The month of June was chosen as LGBTQA Pride Month to commemorate what is often thought of as the beginning of the LGBTQA rights movement; the Stonewall Inn riots. The night of June 28, 1969, patrons of Stonewall Inn rose up against the police after several days of raids on the gay bar. It was not the first time that the LGBTQA community had fought back against police oppression, but because of the media coverage of the event, it is widely considered the spark of the gay liberation movement. Now, 50 years after the uprising, is a perfect time to reflect on how far the LGBTQA movement has come, and where the community wants to see it move forward locally.
Colleen KremmelbeinKremmelbein graduated from Ithaca College in 2017 and decided to go back to IC for graduate school. When she graduated in 2018 she found a job in the Ithaca City School District. She decided to come to school here, and live here because she fell in love with the area and felt that it fit her politics and identity. She identifies as queer but will also use gay.
The town that Kremmelbein comes from in Long Island was fairly conservative, so was her high school.
“Coming to Ithaca was really like a breath of fresh air, [for people] who are not afraid to be out,” she said. “I wasn’t really afraid to be out when I was back on Long Island, but it was more than just comfort when I got to Ithaca, it was pride.”
She’s still cautious about telling people how she identifies until she has a better idea of how they might react. It’s a caution she said she would probably feel anywhere. The LGBTQA community in Ithaca is spread out and not as easy to find as it was when she was still a student.
“Going forward, I would love to see a more coherent space, or a more coherent group, because sometimes it can be very isolating, even with things like social media and the internet, it’s still nice to interact with people face-to-face,” she said.
She especially wants to connect with older members of the LGBTQA community.
“I am able to feel safe here in Ithaca because of the people who are older and who are gay and who were there at Stonewall and were there at places like Stonewall,” she said.
She would like to see local politicians step up and have a clearer stance about LGBTQA rights, and the issues they face right here in Ithaca.
“I think taking a stance is saying ‘I’m not going to be neutral and say that we all just need to get along,’” she said. “It’s, ‘I’m right and you’re wrong because what you’re saying is going against who these people are as human beings and who they are down to their very core.’”
Luca MaurerMaurer holds a position that he never could have imagined for himself while growing up in New York City and rural Upstate. Maurer is the Director of the LGBTQ Education, Outreach, and Services center at Ithaca College and is a trans, gay man who has been the director since 2001. His family was fairly progressive and openly talked about politics and social issues with Maurer when he was very young. Close family friends of Maurer’s were a gay couple were an important part of his childhood and an early example of the LGBTQA community he would come to find and be a part of.
“I don’t know when I was a little child, that they used the word gay, but they clearly talked about the fact that they loved each other, and that we loved them,” he said.
While it was still illegal to be gay, Maurer said he started to feel a sense that the expectations put on him based on the gender he was assigned at birth didn’t fit. When he discovered a book that included gay characters, he realized his world was larger than what society had been showing him, he recognized the possibility of something other than straight attraction. He didn’t have any openly gay role models but suspects that one of his teachers might have been, but was afraid to come out.
“One day as I was studying for the SAT’s he leaned over and whispered in my ear… ‘Save yourself. Flee this town.’ Deadly seriously,” Maurer said.
While growing up and growing into his identity, Maurer said one of his biggest fears was being committed involuntarily by a family member to “correct” him. His fear of having to conform to gender norms for the gender he was assigned at birth made him miss out on opportunities, like applying to graduate school. The fear made him feel cut off from education just because of his identity.
While going to school in Delaware, Maurer was part of a gay student union that would head to D.C. for all the LGBTQA rights marches and movements. He and fellow members held ZAP panels, a program used in the LGBTQ rights movement to educated people on the experiences of LGBTQA people. In college, he was heckled during ZAP panels, had a rock thrown through his window, and was bullied by some of the people on his floor. He organized peaceful protests and sit-ins at local businesses that didn’t want to serve openly gay people. He was always afraid of being committed.
Now, he said, he sees young LGBTQA kids being able to connect to each other through the internet, but he wants to see more varied representations of the community in media and have more uncomfortable conversations about LGBTQA issues out loud.
“I think the first thing is to really encourage dialogue – knowing what we know, and living in a place that has all kinds of really great protective policies and laws, what do we do?” Maurer said. “How do we educate people about what their rights are?”
Flying a pride flag at municipal buildings is great, but elected officials doing the work to educate themselves about LGBTQA issues is better.
Janis KellyWhile attending Cornell University, Janis Kelly, class of ’71, and two of her friends organized the first gay student group at the university, the Student Homophile League (SHL). Along with two other gay student rights groups, SHL organized protests locally at businesses that wouldn’t serve openly gay people, and after the Stonewall Riots pulled together an upstate coalition to travel to New York City for the first ever pride march.
The SHL organized ZAP Squads and were often invited to speak to other student organizations, fraternities, sororities, and sometimes classes. The meetings were open to everyone in order to give cover to the closeted LGBTQA students. With the help of closeted faculty, they were able to get around the requirement of handing over a list of its members to the school administration. “It wasn’t a joke,” Kelly said of the fears that students had of being outed. “Somebody that I knew from the early days came home from class one day to discover that his roommates had changed the locks and thrown all of his stuff out onto the street because they learned he had gone to a meeting. Just gone to a meeting.”
After the Stonewall Riots, Kelly said the activists were fired up and wanted to figure out how they could capitalize on, and support, the cause as it spread. “This is an important moment, and we knew it,” Kelly, who eventually became the Upstate representative for the Christopher Street Liberation Day Umbrella committee, said.
The activism of the time pushed boundaries and was full of flash and camp. Nowadays, Kelly wishes there was more camp in the movement and bigger demands.
“I look at what’s going on with the students and I’m like ‘What? You want a dorm?’” she said. “We wanted the world.”
The thing that shocks her most about identity politics, she said, is how easily people have been bought off and divided. The people at the top, the “gentry class,” she argues, are still the people benefitting from the division of the people below them. She wants to see young activists arguing with the people they disagree with, not avoiding them, to find some common ground.
The big issues that she believes are going to affect the LGBTQA community are issues that will affect everyone else: economic issues. When people have more options, Kelly said, they will take risks. Creating economic opportunity creates more options. The goal for progress is always to make things better for the next generation.
Joann Cipolla-DennisCipolla-Dennis has known she was gay since she was 18. Now, she’s 57 years old and because of how she was treated by her family, friends, and strangers, deals with the impacts of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder on a daily basis. As a teenager in Cortland, she would go to the local gay bar, The Zoo.
Sometimes the cops would come around to the bar and stand at the door with their hands on their nightsticks.
“We don’t know what they’re going to do,” she said. “We don’t know if they’re just there to close us down, to beat the hell out of somebody, to arrest somebody, or just to see who was in there so they could get to them later.”
When she was younger, she said her family would treat her coldly when the topic of her being gay came up. She stopped being around her family. In her 30s she started going to therapy to address the trauma she had experienced throughout her life, including sexual trauma, feelings of abandonment, and blatant homophobia. Most of her trauma, she said, is tied to instances with law enforcement and elected officials.
Locally, Cipolla-Dennis does not trust law enforcement and is disappointed by local officials because she does not think they are doing enough to protect the LGBTQA community. It frustrates her that county money is given to Catholic Charities because the Catholic Church openly disapproves of the LGBTQA community.
She treats her PTSD with medical cannabis and by avoiding a lot of the activities she used to do, including going to the county legislature as an activist for different causes. She doesn’t like when it’s called a mental illness. It is a brain injury, she said, and it’s caused by societal failures.
“People with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder should be recognized as people suffering imposed traumas,” she said. “We don’t ask for these things.”
Looking ahead, Cipolla-Dennis wants there to be an LGBTQA community center, maybe even an LGBTQA church, to create a space, like Stonewall, that is just for the community. Within the county, she wants to see LGBTQA housing so that the community can live together and take care of each other. While the Ithaca community may talk a big game about acceptance and inclusion, Cipolla-Dennis wants to see more direct action.
Conni AllenAllen didn’t come out until 2011, after many years spent in the closet and married to a man until 2004. While taking a spiritual class in Van-Etten, she decided that she would be wasting her money if she didn’t come out.
“That’s what it’s all about, be who you are,” she said.
At the time, she was dating another member of the group, Joanne Turnpenny, who wasn’t really out to her family. They knew, but nobody talked about it. When they would visit Turnpenny’s family, Allen was known as “her friend.” For Allen, when she came out she was accepted by her family and children immediately.
In 2014 she and Joanne got married but didn’t invite anyone from Turnpenny’s family. In 2017, Turnpenny died after several years of battling cancer. After that, Allen said that her wife’s brother fought her over the will, the obituary, and who was the executor, despite the fact that they had been married for three years.
Allen wants people to be able to openly identify as their authentic self.
“I just hope for people being safe and just living their life and being able to marry and being able to have a good life without being harassed or looked at,” she said.
Allen waited so long to come out of the closet becuase she said she didn’t feel safe declaring herself gay. She was terrified to come out, but once she did she said she felt so much lighter.
“You want to live your life honestly,” Allen said.
She moved to Newfield in 2011 to be with Turnpenny, leaving behind a good job and a beautiful apartment in Pittsburg to risk it all on love.
She said she generally feels safe in this little bubble and she has found a community of fellow gay women. That said, she would like to see local politicians speak out more for the LGBTQA community and the issues they face.
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