Faces Behind the Movement: History-Making Trailblazers from the Stonewall Riots
People typically associate Pride Month with the Stonewall Uprising. In fact, the first Gay Pride Parade, originally called the Christopher Street Gay Liberation March, took place on June 28, 1970. One year following the events of Stonewall. With that being said, the gay rights movement did begin before Stonewall happened. Stonewall did act as a springboard for LGBTQ+ activism, though, ultimately leading to the inception of numerous gay rights organizations like GLAAD, PFLAG, and The Gay Liberation Front.
What ultimately led to the Stonewall uprising was a combination of things, the first thing being the police raiding The Stonewall Inn, entering the club, roughing up patrons, and ultimately arresting 13 people, including employees, for “violating the state’s gender appropriate clothing statute.”
In 1969, it was illegal to wear clothing deemed “inappropriate for your gender” – police officers even went as far as to take patrons suspected of “cross-dressing” to the bathroom to physically check their sex. Same-sex relationships and homosexual acts were illegal in 1969, up until just a couple years prior, it was even illegal to serve liquor to anyone suspected to be a member of the LGBT+ community; at the time, it was argued, “the mere gathering of homosexuals was disorderly.”
The police regularly raided any establishment suspected to be a gay bar. The patrons who were arrested would have their name, age, and the crime they were charged with, printed in the local paper; forcing them to be outed. The police had already raided The Stonewall Inn just a few days prior to this second raid. The anguish and frustration sparked by back-to-back raids acted as kerosine to an already smoldering fire.
The Stonewall Uprising was, figuratively, an uprising of the collective LGBTQ+ community -- It’s aftermath ultimately leading to increased awareness of LGBTQ+ issues as well as increased activism for the LGBTQ+ community. However, there are a few notable figures that are closely associated with the Stonewall Riots -- and the Gay Pride Movement overall.
Stormé was born in New Orleans. She worked as a bouncer for multiple lesbian bars in NYC during the 80s and 90s. She was present at the Stonewall Riots and was rumored to have been the first one to throw a punch at the riots. She was a groundbreaking drag performer wearing zoot suits and black ties often for her drag king persona.
Following Stonewall, she became a community street patrol volunteer and held a leadership position in the Stonewall Veterans Association. She was often referred to as “The Guardian of the Lesbians in the Village.”
Marsha P. Johnson
Marsha hailed from New Jersey, moving to New York in the 1960s. She was a key member of the city’s drag community, a founding member of The Gay Liberation Front, and she earned money as a sex worker. Though she was a prominent figure at the riots, some have mistakenly credited her for starting the riots, a rumor she herself has refuted. She said she was not present when the riots began but did join later, arriving around 2:00 that morning.
Following Stonewall, she was an extremely active advocate for the LGBTQ+ community. Marsha worked with ACT UP for AIDS activism; she also founded STAR (Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries). She modeled for Andy Warhol and was called the “Mayor of Christopher Street” for being such a welcoming figure in Greenwich Village.
Miss Major Griffin-Gracy
Miss Major Griffin-Gacy, or Miss Major as she’s often referred to, was born in Chicago and was also a leading presence at the Stonewall Uprising. She was kicked out of two colleges for the outward expression of her identity and is formerly the long-time executive director of the San Francisco-based Transgender Gender-Variant Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP), which advocates for Trans women of color in and outside of prison.
She, herself, has experienced police brutality and is a survivor of Attica State Prison. She’s received numerous awards and accolades for her 50+ years of activism for the trans community.
Sylvia was born in Bronx, New York and was close friends with another Stonewall participant: Marsha P. Johnson. In fact, Sylvia co-founded The Gay Liberation Front with Marsha.
Sylvia acted as a house mother for STAR (Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries) House, an organization that provided lodging, clothing, and food to homeless transgender youth. In 1994 she was honored at the 25th anniversary celebration of the Stonewall Riots.
Choose to be the change
These are just a small handful of the thousands of people who have advocated, and continue to advocate, for the LGBTQ+ community. The Stonewall Uprising definitely helped light a fire under the Gay Rights Movement but it’s the activists who continue to do the work, day-in and day-out, that are the real change-makers.
There’s still a lot of work to be done in the fight for LGBTQ+ rights. Instead of just showing support by choosing to fly a rainbow flag during Pride Month, make the choice to really get involved if you aren’t already.
Advocate for equality
Advocate for kindness and inclusion, even when it means having an uncomfortable conversation with someone. Take action in your local community by advocating, or voting, for inclusive policies and laws. Stay informed; continually educate yourself on issues affecting all corners of the LGBTQ+ community. If you’re not a part of the LGBTQ+ community, actively practice empathy; shift your perspective by trying to put yourself in their shoes. Talk to your LGBTQ+ loved ones, or watch films, read books and listen to podcasts created by members of the LGBTQ+ community. Whatever you do, just. do. something. Get involved. Make your voice heard. Be a shoulder to lean on.