The history that gives me pride and the racism that shames us
This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, when trans and queer people fought back against police violence. At the Stonewall riots, a slow revolution reached a watershed.
Trans and queer activists emerged from the three-day uprising changed. Older strategies of secrecy and respectability no longer held appeal. A new generation of activists embraced the slogans “gay is good” and “gay power.” The transformation at Stonewall crystalized into what we call Pride.
What does Pride mean 50 years later?
There is much I love about being queer and trans, but only a few parts of our culture give me pride. At the top of that list are Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson.
Rivera and Johnson were transgender women of color, both of whom participated in the Stonewall Riots. They later formed a groundbreaking organization called Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR). They truly were revolutionary.
Through STAR, Rivera and Johnson provided a home for other trans youth. They raised money to provide legal assistance for incarcerated trans women. At the root of STAR's politics was a vision of a transformed world. Rivera and Johnson wanted to end war, racism, capitalism and the prison system.
Rivera spoke out about the treatment of trans women within the gay liberation movement with intelligence and passion. Generous without end, Johnson embodied her beliefs by sharing everything she had with other queer and trans people.
Rivera and Johnson represent what I want to be. Their example lends me strength.
For their revolutionary vision, white gays and lesbians rejected and abandoned Rivera and Johnson.
During the 1973 Stonewall anniversary march, gay liberation leaders attempted to pull Rivera off the stage. Devastated, Rivera attempted suicide. She would have died had Johnson not miraculously arrived in time to save her. For the rest of their lives, Johnson and Rivera were treated as shameful and dangerous by many white gays and lesbians who didn't want impoverished trans women of color representing them.
Even as a monument to Rivera and Johnson is finally being erected in New York City, my heart is heavy. It will stand in a neighborhood that used to be a haven for queer and trans communities of color. A monument is a cruel consolation prize for gentrification. I'd take Johnson and Rivera's living, breathing, voguing children over a statue any day.
On the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, I'm proud, certainly, but I am also ashamed.
In Columbus, our community members most like Rivera and Johnson are still often unwelcome in mainstream queer and trans spaces.
We have not fully reckoned with the police violence against the Black Pride 4 protesters during the 2017 Stonewall Pride parade. Instead of joining black trans women in holding Stonewall Columbus accountable for failing to advocate for the Black Pride 4, too many white queer and trans people have rushed to reconcile.
We still treat the right to party as more important than the right of trans women of color to exist.
Honoring the legacy of Stonewall means listening to queer and trans people of color and following their leadership. When we do that, then my heart will swell with pride.