Stonewall

OH MY GOD, YOU GUYS. I AM SOOOOOO EXCITED TO WRITE THIS POST. I HAVE BEEN LOOKING FORWARD TO IT FOR LIKE THE WHOLE ENTIRE MONTH AND NOW I FINALLY GET TO PUBLISH IT.

…sorry, I get a little overenthusiastic about history. Today I’m going to talk about Stonewall! If you only ever learn about one event from LGBTQ+ history, let it be Stonewall. I mean, hopefully you’d learn more than that, but if your mind is absolutely CRAMMED full of information and you can only fit one more thing in there or else your brain will dribble out your ears? Then just remember Stonewall.

The Stonewall riots took place on June 28, 1969 – forty-six years ago today. They occurred in response to a police raid on the Stonewall Inn in New York City. The Stonewall was a bar and, at that time, the largest queer establishment in the United States.

Police raids on the Inn were frequent – for context, the American Psychiatric Association did not declassify homosexuality as a mental illness until 1973, and in some states it was illegal to have sex with someone of the same gender up until 2003. Additionally, the late 1960s were already filled with tension in the form of the African-American civil rights movement and protests against the Vietnam War.

To put it simply, people were already frustrated – and their patience ran out on June 28th.

The police raid occurred in the early morning hours, much later than usual. Raids were common (on both the Stonewall and on other queer bars), but usually there was some advance warning – someone would find out that the police were on their way, and would let everyone else know so they could hightail it out of the bar.

Except the warning never came that night. When the police arrived, there were more than two hundred people there… and they refused to cooperate. During raids, police would arrest anyone who was not wearing at least three articles of clothing associated with the gender they were assigned at birth.

But that night, people refused to hand over their IDs, or go with the police. Eventually the officers decided to take everyone present to the police station, but by that point a large crowd had gathered outside the bar. The police began pushing and shoving people, and the crowd-turned-mob responded by throwing things, slashing tires, et cetera. The riots continued, sporadically, until July second.

Pride has never been peaceful. We fought on that day, and we’ve fought for the right to march in Pride parades in countries all over the world. And the fight hasn’t ended yet – TODAY, police in Istanbul used tear gas, rubber bullets, and fire hoses in order to stop that city’s Pride festival. Pride has never been about quietly blending in with everyone else and following orders.

-~-

There’s something else I want to point out, and you may have already noticed it – Stonewall was primarily about GENDER IDENTITY and GENDER EXPRESSION. People were arrested for wearing the “wrong” clothes.

Some of these people were transgender. Some of these people were gay, lesbian, or bisexual and used crossdressing as a means of indicating their orientation.

If you go to a modern-day Pride parade, you’d think the Stonewall riots were started by a bunch of white cisgender gay guys, because the celebrations focus overwhelmingly on that group of people. BUT THEY WEREN’T.

Stonewall was partially about sexual orientation, but it had far more to do with gender.

I think we’ve sort of lost sight of that.

Additionally, the first Pride parade – held on the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots – was mostly organized by a bisexual woman named Brenda Howard, often called the “mother of Pride.” It was her idea to turn Pride into a week-long series of events.

Two bisexual trans women, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera – who were black and Latina, respectively – also played important roles in the first Pride parade. (Both of these women took part in the Stonewall riots, as well.) The two became close friends and worked together on a number of projects including STAR House, a shelter for young homeless trans women.

Rivera, especially, was furious about the marginalization of trans folk. They were the hardest workers, yet were often ignored by gay men (and some lesbians) who wanted to assimilate into heterosexual society, who wanted to make the movement more “mainstream”… more palatable for straight people.

At one point, she worked on an LGBTQ+ rights bill for New York City, only to discover that all the trans and drag rights had been removed from the proposed legislation so that the bill would appeal to straight people. She also criticized the Human Rights Campaign – the largest LGBTQ+ rights advocacy group in America – for standing in the way of transgender rights.

One obituary I found stated that,

“In the early days of the gay civil rights movement Rivera was repeatedly used to front possibly dangerous demonstrations, and then shunted aside by assimilationist ‘leaders’ when the press appeared.”

Transgender and gender-nonconforming people played important roles in both the Stonewall riots and in the first Pride parade, and we must not let ourselves forget that.

If you have five minutes to spare, watch this video from last year’s NYC Pride Rally. In it, Laverne Cox – one of the parade’s grand marshals as well as my biggest LGBTQ+ role model – talks about Rivera, Johnson, and how the “mainstream” LGBTQ+ rights movement has left trans people behind.

Towards the beginning of this post, I mentioned some major milestones for gay men and lesbians – the declassification of homosexuality as a mental illness, and the legalization of same-gender sex. After those things were achieved, what did we do for trans people? Not much. In many parts of the country, trans people are more likely to be fired, be homeless, and be murdered.

And I just… gah. We need to stop doing what we’re doing right now, and start doing something different. The LGBTQ+ community won a major battle with SCOTUS’s recent ruling on marriage equality, and now we must move on to the next fight. Already, I’ve seen many blog posts and articles calling for transgender rights.

The LGBTQ+ community isn’t always as inclusive as we like to think. We need to stop ignoring some of the letters on our acronym – we need to stop discussing some groups only because it makes us look good, and then promptly abandoning them. The Stonewall riots are often referred to as the beginning of the “gay rights movement,” as well as the single most important event in “modern gay history.”

Don’t believe that. Yes, Stonewall was important – and yes, it was the beginning of our modern movement. But was it gay? Um. Only a little bit. Mainstream LG rights groups have more or less co-opted the ideas, momentum, and credit that should go to bisexual women and trans women.

Stonewall was important, but so were the people who fought in it and organized the first Pride parade. If we’re going to remember the Stonewall riots, let’s remember them as they really were.

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About nevillegirl

Elizabeth, University of Iowa class of 2019. Double majoring in English & Creative Writing and Journalism. Twenty-year-old daydreamer, introvert, voracious reader, and aspiring writer. Passionate about feminism and lesbian positivity.
This entry was posted in LGBTQ+, Nevillegirl's Adventures!, Non-Neville Posts, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Stonewall

  1. Mo says:

    This is a really nice post! I’ll admit that I knew most of the information, but it was still a good read. 🙂

    • nevillegirl says:

      Aw, thank you! I was actually planning to write about either Rivera or Johnson for June’s My Hero Monday post, but unfortunately there wasn’t an MHM this month…

  2. F says:

    I’m actually really surprised I’d never heard of this before, even though 1/4 of my 2-year History course was US history (1945-1989)! I feel very enlightened after reading your post, to say the least! I loved how your article focused on the more forgotten voices, who actually did most of the leg-work.. I noticed that there’s kind of a transgender movement going on, so hopefully people will acknowledge their contribution EVENTUALLY. Here in Ireland, we legalized same-sex marriage a month ago, and soon there will be legal recognition for Transgender people (so we went from being one of the poorest ranked countries in Europe for Trans rights to one of the most progressive. Things change quickly!)

    Really well-written and informative post 🙂

    • nevillegirl says:

      I certainly hope so! LGBTQ+ history doesn’t seem to be taught in schools before the college level (I have a gender/women’s/sexuality course this fall, FINALLY!), so lots of people are super-ignorant about it. I actually had an ally once tell me that “gay* history began in the 90s” and when I told her that wasn’t true, she backpedaled and said, essentially, that that was the only history that COUNTED because that was the history straight people were aware of.

      (*This particular person doesn’t seem to understand that “gay” doesn’t cover everyone in the LGBTQ+ community. LE SIGH.)

      So, yeah. There’s a lot of ignorance, resulting in straight allies spouting off facts that are flat-out INCORRECT in a misguided attempt to help, and in people from marginalized groups within the LGBTQ+ acronym (especially the B, T, & A) being cheated out of their history and feeling left out because they think people like them haven’t been part of the movement. But they HAVE.

      Yeah, so I’ve heard! I was reading about the recent developments in Irish trans rights just a few days ago; that’s really awesome. 🙂

      Thank you so much! I was actually a bit nervous about publishing this one. 🙂

  3. matttblack42 says:

    I’m a little upset that I took a two year course on U.S. history and Stonewell was not mentioned once. Well, maybe it was, and I was dozing off at the time, but i know for a fact it never showed up on any of the tests.

    Anywho, very informative post. I almost reblogged it, but I then I remembered you didn’t like being reblogged, so instead I’ll just do the old link to here in the next post I do. (which should be coming out, any day now. Annnnnyyy day now.)

    • nevillegirl says:

      *nodnod* LGBTQ+ history is almost entirely absent from “mainstream” history books/courses… at best, there may be a mention or two of marriage equality activists in the 90s/00s/10s? For really thorough information, you pretty much have to read books specifically about LGBTQ+ history, and even then many of them are just about the history of gay men, or maybe gay men and lesbians.

      Thank you!
      …actually, I don’t mind being reblogged anymore. 😛 LITTLE!ME WAS A FOOL. So go ahead, if you want. 🙂

  4. matttblack42 says:

    Reblogged this on The Little Engine that Couldn't and commented:
    So I spent three days struggling with a post before deciding that it wasn’t worth publishing at all. Instead I shall, give you a much better post about an important event that is well-written and informative and is really just one of those things everyone should read.

    (Also, in celebration of Pride month, she (the owner of the blog, Engie/Nevillegirl/Dark Lord of the Seven Kingdoms), has been posting consistently about LGBTQ+ themes every single day this month, and if you’re interested in that you should probably give her blog the ol’ look-and-see. She could also shoot fire out of her mouth, so that’s pretty cool.)

  5. moosha23 says:

    Y’all are so brave! The thing that warms my heart about all these posts (and especially this one) is just how far the LGBT+ community has gone and yeah there’s a lot more fighting left to do but looking back at all these achievements makes me grin so hard. 😀

  6. Pingback: 2015 Pride Recap | And What To Expect In July & August | Musings From Neville's Navel

  7. Amy Wallin says:

    ‘Pride has never been peaceful’, love that.

  8. Pingback: Quarterly Rewind, Summer 2015: Graphic Novels, Hozier, Halsey, & COLLEGE COLLEGE COLLEGE | Musings From Neville's Navel

  9. Pingback: #NotMyStonewall | Musings From Neville's Navel

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