Today marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall
RiotsRebellion, and the beginning of the movement for LGBTQ rights in the United States. As a proud member of the community, this history is important to me, especially since it was not taught to me growing up. Everything I learned about the history of LGBTQ+ peoples, I learned from the internet. As such, I thought it was time that I contributed a short informative article about the community’s origins, so that others like me, who are growing up in a conservative–probably Christian–household can learn about the people who paved the way for them to have the right to express who they are.
Before I was out or actually, before I was even really figuring out my own sexuality, I was attending Pride events with a friend who is a gay man. I thought Pride was all about glitter and rainbows and parties (and let’s be real, there’s a lot of that during Pride month), but later I learned the reason why we celebrate Pride in June, and about the brave people in our community who stood up and said, “No” to discrimination.
In the mid-twentieth century, all 50 states had laws declaring same-sex relationships a criminal act. It is exceedingly important to remember that the people who were involved in the riots were also the most marginalized: transgender women of color, drag queens and kings, and homeless youths. These groups all found their safe space at the Stonewall Inn, and these same people became the spark that ignited the flame that led to a worldwide movement.
“Happy Birthday, Marsha!” A Short Film
Marsha P. Johnson was a drag queen who was heavily involved in the Stonewall uprising and was a key figure in the gay liberation movement. She was present at the riots (some accounts say that she shattered the windshield of a cop car with a brick), and later became an important activist in the fight for LGBTQ rights. Later in her life, she became an HIV/AIDS activist.
This short film is a fictional depiction of Marsha and her friend, and fellow pioneer Sylvia Rivera, in the hours before the beginning of the rebellion. It is written, directed, and produced by Tourmaline and Sasha Wortzel.
The film is available to stream on Amazon Prime.
“A Stormé Life” A short documentary
Stormé DeLarverie has been called the “Rosa Parks of the gay community” because she is rumored to have thrown the first punch at Stonewall in 1969. If you’re unfamiliar with what happened that night, the police raided the Stonewall Inn late in the night (this wasn’t uncommon, but the Mafia paid off the police and were usually tipped off as to when the raids were going to occur. This night, they were not tipped off and were not prepared for the raid). Stonewall had no liquor license, so the alcohol was confiscated and drag queens and drag kings, as well as anyone else not wearing clothing attributed to their biological gender, was arrested. Stormé was one of the arrestees that night, and as she was hauled into a police car, she resisted arrest.
No one knows for sure if she started the fight or not, but maybe it doesn’t matter, because her influence and activism reached a hell of a lot farther than that one night.
THE STONEWALL RIOTS: COMING OUT INTO THE STREETS BY GAYLE PITTMAN
There are a lot of books written about Stonewall and the movements that followed, but until very recently, I had never seen one displayed in the children’s section of Barnes & Noble. This book, aimed at children and teens ages 12-15, is a thorough examination of the events before, during, and after Stonewall and its cultural and historical significance in the United States.
I’m including this book, which you can purchase on Amazon here (OR find in your local B&N!), because I am so thrilled that activists like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Storme DeLarverie paved the way for books like this to even exist to give to our children to read.
Celebrate Pride and Remember Stonewall
This weekend, as you throw glitter and rainbows and probably drink way too many Bloody Marys, remember what made it possible and who made it possible. Remember that it was LGBTQ people of color who were on the front lines, and remember that their rights are still under attack. Here are a few non-profit organizations to consider donating to that work to protect their rights and yours.