November 24, 1999, the day before Thanksgiving I came out to my mom. She was the very first person in my family that heard the words, “I am gay.” The second was my father, then my brother. The next day I celebrated Thanksgiving with my family, and that weekend I decided to tell my entire family. I took a trip to their homes and shared my news. Overall, it was well received except for a few people – but that is not why I am writing this, I am writing this for a different reason.
When I came out at 17 I was young, naïve and pretty blind – like most young people in their time. I was fortunate that I had an incredible network at college that supported me and educated me. In fact, I was blessed with a “gay mom” who really showed me the ropes…and by “ropes” don’t let your mind wander and think in the gutter: I’m talking about our herstory. The herstory of the LGBTQIA+ community, who they are, why we are who we are and how we use (or should use) our herstory to make advanced to the future. Oh, and how current issues often overlook actual herstory in a way to control what people actually remember. But some stories and people just cannot be erased.
As Pride month rapidly approaches it reminds me that our herstory is diverse. Our herstory is rich. Our herstory is more than just one group of us. Our herstory must pay tribute to, and honor all of the people that helped pave the way to today. Each year in June “the gays” (that’s community colloquialism purposely used) congregate all month and celebrate. Marches occur around the country (and globe) and people remember the plight of the community – but do they? They remember the tragedies that we’ve faced: from the uprising at Stonewall In, the AIDS crisis and the downright discriminating practices that are still seen in today’s America. But this year is something special: it’s the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the riots that sparked the modern LGBTQIA+ movements – or as some call it, “The Gay Rights/Liberation Movement.” But what does everyone know about those riots? Was this the first of it’s kind? Who was there? Was it just gay people? Who is remembered? Who actually rose up to help [continue to] pave the path that folks like me, a white cis-gay male, and others get to walk every single day? Let’s take a brief walk through herstory up until 1969: aka “the real herstory.”
1895: The Cercle Hermaphrodites came together in New York to unite the androgyne community.
1924: The Society for Human Rights was founded by Henry Gerber, a gay man, as a gay organization.
1950: Mattachine Society created for gay males.
1956: Daughters of Bilitis created for lesbians.
1963: Bayard Rustin organized a March on Washington, an openly gay man working alongside Dr. King.
1965: Dewey’s Lunch Counter Sit In that included lesbian, gay and trans people of color.
1966: Transgender Riots at Compton’s Cafeteria.
1969: The Stonewall Riots in New York City – but who was there?
Let’s take a closer look at some omitted facts about what actually happened in 1969 at The Stonewall Inn:
- NYC Police often harassed patrons of bars like Stonewall due to laws that prohibited cross dressing and men dancing with other men. The police would often drag people to the bathrooms to inspect their genitalia and then report what they found in public spaces like newspapers to out individuals resulting in people losing their families, jobs and livelihoods.
- Sylvia Rivera is notorious for having thrown a bottle that shattered a police car’s window after having been prodded by his nightstick – this act is notorious for having been the first. Rivera is known for said that, “That night, everything clicked. Great, now it’s my time. I’m out there being a revolutionary for everybody else, now it’s time to do my own thing for my own people.”
- The crowed was enabled to act up as they watched an unnamed butch female wearing a man’s styled black leather jacket put up a hell-of-a fight while being forced to the police car.
- Other Stonewallers (how veterans of the event refer to themselves) include Marsha P. Johnson, Miss Major, Daria Modon, China Fucito, Strome Delarverie, Leigh McManus, Danny Garvin, Virginia Apuzzo, Electra O’Mara, Terri Van Dyke and many, many more.
- When more police arrived to “rescue” police that were trapped inside the bar, a chorus line of drag queens formed. They taunted the police by kicking up their heels and singing, “We are the Stonewall girls / We wear our hair in curls / We wear no underwear / We wear our dungarees / Above our nelly knees!”
- On the first night police actually singled out transgender people, gender nonconforming (including effeminate men and butch women) and beat them.
If it weren’t for trans people, drag queens and gender nonconforming individuals that were there alongside the gay and lesbians, today would not be what it is…and while today is far from perfect, organizations like GLAAD, Lambda Legal Defense and the Sylvia Rivera Law Project would likely not exist. So why is this important in today’s LGBTQIA+ environment? Because of the following:
- Queer herstory is often white washed – leaving out the most influential and notable contributors to the LGBTQIA+ movement. Don’t believe me? Watch the 2015 movie, “Stonewall.” Sylvia Rivera, Miss Major and other trans women and women were simply omitted.
- Many queer spaces to this day remain transphobic and exclude transgender individuals. A particular subgroup of feminist women, known as TERF (trans exclusionary radical feminist), have a complete lack of disregard to the fact that trans women are real women. Oh, and there was a movement just a few years ago to “drop the T,” from LGBTQIA+. Cause that’s really inclusive.
- Many cisfolk are absolutely “ok” with gay, lesbian and bisexuality (at least at face value), but cringe and cower at discussions surrounding transgender, gender nonconforming, genderqueer or intersex individuals. It comes down to listening and expanding one’s brain to realize that not all experiences in this world align with one particular lens (in this case the cisheteronormative lens).
- Effective as of April 2019, there is a transgender ban that disallows transgender individuals from serving in the armed forces.
- As recently as May 22, 2019, just 9 days before Pride Month starts, the Trump Administration announced that they announced a plan to deny transgender people experiencing homelessness equal access to shelters.
- People are so quick to push for laws about those not even born, but wont even come to the conversation for those that are already alive and actually being murdered for simply living and being themselves.
So this June, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots don’t forget all of the people who have affected queer herstory that’s led to this moment. Let’s honor them all, but most of all, let’s not forget those that are still, to this day, the most marginalized of our community. So long as their rights are being persecuted while also being dehumanized and murdered on the streets, we are not all equal. Floating in and out of privilege should not be an option. Our community is the way it is because of the most marginalized; forgetting them, who they are, forgetting their humanity and the monumental role they played in our herstory is nothing short of supporting those that seek to oppress. We are stronger together, our collective herstory shows that. Now let’s honor that and act on it.