It’s a perfect summer day for a parade in the West Village.
Yesterday I went by Stonewall, just to visit and pay my respects before the crowds arrive. I was touched to see many people standing nearby just observing and quietly taking pictures. (Half of them were probably undercover NYPD, but still.)
Two days ago the President of the United States designated Stonewall and its surrounding area as the first national monument to honor the LGBTQ community and its struggles for equality and civil rights. I am hardly a big fan of Barack Obama (2L4O), but I do like to give him credit where credit is due. This is a beautiful thing.
The national monument designation for Stonewall has long been in the works, and our congresscritter Jerry Nadler has been a tireless advocate for it. He announced the designation in a newsletter to constituents even before the White House broke the news. Nadler had this to say:
President Obama’s designation of the Stonewall National Monument recognizes that the events of the Stonewall Uprising in 1969 launched the modern LGBT civil rights movement here and around the world —like Selma did for racial justice and Seneca Falls did for women’s rights. We are faced with painful reminders daily of how much further we must go to achieve true equality and tolerance for the LGBT community, but honoring and preserving the stories of Stonewall—including of those who have rarely been acknowledged, such as transgender individuals of color, in our National Park System is a clear symbol of how far we have come.
Spot on, Jerry. Not that you would know it from the widely-slammed 2015 film Stonewall, but it was Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera and other transwomen of color who were the shock troops on the front lines of the Stonewall riots, firing the first shots (so to speak) at the police. Today we will have a contingent of LGBTQ members of the NYPD and other local law enforcement personnel marching in the Pride parade, passing right in front of Stonewall. That is nothing short of remarkable.
I have written before about the erasure of individuals from oppressed groups from historical narratives:
Presentations at a CFI Women in Secularism conference by both Susan Jacoby and Jennifer Michael Hecht touched on contributions of women being routinely written out of historical narratives in favor of (no more or less worthy) men. A woman’s erasure turns out to be even more likely when she is a nonbeliever or otherwise unorthodox. (Similarly, atheist men also tend to be erased from historical narratives in favor of believers—this is religious privilege at work.)
Pile on the intersectional axes of race and trans, and it is remarkable that the stories of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera survive at all.
To learn more about Marsha P. Johnson, I highly recommend this 2012 documentary Pay it No Mind – The Life and Times of Marsha P. Johnson. From the blurbs:
“Marsha, what a trip. She was something else. I vividly remember seeing her back in the 70’s & 80’s on Christopher Street. Kids would point at her in awe with bulging bug-eyes saying, “See that crazy drag queen over there?” I would respond, “Well honey, she started the Stonewall riots.” The listener’s mouth without fail would drop agape, because she was truly a sight to see. Then, after that, all the up and coming queens whenever we saw her would pause & genuflect as she made her way along the cobblestone streets of Greenwich Village. She is an undisputed icon. She’s the Statue of Liberty, the Eiffel Tower, and the Sphinx all rolled up into one divine ball.” —- Jack Walls
This feature-length documentary focuses on revolutionary trans-activist, Marsha “Pay it No Mind” Johnson, a Stonewall instigator, Andy Warhol model, drag queen, sex worker, starving actress, and Saint. “Pay It” captures the legendary gay/human rights activist as she recounts her life at the forefront of The Stonewall Riots in the 1960s, the creation of S.T.A.R. (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) with Sylvia Rivera in the ’70s, and a New York City activist throughout the ’80s and early ’90s. Through her own words, as well as in-depth interviews with gay activist Randy Wicker, former Cockettes performer Agosto Machado, author Michael Musto, Hot Peaches founder/performer, Jimmy Camicia, and Stonewall activists Bob Kohler, Danny Garvin, Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt, and Martin Boyce, Marsha’s story lives on.
I would have liked to know her. She died a year or so before I moved to New York. But I take a small amount of solace from the fact that we can all know of her, so that her story does not die.
To learn more about Sylvia Rivera, start here. You can also donate to support the incredible—and incredibly necessary—work of the Sylvia Rivera Law Project in addressing “issues of systemic poverty and racism, and prioritizing the struggles of queer and trans people who face the most severe and multi-faceted discrimination.”
For my local peeps, on Thursday June 30, 2016, 7:30-9:00 pm, there is a candlelight vigil and flower ceremony to honor the lives and works of Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson at the Christopher Street Pier (Pier 40).
To learn more about life here during the era bracketed by the Stonewall riots and the AIDS crisis, you can buy or rent the documentary Gay Sex in the 70’s here. While its focus is predominately on white cis gay men (what was I just saying about erasure?), the film captures both the unbridled joy of LGBTQ emancipation and the devastating fears that characterized the time—at least according to several of my gay friends who lived here and somehow managed to survive it. They are among an astonishingly rare few.
There is so much to grieve, so much work still to do, and yet so much for this community to celebrate. I hope everybody stays safe out there today.