/Marking 50 years of liberation 
Sinclair Russell recalls the implications of two pivotal events in the gay rights movement that took place in 1969 – the Stonewall riots in New York City and the decriminalization of homosexuality in Canada. /CHAD INGRAM Staff

Marking 50 years of liberation 

By Chad Ingram
pivotal events in the gay rights movement in North America took place
in 1969 – the Stonewall riots in New York City, and the
decriminalization of homosexuality by the Canadian government. 
Sinclair Russell was a young man in his mid-20s at the time. 
Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous, violent uprisings against
the New York Police Department by members of LGBTQ community in
retaliation for years of police raids on gay bars. They took place in
late June and early July of 1969, and are considered to have essentially
given birth to the Pride movement in North America. Named for the
Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village where the revolt began, the riots
gave way to the creation of gay activist groups in New York City, as
well as the founding of publications dedicated to gay rights. 
Russell was on Fire Island, a gay enclave just off Long Island, during the riots.
lived in Toronto, but I happened to be in New York City,” Russell says,
explaining he’d read about the riots in the newspapers in the days
following their occurrence. While he recognizes the significance of the
riots, Russell says he himself was half ambivalent to them. 
really started the whole Pride thing in New York,” he says. “ . . . I
was not all that interested in it, because I was proud all the time.” 
in the gay village in Toronto and immersed in the world of design where
he forged his career, Russell says he was sort of insulated from the
more violent aspects of the gay rights movement, since he was living in a
bit of a bubble.
“I was already surrounded by it,” he says. 
’69 and ’78, the whole thing kept growing and spread to the west
coast,” Russell continues. San Francisco artist Gilbert Baker created
the rainbow flag in 1978, and Russell will be talking about the
significance of the flag during Minden Pride flag-raising next week.
outcome of the Stonewall riots were gay rights marches, which started
on Christopher Street, where the Stonewall is located. 
Russell attended his first march on Christopher Street in 1971. 
“At that point, it was a protest,” he says. 
of the border, 1969 was significant because it was the year the
Canadian federal government decriminalized homosexuality, then-justice
minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau making the famous remark, “There’s no
place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation.”
“That was quite a
celebration,” Russell recalls. “I’m not sure we all knew exactly what
that meant, just that it wasn’t illegal anymore.” 
“I feel by that time, we did feel more free, more liberated, but it didn’t come overnight,” he says. 

Week in Canada began in 1973, with a number of cities holding
celebrations. Pride Toronto, now the country’s largest Pride
celebration, began as a protest in 1981, following a series of raids by
police on bathhouses in the city.