Michael Westervelt, Account Manager and trainer, and Employment Services at The Fortune Society

2015 LGBTQ Pride Celebrations: Yesterday’s Struggle, Today’s Heritage

Friday, June 12, 2015

It was during the early-morning hours of June 28, 1969, and The Fortune Society founder David Rothenberg was sitting in his apartment on Christopher Street witnessing what some have called the watershed moment of the gay rights movement.

“I watched through the venetian blinds,” Rothenberg said, recalling the West Village’s Stonewall Riots and alluding to his own situation as a closeted gay man at the time.

By morning, the flames were extinguished. Within a few days, the violent clashes with police had subsided.

But New York City was forever changed. The queer community was no longer going to tolerate incessant police raids and harassment.

This happened two years after Rothenberg started Fortune with his goal of changing the public’s perception of the formerly incarcerated. Four years after the riots, he would come out on national television and continue to shape public perception in another important way — that being gay is perfectly normal.

Each June for the past 46 years, the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ) Community celebrates to commemorate the men and women who fought for our rights at the Stonewall Inn.

This year’s pride celebrations are tinged with cautious optimism as the Supreme Court prepares to make a decision in Obergefell v. Hodges that could open the doors for gay marriage in all 50 states. And although public opinion on these issues continues to sway toward acceptance — note Caitlyn Jenner making her feminine (and fabulous) debut on the cover of July’s Vanity Fair — we still have a long way to go.

Here at Fortune, we are trying to do better. The LGBTQ Task Force, which comprises about a dozen staff members and clients, is working to cultivate an agency of acceptance. Thanks to some of the group’s efforts, the entire Fortune staff has attended training on how we can better serve members of this community. Human Resources is also actively pursuing revised policies and procedures on how to address specific scenarios involving lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender clients.

In practice though, what we are asking for is simple — respect and courtesy. Because if you don’t have something nice to say … well, you know the rest.

Rothenberg put it in a more poignant way: “If you’re comfortable with whom you are, you’re not bothered by what anybody else does. What you fear is what you fear most in yourself.”

Mike Westervelt is an account manager and trainer in the Employment Services department of The Fortune Society. He is available at 718-906-2980 or mwestervelt@fortunesociety.org, especially if you would like to join the LGBTQ Task Force and work toward creating a more welcoming environment for all people at Fortune.


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