what does gen z know about stonewall?
Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising this weekend, we spoke to the kids of Mosaic LGBT Youth Centre to find out how they discovered this historic moment in queer history.
Photography Lola and Pani
Our history education in Britain is heavily skewered by an antiquated notion of British sovereignty and superiority, combined with a healthy dose of heteronormativity and queer erasure. Hence it’s unsurprising that the Stonewall uprisings -- a pivotal moment in LGBT+ liberation that began in anger outside a gay bar in Brooklyn -- remains undiscussed by teachers and untaught in classes. This year, with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising coinciding with Pride month, it seems like as good a time as any to celebrate the milestone and push forward with modernising and diversifying our education system. Yet as the kids of Mosaic -- a youth centre offering community, mentoring, education and support to LGBT youth -- know all too well, there’s a long way to go before this happens.
We spoke to a few of the kids hanging around a youth club session at Mosaic, to better understand what they know of the Stonewall uprising, how they learn about queer history, and what being part of a youth centre created specifically for LGBT+ youth has taught them.
What do you identify as? Non-binary and pansexual. Have you heard of Stonewall? Yeah. Do you remember how you heard about it? Probably through the internet somewhere. Have you ever learnt about LGBT history via school? Never via school really, I’ve only learnt about it here at Mosaic. Do you find it easy to come by LGBT history resources? Sometimes, especially now that quite a few documentaries have now been made, but in general I think there’s quite a lot out there. And do you have any LGBT mentors or idols that you speak to or look up to? There are people here at Mosaic that I regularly speak to. I’ve found it really helpful.
What do you identify as? Gay. Have you heard of Stonewall? Yeah. And what do you know about it? I don’t know a lot, but I know that during Stonewall people were oppressed for trying to be themselves. Do you remember how you heard about it? Yeah, it was through Mosaic. We had a workshop on the topic. Have you ever learnt about LGBT history via school? No, we were never taught anything about it. And how did you find out about Mosaic? I was looking online for safe spaces and places where I could be open, and that’s how I came across this place. Are there any other resources that you use? There’s not much apart from here that I’ve found, there aren’t many other places like here in London. Do you have any LGBT mentors or idols that you speak to or look up to? It’s a bit cliché, but I look up to RuPaul a lot, because he’s really open and doesn’t care what people think. He’s also been able to make a massive success out of that, and I really admire that.
What do you identify as? Bisexual or lesbian. Have you heard of Stonewall? Yes. What do you know about it? I know that it’s the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, and that it’s a big community. How do you find out about LGBT history? I don’t really know that much about it. The first LGBT community I went to was London Friend in Kings Cross. They really helped me to find myself and who I wanted to be. How did you find out about them? Through my mum. She’s open, she’s a really cool person and goes to LGBT groups. Do you mostly go online to find out about LGBT issues? Yeah! I mean, these days you’ll probably be mostly using the internet to find stuff out, or through friends. That’s how I found Mosaic. Do you have any LGBT mentors or icons that you look up to? Hmmm... Tracy Chapman, Elton John…
What do you identify as? Agender and queer. Have you heard of Stonewall? Yeah. Do you remember how you heard about it? I was 13 at the time, and I had just gotten into Tumblr and had just realised that I was queer. I was looking for all the resources I could on there, and found some really long posts about the history of queerness, who sparked the revolution and everything that the queer communities in New York were going through. Have you ever learnt about LGBT history via school? I went to a Catholic school, so not too much. There was one class in the entire time I was there, and it was pretty much just explaining what the acronym stood for, as most people didn’t really know what trans people were. But they glossed over it in a very religious way. Was it an open discussion among your classmates? Not really. Coming out of school, I learnt that a lot of my teachers were queer, but they couldn’t be open about it as there was a lot of ridiculing from the kids. I had my group of friends, who were all somewhat part of the community, but even then, we kept it among ourselves as there were a lot of slurs thrown about. What do you find to be the most useful resource for learning about LGBT history? I think Mosaic is great, I’ve learnt a lot here. They teach you a lot about queer history through the ages, not just in the past 50-60 years. Otherwise, places like Twitter and Pink News are things I try to keep up with. Do you have any LGBT mentors or idols that you speak to or look up to? I grew up listening to David Bowie, and coming here, the mentors are all really close to us. It’s a really enlightening place.
Courtney, 16. Ricky, 16. Martina, 17.
"I want to be involved in activism in the future! I want to become a lawyer, as I want to be able to take part in changing some current laws, and creating new ones." - Jake
What do you identify as? Queer and genderfluid. Have you heard of Stonewall? Yeah. Do you remember how you heard about it? I think they probably mentioned it in Glee when I was younger, and so I tried to find out what it was. Was Glee a particularly informative resource on LGBT issues for you? Well, I grew up in Nigeria, which is a strict country where you can be killed for being gay. So that was the only thing I had access to that showed LGBT people in a positive light. What do you know about the Stonewall uprising? I know that Marsha P. Johnson was the first person to throw something, and that sparked a whole revolution. Are you active at all in LGBT activism? I try to be! I went to the Brunei protest a couple months ago. I mostly try to talk online, I can’t do too much activism because of my family, but I try to do what I can. What do you find to be the most useful resource for learning about LGBT history? I think that coming here to Mosaic is really informative, and certain internet sites and forums are really useful. Have you forged relationships with people through social media? Yeah, definitely. When I was in Nigeria, it was literally the only way I could speak with other LGBT people, so I think it was super useful. Do you have any LGBT mentors or idols that you speak to or look up to? I love all the mentors we have here, but the famous person that speaks to me is Laverne Cox!
What do you identify as? Pretty much anything. Are you aware of the Stonewall riots? Somewhat, yeah. How much do you know about them? I watched a movie about it, but I know that a lot of LGBTQI people protested for it to be legal to go to a bar. Do you think it’s relevant to young people today? Yeah, it’s definitely relevant, it’s a part of our history. What’s your LGBT education been like via school? Nothing! They’re getting a lot better, though. Lukasz [Mosaic leader] has gone to my school a lot to give training, but in my experience growing up, I received nothing. I’m the last 90s kid, so nothing. Do have any other resources for finding out about LGBTQ history? Well, when I first came here, I didn’t know anything and felt that I needed to learn some stuff to fit in. So I looked online and looked at forums, Reddit, Facebook, even Instagram. But Twitter’s my main source. How involved in activism are you? I want to be in the future! I want to become a lawyer, as I want to be able to take part in changing some current laws, and creating new ones. Do you have any LGBT icons or heroes? A bit of a cliché, but I love Marc Jacobs. I love fashion, but law’s the path I want to take most. It was either going to be fashion, law or science, but I just love Marc’s work!
"I’ve taken the history GCSE, and there is no queer history on the curriculum, it just doesn’t come into it at all." - Camera
What do you identify as? Bisexual. Have you heard of the Stonewall riots? I have, I don’t know too much about them, but we were taught about them in the Stonewall Champions club I helped to set up in my school in Year 9 or 10. So we had a couple sessions on the topic. So you started an advocacy group? Yeah, Stonewall [the charity] has a club that you can start in your own school, and you level up depending on what you’re doing and how much you speak out about it. So we were actually on the news, speaking about LGBT youth literature in the first year we set up. Was your school quite supportive of LGBT activism? Not as much at first, but as the group went on and more people were coming out, they didn’t care too much about it, so it was quite neutral. We made a couple lesson plans to teach to other students, but I’m not sure if they were actually ever taught. Was there any LGBT education before you started that? No, none at all. How do you access information about LGBT history? Through the club, but also through my own research on the internet and in libraries. Were there particular things you wanted to discover? When I was first thinking about my sexuality, it was things like “Am I gay?” “Is this normal?” I was 11 at the time, and terrified that people would hate me. Do you have any LGBT mentors or idols that you speak to or look up to? Lukasz who runs Mosaic, as he’s proud of who he is and doesn’t let anyone shame him for it.
What do you identify as? Non-binary and lesbian. Have you heard of Stonewall? Yeah, it’s both a charity and also a riot that took place in 1969. Do you remember how you first found out about it? I’ve always been interested in history, and when I started looking into queer history, it was one of the first things that came up, but it kind of feels like something I’ve always known about. Have you learnt much about LGBT history via school? No, it doesn’t exist! I’ve taken the history GCSE, and there is no queer history on the curriculum, it just doesn’t come into it at all. So where do you access information about LGBT history? The internet, Gay’s The Word bookshop, and my local library. Are there particular resources online that you use? Wikipedia’s always good, and I follow two different queer history podcasts. Are you involved at all in any LGBT activism? I have been, but not recently because of exams. And do you have any LGBT mentors or idols that you speak to or look up to? I’ve got many! Sylvia Rivera, the Chevalier d’Éon, Alan Turing… there are so many.
Photography Lola and Pani
This article originally appeared on i-D UK.