A Musical Journey from Stonewall to SCOTUS

The journey that began with a riot at the Stonewall Inn in the 1960s has made it all the way to the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS), which will soon rule on marriage equality, and Nashville in Harmony is throwing a party to celebrate. The 120 voices of Nashville in Harmony are presenting, “Rock ‘n’ Rule—A Musical Journey from Stonewall to SCOTUS” on Sunday, June 14, at 7:00 p.m. at TPAC’s Polk Theater.

“Rock ‘n’ Rule” will feature iconic rock and pop songs that formed the soundtrack of the decades-long struggle, as well as featuring stops along the way to remember pivotal moments in LGBT history. Equality is the unifying refrain of this show, which includes classic pop, rock, and soul tunes like “We Belong,” “Everyday People,” “We Will Rock You,” and “A Change Is Gonna Come,” as well as more recent anthems from artists like Kelly Clarkson, Sarah Bareilles, and Destiny’s Child.

According to Artistic Director Don Schlosser, “These are the songs that define the last fifty years, the music we grew up with, the songs we all know by heart, and sing loud.” In their short eleven-year history, Nashville in Harmony, whose mission is to ‘use music to build community and create social change,’ has been acknowledged as a premier arts organization, and was voted by the readers of the Nashville Scene as Music City’s favorite chorus.

As the historic ruling comes closer, it is a good time to reflect on a few of the events that have contributed to positive growth in the struggle for LGBT rights.

June 28, 1969—Stonewall Riots, New York City

While smaller events and achievements preceded Stonewall, the size and scope of the riots were unprecedented up to that time. The evening of the Stonewall Riots is widely considered the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights in the United States.

The Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the LGBT community against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, in Greenwich Village. Unwarranted raids, beatings, and abuse directed at LGBT people by the police had been an accepted and common occurrence for many years. This particular night the LGBT community finally fought back, due in part to the solidarity they felt because hundreds, if not thousands, of gays were in town for the funeral of gay icon, Judy Garland.

June 27–28, 1970—First Pride

To mark the first anniversary of the Stonewall uprisings, the first Pride Celebrations were held in New York, LA, San Francisco, and Chicago. Gay Pride celebrations continue to be held all over the world each year in June to commemorate this event.

1973—The American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from their official list of mental disorders

November 27, 1978—Harvey Milk Assassinated

Harvey Milk had a dream for a better tomorrow filled with hope and equality, and a world without hate. To help realize that dream he entered the political system in San Francisco and won a ground breaking election in 1977, becoming as one of the world’s first openly gay elected officials. He was arguably also the most visible at the time and symbolized the freedom to live life with authenticity to millions of LGBT women and men around the world.

Milk served less than a year in public office before he was assassinated. His life and death profoundly changed a city, state, nation and a global community. His courage, passion and sense of justice rocked a country and stirred the very core of a put down and pushed out community, bringing forward new hope and a new vision of freedom.

October 14, 1979—The National March on Washington for Lesbian and Gay Rights

This large political rally was the first such march on Washington, and it drew between 75,000 and 125,000 gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, transgender people, and straight allies to demand equal civil rights and urge the passage of protective civil rights legislation.

1980—Democratic National Convention adds gay rights to their platform

1981—The AIDS Crisis

On June 5 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), describing cases of a rare lung infection, Pneumocystis carinii pneumonia (PCP), in five young, previously healthy, gay men in Los Angeles. All the men had other unusual infections as well, indicating that their immune systems were not working; two had already died by the time the report was published. This MMWR marks the first official reporting of what will become known as the AIDS epidemic. Throughout the 1980s, the AIDS epidemic grew, as did stigma against gays as a result.

May 30, 1987—Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank comes out as the first openly gay member of the US Congress

October 11, 1987—National March on Washington and first display of the AIDS Memorial Quilt

December 1, 1988—First World Aids Day

November 30, 1993—Bill Clinton implements Don’t Ask Don’t Tell Policy

Considered a positive step for LGBT people at the time, the policy prohibited military personnel from discriminating against or harassing closeted homosexual or bisexual service members or applicants, while barring openly gay, lesbian, or bisexual persons from military service

September 21, 1996 - Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)

The act was enacted as US federal law that allows states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages granted under the laws of other states.

April 30, 1997 - "The Puppy Episode"

Controversial at the time, and later considered a pivotal moment in LGBT history, this two-part episode of the TV sit-com Ellen, starring Ellen DeGeneres, detailed lead character Ellen Morgan's realization that she was a lesbian and her coming out.

October 1998 - Matthew Shepard Murdered

Matthew Wayne “Matt” Shepard was an American student at the University of Wyoming who was beaten, tortured and left to die near Laramie, Wyoming on the night of October 6, 1998. Shepard died at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, Colorado, on October 12, from his severe head injuries. It was believed that he was targeted for being gay and his murder brought national and international attention to hate crime legislation at the state and federal levels.

2000 - Vermont allows civil unions with same protections and obligations as marriage for same sex couples

2004 - Massachusetts becomes the first state to legalize same sex marriage

2009 - Matthew Shepard Hate Crimes Act signed into law

2010 - Don’t Ask Don’t Tell repealed

2011 - DOMA repealed

2015 - SCOTUS agrees to rule on same-sex marriage

On January 16, 2015, SCOTUS took on the historic constitutional challenge regarding same-sex marriage. Oral arguments were heard in April, and a final decision is expected no later than the end of June. At the time the case was accepted, same-sex marriage was allowed in thirty-six states and banned in the other fourteen. The court will decide whether same-sex marriage bans are prohibited by the U.S. constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law, and/or whether states must recognizes same sex marriages from other states. No matter the outcome, the case is considered a monumental event in LGBT history.





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