What We’re Left, What We Leave

On the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, an Outward special issue explores the many legacies that shape queer life today.

Grid of images through the years at Stonewall Inn, including rainbow flags and a photo of a tear sheet reporting on the 1969 riots.
Photo illustration by Lisa Larson-Walker. Photos by Stan Honda/AFP/Getty Images and Yana Paskova/Getty Images.

This anniversary Pride season, we’ve all been invited to consider the legacy of the Stonewall riots, the June 1969 uprising against social oppression and police brutality at a dingy Manhattan gay bar that’s come to be considered the pivotal moment in the history of queer life. One legacy of Stonewall is Pride itself: The first public march in 1970 was a commemoration and amplification of the events of the previous summer, a tradition we keep (with somewhat less of the original’s radical spirit and somewhat more corporate swag) 50 years later. Another legacy concerns ongoing debates about the nature of the riots themselves: Who was there? What did they do? And what do those details say about where the LGBTQ movement came from, and to whom we owe our gratitude?

I could go on, but suffice to say it is a powerful thing, to take stock of the inheritances that the queer past offers to us. Some of these are cause for joy and, indeed, pride. Others, for disappointment or anger. Legacies are complex. The word itself twists and bends, sometimes meaning the happy intergenerational gifts that we receive from our forebears and leave to our descendants, but in other contexts indicating unfinished business (debts, arguments), unearned privilege (social access), or unhealthy remnants (communal trauma, outdated systems). Each of these senses of legacy is at play in modern LGBTQ life, and if we want to make the most of this special period of reflection, we must reckon with them all.

That is the aim of this special issue. While some of the writers assembled here have approached the theme from the vantage of Stonewall, our scope is broader. We locate queer legacies on the lips of drag kings and in the language of consent, amid Instagram likes and inside insurrectionist politics, even lurking in the structure of our very DNA. Our subjects vary widely, but our goal is the same: to look back over the eventful five decades since Stonewall and discover clues—clues as to how the things we inherit make us in the present and, hopefully, clues as to how those legacies are already shaping who we might become.

Read more of Outward’s Legacies issue.