The Current

50 years after Stonewall riots, LGBT rights are in 'midst of a backlash,' says activist

As the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots in New York City approaches, we look back on the pivotal moment in the history of LGBT rights, and the progress still left to be made.

Mark Segal reflects on progress made since the pivotal 1969 moment

In this 1972 photo provided by The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center, demonstrators march through the streets during the Gay Liberation Day march in New York City. Gay and lesbian demonstrations grew following nationwide following the 1969 police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village. (Rudy Grillo/The Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual & Transgender Community Center/Associated Press)

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Nearly 50 years after the Stonewall riots in New York City that marked a pivotal turning point in the LGBT rights movement, one activist says we still have much further to go in the fight for equality.

"The reality is we're second-class citizens [in the United States]," Mark Segal told The Current's guest host Megan Williams.

"You can get married today anywhere in America, but an hour later, you can be fired by your boss in most states in the United States simply because you got married and you're gay," he said, acknowledging that there is no U.S. federal law protecting LGBT people from being discriminated against in the workplace because of their sexual orientation. There are, however, some protections for federal workers and attempts are underway to enact broader anti-discrimination laws. 

On the morning of June 28, 1969, police raided a popular gay bar called the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan's Greenwich Village. 

At the time, it was illegal to solicit same-sex relations in the city. Canada had just decriminalized same-sex activity the day before.

Mark Segal is seen at the Stonewall Inn on June 18 in New York City, where he witnessed a police raid on June 28, 1969, a day that became a turning point in the LGBT movement. (Bebeto Matthews/Associated Press)

Segal recalls police barging into the bar, slamming people against the walls, calling them derogatory names, and then taking money from their wallets. When police finally let patrons out of the bar and ordered them to disperse, they refused.

"We picked up whatever was around us — stones, cans — and just started throwing them at the door," said Segal, explaining that police eventually became blocked inside the bar.

Although there has been progress to celebrate since that cataclysmic moment, he said, "we're in the midst of a backlash against our rights."

"It's happening now — stronger than ever — because it has a leader in the name of Donald Trump and Mike Pence."

In 2015, Pence, then Indiana governor, drew criticism for signing a bill into law, allowing business owners to refuse service to gay and lesbian customers in the name of "religious freedom." In March, Trump ordered that most transgender people be barred from the military.

Increasingly, some groups, particularly, black trans people, are falling through the cracks, said Olivia Nuamah, executive director of Pride Toronto. 

Fifty years after Stonewall, trans women are still being murdered, she said. This, despite the fact a black trans woman, Marsha P. Johnson, is often credited with throwing the first stone of the 1969 riot.

"I'd like to see the legacy of Stonewall be a complete turning of the situation [for trans women of colour]," said Nuamah, adding that there needs to be greater visibility and discussion around subject.

Click 'listen' near the top of this page to hear the full conversation.

Written by Kirsten Fenn. With files from CBC News. Produced by Imogen Birchard.