Pride Month in 2020
June is Pride Month, a time of the year that typically oozes joy and glitter. Colorful parades and rainbow-splashed events invite the LGBTQ+ community and its allies to show their inclusivity and celebrate love for all.
This year, Pride looks a little different as we navigate a confusing world affected by two global crises: one, a vicious infectious virus fought by doctors and scientists, the other, institutionalized racism confronted by protestors.
The echoes of our current tumultuous climate can be heard in the Stonewall Riots of June 28, 1969. Shortly after midnight, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a known gay hotspot in Greenwich Village, New York, for serving liquor without a license. Unrest bubbled up within the LGBTQ+ community in the area, as police had been targeting and closing gay clubs. This raid was the last straw, and as a shower of bottles and debris rained upon the police, a riot rose up.
The patrons of the club, as well as others in the area, protested into sunup, and days of demonstrations and protests followed. Gay and lesbian organizations began to form as people became more outspoken and less fearful. The first official Gay Pride Parade took place in New York, beginning right outside the Stonewall Inn, the following year.
While the broad strokes of this story might feel familiar, over time, it has lost some specificity. It’s important to remember that many of the patrons of the Stonewall Inn were transgender women of color. Two important players in the movement that followed were Marsha P. Johnson, a transgender Black woman, and Sylvia Rivera, a transgender Latina woman.
Known as “the mayor of Christopher Street” and frequently crowned with fresh flowers or fruit in her hair, Marsha was a gay rights activist, founder of the Gay Liberation Front, and co-founder of the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR). Marsha was one of the first drag queens allowed inside the Stonewall Inn, which was previously only open to gay men. Though she denies starting the riot, she was certainly a prominent figure in the uprising that night, as well as the systemic changes that occurred afterward.
There is some controversy as to whether Marsha’s good friend Sylvia was at the Stonewall Inn on the night of the riots, but regardless of her role in those protests, she became a powerful figure as the movement grew. A former underage sex worker taken in by drag queens, Sylvia co-founded STAR, a group that sought to help homeless LGBTQ+ youth. Sylvia later became an organizer with ACT-UP, a political group aiming to ends the AIDS pandemic.
A series of statues in Christopher Park, New York, across from the Stonewall Inn, honors Gay and Lesbian Liberation activists but doesn’t feature transwomen of color. This will be remedied in 2021 with a monument honoring Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.
Martin Luther King Jr. said, “A riot is the language of the unheard.” These women – and the entire LGBTQ+ community – could no longer go unheard, and by raising their voices in protest, they did so much to advance LGBTQ+ rights.
This Pride Month, consider the battles others have faced, and examine the untold stories of people of color within the LGBTQ+ community. How do the events and challenges of today line up with the issues fought in the past? How can we support people of color in the LGBTQ+ community? If you are not a member of a repressed minority, how can you be a better ally?