COOS BAY — Dozens of community members from throughout Coos County gathered at the Coos History Museum Saturday to celebrate and honor the 50th anniversary of the historic Stonewall uprising.
The event, which included a short film, highlighted the series of events and prominent figures involved with Stonewall as well as a brief overview of the entire LGBTQ+ civil rights movement.
Narrated by actor Billy Porter, the film recalled known and lesser known figures and initiatives that each contributed to the movement from as far back as the 1920s.
Laura Erceg, a facilitator with Q & A of Coos County, said having an event that commemorates Stonewall locally is a big deal. It not only helps shines a light on the extensive history of the LGBTQ+ community, but it also gives its members a platform to voice their own unique experiences.
“There isn’t just one story to tell when it comes to queer history,” said Erceg. “It’s a multi-sided thing and it matters who is telling the story.”
Q & A of Coos County was among the many community organizations that partnered with the Coos History Museum to host the event. The local group works throughout the community to provide support for LGBTQ+ youth and their allies with the hopes to provide them with a safe and thriving environment.
Known widely around the world, the Stonewall riots began in June 1969 after law enforcement officials raided the Stonewall Inn., a gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York, to arrest employees and patrons on a number of charges that targeted members of the LBGTQ+ community.
After undergoing persistent harassment and discrimination by police, patrons pushed back with multiple days of protests and riots, which ultimately called on expanding the rights of LGBTQ+ members.
Earlier this month, New York Police Department Commissioner James P. O’Neill publicly apologized for the raid saying it “should not have happened” and “the actions taken by the NYPD were wrong, plain and simple.”
In addition to the film, Saturday’s event also featured a panel of speakers consisting of local community members, churches and representatives from local organizations including Operation Coos County and Southern Oregon Coast Pride.
Hailey Smith, an AmeriCorps VISTA (Volunteer in Service to America) member at Southwestern Oregon Community College, was among the group of speakers who answered questions and shared with attendees their experiences within the community.
Smith, who was involved in the LGBTQ harassment case at North Bend High School, said it’s important to have open, safe forums like the one presented Saturday to expand people’s understanding and knowledge of the issues that surround the LGBTQ+ community.
“I know I had personally had a challenging time in high school,” said Smith. “I just think having this event is a good way to assist in some of those issues and hopefully educate some people so there are more allies within the community for people who are struggling.
"If people in the LGBTQ community know that we have allies within the larger community as a whole then it will be easier for us to come out with issues that we have or just feel supported within the community in general.”
Pride Month celebrations will continue into August in Coos County with a series of events hosted by the Southern Oregon Coast Pride. For more information and dates, folks can visit its Facebook page.