Stonewall riots pioneers are meeting in New York City to celebrate 50 years of a new era in LGBTQ history

This Pride month, some of the LGBTQ rights pioneers who took part in the Stonewall uprising 50 years ago are reuniting in the city where it all started.

SAGE, the country’s largest and oldest advocacy organization for older LGBTQ people, is honoring the milestones achieved by the community by bringing together 20 of the revolutionary figures who “by refusing to accept police harassment and abuse lit the match that started the modern LGBT rights movement,” SAGE’s CEO Michael Adams said.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Molly Bennett Aitken, who took part in the uprising, told the Daily News about the reunion. “Everyone is really grateful.”

Aitken was at the Stonewall Inn on the night when for “the very first time we stood up and said, ‘Enough!’” she said of the angry demonstrations by members of the gay community after cops raided the Greenwich Village bar on June 28, 1969.

Police started “beating people, and pushing them around,” she said. “It was very, very awful, but it was the beginning of Pride.”

Aitken, 76, now serves on the executive committee of the Stonewall Veterans Association (SVA), an organization that works to keep the memory of Stonewall alive. Though SVA members meet regularly at New York City’s LGBTQ community center, this gathering will be different.

Thanks to a partnership with hospitality giant Airbnb, 10 veterans who no longer live in the New York area are coming to the city to participate in the festivities later this month. For some, this will mark their first time back in the city since 1969.

The meeting of Stonewall veterans is part of a broader campaign, entitled “We Belong Together,” which aims to bridge the gap between different generations of LGBTQ trailblazers by promoting the sharing of their experiences in the fight for equality. A short film featuring LGBTQ heroes from different decades, airing on YouTube, shows conversations between younger and older generations about the meaning of Pride and the significance of the Stonewall uprising.

Aitken, who now lives in Athol, Mass., is thrilled about the upcoming reunion.

“It’s very important that people understand what Stonewall was about,” she said. ”It was all about being accepted and respected and treated the way everyone in America should be treated, with understanding and respect.”

She also wants younger generations to remember that all “the Pride celebrations (that) show the recognition of gay people, to the point that you have (gay politician Pete) Buttigieg running for president, (they) all came because of the sacrifice of the people that night at the Stonewall who stood up publicly to demand gay rights.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Daily News on June 9, 2019.