Image Credit: Getty Images

Stonewall Inn's Stacy Lentz on the Legacy and Future of Pride

Did JoJo Siwa invent Pride? No, and I sat down with someone who is an expert on the topic. Stacy Lentz, the co-owner of the Stonewall Inn and co-founder of the Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative, spoke with me earlier this month about Pride in 2024: what protest, celebration, and gathering for the queer community looks like in the context of today’s political world, and how the historic Stonewall Inn carries on a legacy of liberation for the LGBTQ+ community. 

If you’re unfamiliar with the history of the Stonewall Inn, it was founded in 1967 and operated as a “private” gay bar, run by Mafia-member Tony Lauria to circumvent post-prohibition regulations by the New York State Liquor Authority that discriminated against the LGBTQ+ community. From the street it appeared discreet, but inside it housed two dancefloors and was one of the only gay bars in the area where people could openly party. Like most gay bars at the time, however, it was frequently raided by police. On June 28th, 1969, one of those raids served as the catalyst for a spontaneous six-day-long community uprising against police violence and oppression. Stonewall by no means started nor ended Pride and the fight for LGBTQ+ equality – but it was a key turning point in growing the movement, bringing national attention towards it, and radicalizing future calls to action. The actual property the bar held has since changed hands many times and the original bar no longer remains, but with Lentz as co-owner it does now exist in a portion of its original space under its original name. It also  carries on its legacy through the Stonewall Inn Gives Back Initiative (SIGBI), which is the official and only nonprofit of the Stonewall Inn. Read my conversation with Lentz below:

Image Credit: Getty Images

B: Can you tell me a little bit about the work that SIGBI does?

S: SIGBI is the official and only nonprofit of the Stonewall Inn, and we actually focus on creating safe spaces all over the globe, in addition to funding grassroots organizations in places where it’s still hard to be LGBTQ+ in 2024. We’ve funded folks in Iraq, in Kenya, in Uganda – which has a death penalty – and then here in states like Tennessee… or Mississippi, places where some of these horrific bills and laws are affecting folks on the ground all across the country.

B: There are so many anti-LGBTQ+ bills popping up across the country, but most people are not closely watching local politics every day, so they might not be aware of them. What do you want people to know about threats facing the LGBTQ+ community today?

S: People have to remember that everything the folks did here in 1969 so that we could have a lot of the rights we have today, could still be taken away like that. Our community, even in 2024, is really under attack. New York is pretty progressive, so I like to say that we have geographic privilege, but in a lot of these places it’s still really hard… In every movement it’s two steps forward and one step back. Right now we’re seeing one of those steps back, so everyone needs to get out and vote all the way from the President down to the school board because our rights could really be taken away.


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B: What has surprised you while working with SIGBI to designate safe spaces?

S: A lot of people assume that just because they throw up a rainbow flag a place is safe, and that’s not true. One of the reasons we created this is because we really wanted corporations, businesses, bars, sporting events that said “we are on the side of equality” to have their feet held to the fire. There are 10 criteria that we worked with marginalized community members across the country to help create, and we said “These are the things that you have to do.” You see a lot of corporations throwing that rainbow flag up in June, we never hear from them in July, September, and forget December. But in addition to them doing that, sometimes they then turn around and donate to an anti-LGBTQ+ legislator who is writing an anti-trans bill in Texas. So don’t just assume that it’s safe just because they throw up the rainbow flag, that’s not always the case.

B: It is so important to stay on corporations and hold them accountable for their words. What’s the thing that makes you the most proud that you’ve accomplished through SIGBI?

S: For me, personally, I grew up in a Christian, conservative small town in the middle of Kansas in the ‘70s and ‘80s when it was not okay to be a lesbian. So it’s really cool for me to be able to carry on the Stonewall Inn Legacy. It’s really cool to think about what this particular bar means to people all over the world, and to be able to use that as a vehicle to keep that fight alive has been the blessing of a lifetime.

B: It’s obviously Pride month, which is a protest in many forms including joy. What’s your favorite way to engage with Pride Month? 

S: Queer joy is super important. A lot of us are tired – we’ve been actively at this game, for me, for well over two decades. So to get out this month to uplift and remind people that Pride was a protest – I want to encourage the younger generation to fight and I really enjoy encouraging the youth to pick up the torch.

Bridget Schwartz
Bridget Schwartz
Bridget is Betches’ Senior Content Manager for News and Activism and strongly believes men are the reason for all of the world’s problems (with the solution being wine, obvi). Other fun facts about her: she’s Canadian, formerly a competitive Irish dancer, and can probably be found yelling into the void about reproductive justice.