Norfolk bar hosts community 50th Stonewall anniversary event

(Southside Daily/Courtesy of MJ's Tavern)
(Southside Daily/Courtesy of MJ’s Tavern)

NORFOLK — June 28 marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots and the bar here that some people call the “gay Cheers” is hosting a community event Saturday to remember.

John Childers said he and his husband, Mike, opened MJ’s Tavern in 2012 with hopes of creating a fully inclusive community space “where everybody is welcomed like you’d be in someone’s home.”

Their event is no different with festivities that are free and open to the public starting at 11 a.m.

“We have drag queen performers, a live band, a DJ, and different informational tents,” Childers said.

Attendees can visit booths and get more information from organizations including the LGBT Life Center, Knight Hawks of Virginia, Stonewall Sports League, PFLAG, Tidewater Queer History Project, and more.

“So people know who’s out there to support them if they need something and who they go to — people still love you,” he said.

Childers said it’s important to remember the 50th anniversary of the riots at the Stonewall Inn when “nobody was safe.”

“Across the U.S. in most cities, LGBT people were penalized, beaten, arrested, and prosecuted for simply being out in public,” he said.

On June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Inn, a drag queen bar in New York, was raided by police as a lot of gay bars were in that period — but this time, Childers said, people were ready.

“They were getting tired of people walking in and beating them with sticks just because you’re different than they are,” he said.

After a typical bar raid back then, people were arrested and their names printed in the newspaper, but on that night which now serves as a historical milestone in the LGBT rights movement, “people fought back,” Childers said.

“The purpose was to make you feel ashamed and less than a person, to out you to your family and friends, to hurt your career,” he said.

Childers said remembering the Stonewall riots “reminds us how far we’ve come,” but “there’s so much more still ahead of us.”

“We want people to realize it hasn’t stopped, it’s gotten better, but it isn’t where it should be,” he said.

RELATED STORY: LGBTQ historian: ‘We have come a long way, there is still a very long way to go’

State and city leaders are invited to the event along with anyone else who is curious or has questions.

“Prejudice is based on fear and fear is based on the unknown,” Childers said.

The restaurant is also selling Stonewall anniversary T-shirts with all proceeds benefiting local LGBT organizations.

Childers said the ultimate goal here is to help people feel safe with who they are.

“Equality is what everybody wants and to be treated fairly,” he said.

To learn more about MJ’s Tavern and this event, click here.

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