On a cold night in February 1986 ...
Stonewall Democratic Club of New York City was founded in February 1986 as the first and only citywide Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Democratic organization in New York City. The first event was a small cocktail party held at The Ballroom in Chelsea. Little did we know that this new organization would grow to be the largest LGBT Democratic political club in the City and State of New York.
The organization is named in honor of the Stonewall Rebellion of 1969, the beginning of the modern gay rights movement. In 1969, New York’s gay community decided to fight back against the ongoing routine of police harassment and arrest of gay men, lesbians, and transgender people in Greenwich Village. On the night of June 27-28, 1969 a conflict erupted when the patrons of the Stonewall Inn on Christopher Street, decided to stand up and fight to defend their rights to congregate at a gay bar. The battle with police went on for nearly a week and it eventually led to a new policy by New York City and the police department to stop harassing and arresting LGT people. The LGBT community burst out of the closet and this pivotal moment became known as “the hairpin heard around the world”. There was no looking back.
The Stonewall Democratic Club was founded to continue to fight for those rights. The founders wanted to create a strong voice within the Democratic Party that would represent the interests and concerns of the LGBT community within the party. The goals were to influence elections, legislation, and policy on the city, state, and national levels of government. The most important issues of concern in 1986 were our civil rights and our health.
In New York City the year 1986 was mementous because it was the year the New York City Council finally passed the “Gay Rights Bill”. The bill was introduced every year for 15 years until it finally passed in 1986. That year, Peter Vallone Sr. was elected Majority Leader, later to be renamed Speaker, of the Council. Although he personally did not support the bill, he appointed enough Council Members to the General Welfare Committee who did support the bill so that it could be brought to the floor for a full vote of the Council. He agreed to allow members to vote their conscience. On March 20, 1986 the full Council passed the bill by a margin of 21-1.
This new law prohibited discrimination in housing, employment, and public accommodation based on a person’s sexual orientation. Mayor Ed Koch, a supporter of the bill, signed it into law a few days later.
The year 1986 was also the height of the AIDS epidemic. New York City became and continues to be the epicenter of the epidemic in the United States. In 1986, gay men in New York City were being decimated by this new disease. Many men became ill and very quickly, often within weeks or months, died terrible, painful deaths. AIDS forced our community to start to confront many difficult issues, life and death issues, including: health care, health insurance, domestic partner’s rights, hospital visitation, discrimination against people diagnosed or perceived to be infected with the HIV/AIDS, grief, and funerals, many funerals. AIDS forced even the most non-political people in our community to become political activists. Government and politicians held our survival in their hands and our community began to understand that voting, elections, government funding, and laws did matter.
Also in 1986, a major political loss for our community was the Bowers v. Hardwick decision by the United States Supreme Court. This decision upheld the constitutionality of the Georgia sodomy laws which criminalized oral and anal sex in private, by consenting adults of the same sex. This was a terrible defeat for the LGBT community. It adversely influenced LGBT rights for the next 17 years. In 2003, the Supreme Court reversed Bowers v. Hardwick in the Lawrence v. Texas decision, when it struck down the Texas sodomy laws as unconstitutional.