Pride 2019 will mark the 50th anniversary of the historical shift in the LGBT rights movement. On this day 50 years ago, patrons and neighbors of a New York gay bar took a stand against a government who refused to see and treat them as valid members of society. What started as a targeted raid against the illegal sale of alcohol to gay people that caused multiple people to be injured and arrested, ended up being an all out riot. Trans men and women, along side the gay men that frequented the bar that night decided that enough was enough and that it was time to stand up for themselves against the biased, abusive, oppressive, and bigoted arm of the law. For three days, members of the LGBT community alongside allies marched, fought, rioted and picketed in the streets demanding fair and equal treatment and an end to the discrimination. The actions of these brave men and women are now referred to as the first Gay Pride event.
Prior to these concerted efforts to make change for people who couldn’t help who they loved and how they felt, members of the LGBT community were effectively deemed to be of an illegal existence. This left them open to harassment from law enforcement, susceptible to being institutionalized as homosexuality was seen as a form of psychosis, abuse from anyone who found out about their sexuality, public humiliation, and extortion. As bad as all of these things were for lesbian and gay people they were doubly horrific for members of the trans community.
Among the many activist that participated in that first stand off with law enforcement and the government were two well known drag queens Marsha “Pay It No Mind” Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. While standing in solidarity with the lesbian and gay members of the LGBT fight they saw an opportunity to help an even more oppressed group of people that seemingly was going unnoticed. Together, these two women started the first trans activism organization S.T.A.R, Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. The purpose of the organization was to help the homeless transsexual, gay, and gender non-conforming community in New York by helping to provide temporary housing, food, and some forms of education to the abandoned and discarded youth and sex workers of the city. While the first S.T.A.R. house did not last for long as Marsha and Sylvia both regularly struggled with homelessness, the two continued the fight in service of those less fortunate than themselves. These women were pioneers for the trans and gay community as well as the advancement of the LGBT movement.
Much progress has been made since that initial uprising in 1969 towards the acceptance and equal treatment of members of the LGBT community. While we have achieved great things like inclusion in the military, marriage equality, and in some states protection from workplace discrimination we still have a long way to go in this fight. More specifically as it pertains to our trans family. Much like the conditions of 1969 our trans sister and brothers are still being murdered, harassed, openly discriminated against, assaulted, bullied, and disregarded. This can not continue to stand!
In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall riots and in solidarity with our trans sisters and brothers, I will be dedicating the month of June to the service of all transgender persons. I have registered to volunteer at two community outreach centers that work with trans people in an effort to learn more about the community and the issues they face and try to help come up with a solution or at the very least become a friend and ally. I will continue the fight that Marsha and Sylvia helped start and I won’t stop until there is justice and peace for all members of the LGBT community.
I hope to help make this year’s Pride event one that will make Marsha, Sylvia, Storme’ DeLaverie, and all the other participants, activists, allies, partners, friends, and families of the community proud.