to our social atmosphere,” Marsden says. He adds that he is hopeful that the reality check from where we are as a nation will motivate allies to advocate for the LGBTQ+ community and put an end to hate crimes.
“You are a hero to someone, you could inspire someone to be involved in the solution,” he says.
Cristina Yelvington, coordinator for LGBTQ+ Initiatives at the University of South Florida, kicked off the event with an overview of LGBTQ+ historical events, from the Stonewall Riots to the PULSE massacre.
Yelvington echoes the importance of celebrating the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, since it was a major catalyst for advocacy and political action.
“That advocacy didn't end with stonewall. This event is so important it represents a call to action. I hope that stonewall it has a legacy for 50 more years,” Yelvington says.
When it comes to LGBTQ+ youth, Yelvington sheds light on the absence of mentorship for the community and the important role others must take on to rectify that and keep youths informed.
“The HIV/AIDS epidemic took many of our queer elders, wiped out an entire generation of mentors and elders of our community. It is so important that young people remember that history and are advocates to move the community forward,” Yelvington explains.
What Yelvington hopes is that this event leaves attendees, and Tampa Bay, energized.
“I’m happy that Metro is taking into account spiritual and emotional community health along with physical health,” she says.