Montco Raises Pride Flag

Norristown Times Herald

Montco raises pride flag at courthouse to commemorate Stonewall Riots

By Gary Puleo

June 19, 2019

NORRISTOWN — A smiling Malachi was front and center in the crowd on Tuesday afternoon, assuring prominent participation in a “part of history.”

The occasion drawing dozens of supporters was marked by Montgomery County officials raising the rainbow LGBTQ pride flag at the courthouse, which would fly high with the county flag through the end of the month.

“I am actually a transman and also bisexual and have been my entire life,” said the Jeffersonville native and resident. “So I’m here to be part of a moment in history with Norristown, Pa., and Montgomery County overcoming hatred and raising the rainbow flag to let everybody know that Montgomery County has LGBTQI people, including military, and we’ve been here and we’re not going anywhere. People need to get over it and we need to come together in solidarity.”

Malachi, who declined to give a last name, explained that the “I” stands for intersex.

“It’s people who are born with both sexes, male and female. There’s a lot of variations to it … you can be born with uterus and ovaries and testes and penis, or you can be born with just ovaries and penis. It depends; everybody is different. We have to remember that not only do we have intersex but that they also identify as lesbian, bisexual, gay; it’s not just about straight and gay and male and female.”

Malachi joined the huge crowd gathered at the corner of Swede and Airy streets as it cheered on Montgomery County Commissioners' Chairwoman Valerie Arkoosh, who called the event a joyous occasion. 

“We are leading the way to expand non-discrimination policies, embrace inclusiveness and promote our message that all individuals are valued and welcome here in our county,” Arkoosh said. 

“Today, for the first time Montgomery County is raising a pride flag and we’re doing that to honor and commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots. The Stonewall Riots,” Arkoosh explained, “are considered one of the most important catalysts in the fight for LGBTQ rights in America. In the 1960s the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan was one of the very few establishments that welcomed openly gay people. And after a particularly tense raid on June 28, 1969, village residents and allies rioted, protested, and most importantly, organized into activist groups that spurred what was then called the gay liberation movement." 

"The lasting legacy of the Stonewall Riots,” she added, “has been seen in celebrations throughout the month of June, and we are doing our part here in Montgomery County to commemorate the Stonewall Riots led by Marsha Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two transgendered women of color, and we honor them by raising the flag here today.” 

According to smithsonianmag.com, Johnson and Rivera and others who played central roles in the Stonewall uprising, will soon be honored with the installaton of a monument, which will be the  “first permanent, public artwork recognizing transgender women in the world,” according to the City of New York. 

Arkoosh recognized notable speakers and guests on hand, including Judge Daniel Clifford, the “first openly gay judge on the Montgomery County Court of Common Pleas and the first openly gay county-wide elected official outside of Philadelphia County (in the state);” County Treasurer Jason Salus; Recorder of Deeds Jeanne Sorg; Abington Township commissioner Lori Schreiber, “the first openly gay township official in Montgomery County; Melissa Buckminster, president, Montgomery County LGBT Business Council and director of marketing for Montco SAAC; former Norristown councilman Bill Caldwell; Montgomery County Commissioner Ken Lawrence; Dr. Rachel Levine, Secretary of Health for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; Jason Landau Goodman, founding executive director of Pennsylvania Youth Congress and Aidan DeStefano.

DeStefano, “graduated from Boyertown High School two years ago and he was the lead student advocating to recognize the right of transgendered students to use the bathrooms and locker rooms that matched their gender identities at Boyertown School District,” Arkoosh noted, adding that DeStefano is currently enrolled at Montgomery County Community College.

Lawrence pointed out that the state legislature needs to “do what they need to do to adopt state-wide (ordinances), but we’re proud of what local municipalities are doing here in Montgomery County, where 21 municipalities have adopted non-discrimination ordinance to prohibit discrimination against sexual orientation and gender identity.”

Lawrence introduced his “friend and hero who is still on the front lines here in Montgomery County,” Register of Wills D. Bruce Hanes, who was the first elected official to issue a same-sex marriage license in Pennsylvania back in 2013, challenging the state ban on same-sex marriage. 

“There are several messages from Stonewall. One is, don’t wait for the system to change, you make it change,” Hanes said.

"Six years ago this month my office was contacted by an attorney for two women who wanted a marriage license. I thought to myself, ‘what a great opportunity to do something really progressive, or get smacked down decisively. Fortunately, it worked out for the former.”

Hanes recalled that the decision to issue the marriage license was ultimately made, “after many, many meetings to do it, to stand on the right side of history and issue same-sex marriage licenses. Just like Stonewall 50 years ago on June 28, 1969, there are moments when things must change. Inequality, discrimination, second class citizenship are wrong and un-American, and the summer of 2013 was that moment. That was the era when everyone said, ‘slow down, the law will eventually change, public opinion is already moving your way.’ But let me propose this: As what happened at Stonewall 50 years ago, equality and equal protection are not negotiable. They ought not be part of the political process. They must be recognized right here, right now.”

Hanes quoted the lyrics of an old song that moved him and deeply resonated with a  message so relevant that day, moments before the rainbow flag was raised in the robust afternoon breeze: “There’s a time to show up, shut up, loosen up, wise up  … but there ain’t never, never, never  a time to give up.”

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