My 9/11 story isn’t very interesting. I was awakened, like most mornings at the time, by the clock-radio turning on to the local NPR station.
It turned on one minute after the first tower collapsed, because while that happened at 9:59am in New York, it was only 6:59am on the west coast. I hurried out of bed and headed downstairs to turn on the TV.
After watching that news for a bit and waking up my husband to tell him what was going on, I had to get ready for work, catch my bus, and try to get through a work day. It was obviously not a productive work day for virtually anyone in the country.
In the years since, I have always like to re-read this account:
Let’s begin with what the Constitution says on the topic. It’s nice and short: “The President shall from time to time give to Congress information of the State of the Union and recommend to their Consideration such measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient.” That’s it. There is no other mention of the term State of the Union in the Constitution. There are several things to note about this. First, it doesn’t specify any date, merely that he will do this “from time to time.” So the President can deliver the State of the Union as often or as seldom as he or she chooses. There is no requirement that it must take place before February 20 or any other date.
Second, the Constitution does not call it either a speech or an address, just that the President shall give Congress information about the State of the Union and recommend measures that the President thinks ought to be enacted. George Washington, our first President, started the tradition of delivering a speech to a joint session of Congress. John Adams, who had been Washington’s V.P. and became our second President also delivered the State of the Union as speeches. But Thomas Jefferson, our third President, thought that the spectacle of the President arriving at Congress and so forth was too kingly. So he chose to deliver it in writing. For the next 112 years, every President followed Jefferson’s model of sending a written report on the State of the Union and recommending laws that Congress should consider enacting.
In 1913 Woodrow Wilson became the first President since Adams to deliver the State of the Union as a speech before a joint session of Congress rather than as a written report. Calvin Coolidge’s address in 1923 was the first that was broadcast on radio (prior to that, the public had to read about the message to Congress in newspapers).
Another fun fact: even though that phrase “State of the Union” is right there in the Constitution, the message wasn’t called by that name until after President Franklin Roosevelt became the first President to include the phrase in the speech itself. Before then it was called either “The President’s Message to Congress” or “The Annual Message.” And that latter name continued to be the official name used in the Joint Resolution that Congress passed inviting the President to address Congress. The 1947 Joint Resolution was the first time that the event was officially referred to as the State of the Union Address. President Harry Truman’s 1947 State of the Union Address was also the first one to be broadcast on television.
One other important detail: the President is never invited to deliver the State of the Union Address in the first year of his or her term. They usually are invited to address a Joint Session in February shortly after being inaugurated, but that speech is not officially called a State of the Union Address.
And, because of the doctrine of the Separation of Powers (and the Founder’s notion that it is Congress that runs the government—not the President), the invitation to make the address must come from Congress, and it is Congress who determines the date of the address. On the other hand, the President can choose to simply send his or her message in writing, instead.
The fact that it didn’t happen by a particular date in February has absolutely no legal meaning, at all. I don’t know what plans, if any, are being discussed about a possible speech, but it seems to me unlikely we would have a typical Presidential Address to a Joint Session before next year. Because even though a whole lot of government officials have received at least one dose of Covid vaccine, it just does not seem like a good idea to cram the entire House, Senate, Supreme Court, most of the Cabinet, and a host of the usual family and dignitaries into a single room while we’re still in the middle of a deadly pandemic.
Randy Rainbow sends the Traitor-in-Chief off with a special ceremony – SEASONS OF TRUMP – A Randy Rainbow Song Parody:
(If embedding doesn’t work, click here.)
Normally whenever the musical Rent is invoked, I make a comment about how I approve the original, the opera La Bohème, but this made me laugh and cry, so…
There is so much else I want to squeeze in while the Traitor-in-Chief is still technically in charge.
I am a little irritated that the Traitor-in-Chief has knocked George W. Bush off of the top of the list of the worst president in history… but it should come as no surprise.
It’s racism all the way down. Seriously. Racism all the way down..
As I said, it’s racism all the way down. All of the atrocities perpetrated by the Traitor-in-Chief and his supported boil down to applied racism, misogyny, homophobia, and transphobia. That are first and foremost haters, and their hatred is backed into every level of capitalism.
The Republicans only call for unity when they or their supports have violated social norms, political norms, or the law. If Republicans are calling for unity, then someone deserves to be prosecuted.
Similarly, they always oppose call for unity from the Democrats, because the democrats actually value unity, while the Republicans only value their own period.
Donald Trump is not just the worst president in history, he is infinitely more corrupt that Richard Nixon, who for decades everyone in both parties regarded as the most corrupt president in history. I suppose that’s an accomplishment, but in a just world it would mean the Donald spends the rest of his life in prison.
And as retail and other essential workers will all tell you, it’s not just that they don’t get a three-day weekend, most of them don’t get weekends. They get days of, but since they aren’t usually the same days that the rest of us think of a time when we could schedule fun activities with friends, it’s just not the same.
Thanks to the pandemic, and the huge number of us that are working from home, and all the school kids who are attending virtual classes from home, things get even more confounding.
So I think before I spiral down any rabbit holes, I will just repost this bit about what Labor Day is supposed to represent which I wrote a few years ago:
If you don’t know labor history, you’re doomed to repeat the bad parts
Originally post September 4, 2017Both of my grandfathers were life long union workers. Dad moved in and out of union and non-union portions of his industry. When Mom re-entered the work force after my parents’ divorce, she became a union member and other then a few stints in management, remained one until she retired. I, on the other hand, work in an industry that has fought to keep unions out, and for various social reasons, the same co-workers who complain loudest about how everyone is classified as “professional” and therefore exempt from overtime pay and the like, are also convinced that unions would be a disaster.
Which is really sad. Mostly I blame the decades-long war on unions waged by mostly the Republican party. They have managed, somehow, to convince people to believe, in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, that businesses have always given out wages and benefits out of the goodness of their hearts.
I don’t understand how anyone who has worked for any business larger than a mom-and-pop operation can believe that.
It’s not that profits are driving business decisions, it’s that maximizing benefit to business leaders while milking short-term profits without investing in workers and their skills for long-term benefits.
You can keep talking about the economic insecurities of angry white guys, but you have to recognize that the source of economic insecurity is not market forces, or immigrants, or equal opportunity laws. It’s the people in that top 1%. And somehow we’ve got to get those scared angry white guys to recognize that they are being duped.
I know this is something I’ve written about before on this blog, but as we approach what would have been the weekend of the Pride Parade here in Seattle (and many other cities around the country)—while the world is engulfed in a pandemic, and many protests about police brutality and racial inequality—it is vital to remember that the first Pride was a riot. Or, rather, a series of riots the continued for several nights after that first uprising in response to yet another police raid on a gay bar. No one knows for certain why that night people started fighting back. I think it was simply that a bunch of those trans and gender-non-conforming women of color were simply fed up.
And no, the Stonewall riots weren’t the first time that queers had protested and rioted over police brutality of queer people.
In 1959 in Los Angeles, for instance, there was the Cooper Do-nuts Riot. Cooper Do-nuts was a 24-hour donut shop located about halfway between two of the city’s gay bars. It was a place where queer people often congregated at night. At the time it was illegal in California (and many other places and would remain so for many years after), for a person to appear in public wearing clothes traditionally worn by the opposite gender. Because cops liked having an easy excuse to harass queer people, the gay bars didn’t like lots of trans people and street queens to be inside. Cooper Do-nuts served everyone, so it was always full of not just LGBTQ patrons, but specifically trans people, drag queens, and other very obviously gender nonconforming people. So the cops routine showed up there, demanded to see people’s ID and would arrest anyone whose legal ID showed them to a different gender than how they were dressed.
And remember, at the time, that law meant it was illegal for women to wear pants.
Anyway, in May of 1959 a couple of cops came into the shop, demanded to see everyone’s ID, and then tried to arrest two drag queens, two male sex workers, and a gay man. As at least one of those being arrested protested, the crowd erupted, pelting the cops with donuts, trash, and in some cases hot coffee. The cops fled the scene without arresting anyone. Unfortunately, the cops came back with backup and blocked off the entire street. A lot of people wound up arrested.
In 1966 in San Fransisco the management of a Compton’s Cafe decided they didn’t like how many transgender people were hangin out in their cafe, and they started calling the police to get the customers arrested. This caused the community to organize a picket line outside the cafe. Cops were called to arrest the trans people again, and this time a riot broke out. The windows of the cafe were smashed, along with a lot of furniture and all the windows of the first cop car. Eventually reinforcements came in and the riot intensified, but a lot of the riots were beaten, shoved into paddy wagons, and thrown in jail.
While the riot didn’t inspire a national movement, it did motivate a lot of homeless queer youth and others to join an organization called Vanguard Street Actions which staged various mostly peaceful protests, and over time the city began to try making changes in policy to reduce police harassment of queer people.
On New Year’s Eve 1967, at a Los Angeles gay bar called the Black Cat Tavern, a busy New Year’s Eve party took place. The newspaper accounts later said the party was “hopping” and the crowd was happy. Right up until midnight, when couples all over the bar started kissing to ring in the New Year. And then a bunch of undercover police started beating and arresting those kissing couples. Fourteen people were arrested that night. There was no riot. Some weeks later there was an organized public demonstration, and organizations that were lobbying government officials for LGBTQ rights raised a lot of money for among other things to try to appeal the convictions of some of the arrested same-sex couples. The Advocate, which remains a leading queer news source, was founded as a newsletter as part of the organized protests because of the Black Cat raid.
Seven months later, at another Los Angeles gay bar called the Patch, police raided one night, and started arresting people. The owner of the bar, Lee Glaze, jumped up on stage and got the crowd to chant various slogans and tried to convince the cops to let the arrestees go. When they didn’t work, they did not riot. Instead, Glaze led the rest of the crowd up the street to a flower shop, where they bought every single flower in the shop, and then marched to the police station, handing out flowers and chanting as they went. The protested peacefully outside the precinct until everyone arrested made bail and was released.
One of the protesters was a formerly-closeted pastor (who had been kicked out of the church) named Troy Perry, whose boyfriend (Tony Valdez) was among those arrested. After making bail, Valdez told Perry that his jail experience convinced him that god doesn’t love queer people. Perry decided to stop trying to fit in at the established churches that looked at his queerness as a sin, and to found a gay friendly church, which is how the Metropolitan Community Church came into being.
And then the next year the Stonewall Riots happened in New York City…
So that night at Stonewall wasn’t the first time that queer people got fed up with police harassment and brutality, but it was the first time where the protests and rioting continued for many days afterward. And probably because one of the newspapers that tried to cover the events objectively, The Village Voice, was read by a lot of professional journalists and academics far outside of New York City, is why Stonewall seemed to kick off a more organized fight for LGBTQ rights. Within a year, chapters of the new Gay Liberation Front had opened in many cities around the country, and within a couple more years nearly every college town in the U.S. had a chapter.
Most of the people targeted by the police in all of those incidents were those who were gender-nonconforming and/or not white. The cops harassed any queers that they could, but those were the people who got singled out every time. And in most of the cases they were the ones who get fed up and fought back.
I’m an old, white-bearded, cisgender blue-eyed white gay guy who is college educated and work in the software industry. A lot of people think that the LGBTQ rights movement is about and for people like me. But the real heroes, the first leaders, were the trans women of color. And just as we should never forget that they only gave us rights because queers gave them riots, we should remember that it was those trans and gender-non-conforming people of color who started and inspired the riots by fighting back against police brutality.
I think, but am not entirely certain, that the first inkling I had that any sort of Gay Rights movement existed at all was probably sometime in middle school… so sometime between 1973 and 1975. I remember a film shown in one of my sociology classes that included a very short clip about the extremists in California calling for legal rights for gay men–and it was extremely disparaging.It wasn’t until I was in my late twenties that I actually saw a Pride Parade, so this was in the mid-to-late 1980s, and at that time the predominant symbol for Pride was a Pink Triangle. The Pink Triangle was originally used by the Nazis in Germany in the lead up to World War II and throughout the war to identify prisoners in the concentration camps who were sent there because they were accused of breaking the laws agains sodomy. Because of the extremely specific ways that German law identified sodomy at that time, this means that the men forced to wear this identifying tag were being accused of having committed sex acts with other men.
In the Nazi camps, the Pink Triangle was not ever attached to women, because Lesbianism was not perceived as being the same category of crime by the Nazis. I could write many blog posts about that, but most of the lesbians who were thrown into the camps were charged not specifically with being lesbian, but with the (rather bizarre to modern readers) crime of not being willing to marry a proper Aryan Man and produce beautiful blond-blue-eyed children for him. Or other things.
The point is, that even though Gilbert Baker created the original Rainbow Pride Flag in 1978 for the San Francisco Pride commemoration, in 1987 when I attended my first Pride Parade in Seattle, the Rainbow was not considered a universal symbol of the LGBTQ+ community. There were one or two rainbows visible in that first parade I attended, but they were lost in the see of thousands of Pink Triangles and scores of Purple Labryses (a symbol many Lesbians adopted at the time). The Rainbow was still mostly thought of as a San Francisco thing at that time.The Rainbow flag spread to other communities over the years between my first Pride Parade in 1987 and the early 1990s. Baker’s original flag had consisted of 8 colors, but for a variety of reasons, Baker agreed to let the flag be simplified to only six colors over the next few years. And that’s what the symbol was during the early 90s when it seemed like all the Pride Parades suddenly began sporting the Rainbow rather than the Pink Triangle. That wasn’t the only change. I should mention that while I attended my first Pride Parade in 1987 and marched as a member of a group for the first time in 1989, I was still mostly closeted until late 1991. This probably skews my memory a bit.
Before I go on with my perception of the history of pride symbols, I should list Gilbert Baker’s original explanation of the meaning of the flag he created. The colors Gilbert chose represented what he saw as pillars of the non-heterosexual community. Hot pink represented Sex; red represented Life; orange represented Healing; yellow represented Sunlight; green represented Nature; turquoise represented Magic; indigo represented Serenity; and finally violet represented Spirit. All of which makes a lot of sense to those of us who spent part of the 1990s as members of the Radical Fairies but might not resonate with a lot of other members of the non-heterosexual community.
Within a year or two of me coming completely out (by which I mean not only that close friends knew I wasn’t straight, but also extended family members and co-workers), I witnessed the backlash against the Rainbow Flag as a symbol for the community. I remember specifically a comedy routine by one specific performer that was circulated a lot called “I Am So Over the Rainbow.” And the first time someone played a recording of it to me (by chance, the man who was my supervisor at my place of employment at the time), the entire thing came across to me very much as a variation of “You kids get off my lawn!” I mean, I know the people in the audience were laughing, and the show was billed as a comedy act, but to me it was One Thousand Percent Bitter Old Queen Whining, and not much humor to speak of.
I should also mention that 32-ish year old me listening to that is where I made a solemn promise to myself that if I ever turned into that kind of bitter queen I would put myself out of everyone else’s misery. I hope that as I am now approached 60 that I have succeeded in not going down that bitter road.
But I should back up a bit…
During the 1980s, as the AIDS Crisis killed thousands of gay people and representatives of the president of the United States and the so-called liberal press laughed at anyone who suggested that people should be concerned with tens of thousands of (mostly gay) people dying, several radical homosexual rights groups rose up, and a lot of them embraced the word “Queer” precisely because it had been a term used to attack us, and also because it was quickly becoming clear that thousands of people dying upset fewer of the bigots than the word “Queer” did.
So in addition to ACT-UP, other radical organizations such as Queer Nation and Q Patrol came into being to fight against the complacency of society about the deaths (whether due to the new disease or from homophobic gay bashers) that most of us experienced during the 1980s and 1990s.
Two more digressions worth noting: during the mid-1990s I was personally involved in arguments within the Seattle Lesbian/Gay Community about whether to add the term “Bisexual” to the official name of the Pride Parade… and then a year or two later whether we should add “Transgender” to the name. I found myself in very heated arguments over both, which really pissed me off. I was well aware that most of the leader of the original Pride Riot (or Uprising or Rebellion) were trans/nonbinary women of color. How could anyone think that trans people weren’t part of the community? And yet a lot of people made that exact argument. And very similar ones for bi people… which are equally absurd.
There have been many variants on the basic Rainbow Flag. The Victory Over AIDS version, for instance, consisted of the Six-color Rainbow plus a black stripe on the bottom. The black stripe represented two things: first, our sense of mourning over all the people who have died of the diseases; but second, it was at the bottom of the flag to represent our hope that one day a cure or a vaccine would be available and end the deaths from the disease.Many flags similar to the Rainbow Flag for various communities within the LGBTQ+ community have been introduced. The Bisexual Pride Flag (pink, purple, blue) for instance, inspired by a symbol that was used by some bisexual people as a variant of the Pink Triangle: a pink triangle and a blue triangle overlapping, with the overlapping area being purple; the two triangle symbols represented a metaphor of those attracted to the same sex, and those to the opposite, and acknowledging that there were those who formed romantic or erotic relations ships with both/either. Then there is the Pansexual Pride Flag (magenta, yellow, cyan), where the three stripes represent masculine, feminine, and non-binary–an overt acknowledgment that the notion of same- and opposite-sex doesn’t cover everything. Or take the Asexual Pride Flag (black, grey, white, purple), where the colors represent no sexuality, and then the grey area between sexualities, and then sexualities that exist in various contexts, and finally the purple represents community which can encompass many different people. Then there is the Transgender Pride Flag, the Non-binary Pride Flag, and the Gender Fluid Pride Flag. Because each of those communities, while clearly being part of the tribe of non-heterosexual/non-heteronormative/non-genderconforming persons, they also experience the world (and discrimination within society) differently than other parts of the broader LGBTQ+ communinity. A couple years ago in Philadelphia another version of the Rainbow Flag was introduced with a brown and black strip added, but this time to the top. There have been many reactions to this redesign. I wrote about my reaction to first seeing this flag on this blog three years ago. The “#MoreColorsMorePride” flag added a black and brown stripe to the top of the six-color version of the Rainbow flag, with the new colors recognizing that black and other non-white queer people experience discrimination differently than white queer people do, and despite the Stonewall Riots being started by queer people of color, they don’t always feel welcome or included in many LGBTQ spaces. In June 2016, Gilbert Baker, the original creator of the Rainbow Pride Flag, met Barack Obama in the White House, and presented him with a framed recreation of the original 8-stripe flag. After the election and then inauguration of Trump, Baker felt that the flag needed one more update, and he hand-stitched a new, 9-stripe version of the flag, adding a lavender strip which he said symbolized Diversity, a concept that he feared was going to be trampled in the age of Trump. Baker died only a few weeks after releasing his new flag.
Others have tried to design variants of the flag which incorporated symbols for more communities who were not specifically represented in the “standard” six-stripe flag. That’s where we get flags such at the Progress Pride Flag pictured at the very beginning of this post. I’m not sure any of those variants will catch on. But then, in the early 80s most queer folks outside of the Bay Area didn’t think the Rainbow would catch on.
Outside my window this year I have three Pride Flags: a recreation of the original 8-stripe flag, the “standard” 6-stripe flag, and the More Colors More Pride/aka the Philadelphia Rainbow Flag. They are all recognizable as the Pride Flag. I suspect that the Rainbow Flag, possibly in many forms, is going to be with us for a long, long time.
Studying history means actually studying it—not looking at statues that were put up for non-historical reasons with misleading if not outright false plaques on their bases. When we remove symbols of racism, colonialism, and genocide, we aren’t erasing history, we are removing propaganda. As I tried to explain when I posted the following on August 22, 2017:
I wasn’t born in the South, but because of economic factors too complicated to go into at this juncture, the small town in Colorado where I was born was inhabited almost completely by recently transplanted southerners. All of my grandparents had been born in former Confederate states, as had most of the teachers at the public school, and the parents and/or grandparents of 95+ percent of my classmates. And even though my father’s job had us moving around to other parts of the central Rockies through most of grade school, because our family attended Southern Baptists churches, I continued to be exposed to certain myths about the Civil War that descendants of Confederate families tell themselves. I was taught that slavery wasn’t the primary issue of the war, for one. I was taught that most soldiers on the Confederate side had been involved for economic reasons, and certainly not because they believed that whites were superior to blacks, for another. And I was taught that just because the Southern Baptist church and many other institutions still advocated for the segregation of that races, that it wasn’t because they still believed that one race was superior to the other.
Each of those statements was a lie.
I was a teen-ager in the 70s when the Southern Baptist Convention finally endorsed desegregation of its churches. And it was as a teen that I learned most of what I’d been taught about the history of our denomination and the Civil War was untrue.
Historically, every state that seceded to form the Confederacy (not just Mississippi a portion of whose declaration is pictured above), explicitly listed either slavery or the superiority of the white race (and some mentioned both), as their reasons for seceding. The infamous cornerstone speech delivered by Confederate Vice President Alexander Stephens explained that the foundation of the new Confederate government was “the great truth, that the negro is not equal to the white man; that slavery — subordination to the superior race — is his natural and normal condition. This, our new government, is the first, in the history of the world, based upon this great physical, philosophical, and moral truth.”
It can’t be any clearer than that: the primary mission of the Confederacy was the perpetuation of slavery of black people and the entrenchment (nay, glorification) of white supremacy. And Confederate soldiers did not volunteer, fight, and die by the thousands because of some need to preserve the mythical idyllic pastoral culture of the Southern plantation—most of them were too poor to own plantations, for one thing! No, the typical Confederate grunt believed that if slaves were freed, working class whites would surely lose their livelihoods. The collective self-esteem of the white working class was shored up by the explicit statement that at least they weren’t slaves, so while they might have worked hard in exchange for less than their fair share of societal prosperity, at least they were better off than those black folks! The abolition of slavery was then perceived as an existential threat to the white working class. Of course they were willing to take up arms to protect slavery!
In the immediate aftermath of the war, symbols of the Confederacy weren’t displayed publicly. There were memorials erected in a few places to those who died in one battle or another, and certainly individual tombstones were occasionally emblazoned with Confederate symbols, but there wasn’t a stampede to erect statues to the leaders of the Confederacy afterward. For one thing, there wasn’t a lot of pride in having been on the losing side.
The first big rush of Confederate monuments was years after the war ended as Reconstruction officially ended and Federal troops were withdrawn in 1877. Across the former Confederacy, state legislatures started enacting Jim Crow laws, designed to make it difficult or nearly impossible for black people to exercise their right to vote and to enforce segregation of the races. And statues and monuments went up all over the South. The plaques usually talked about the bravery of the person depicted, but there were also language about the nobility of the cause for which they fought. Blacks living in those states, most of whom were former slaves, knew exactly what that cause had been, and the message the statues and monuments was clearly: “white people are in charge again, and don’t you forget it!”
Most of the Confederate monuments were put up in the 1910s and 1920s, coinciding with an increase in activity of the KKK and similar organizations terrorizing blacks. And the next big surge was in the 50s and 60s when civil rights organizations began having successes against some of the Jim Crow laws. The purpose of those monuments was not to honor the culture of the South; the message was still “stay in your place, black people, or else!” A great example of this resides not many miles from my home. Washington territory was never a part of the Confederacy, and the few inhabitants of the state who served in the war did so as part of the Union Army and Navy. A local family, some years after the war, donated land in what would one day become the Capitol Hill neighborhood to the Grand Army of the Republic (which was an organization made up mostly of Union side Civil War Veterans) for a cemetery for Union soldiers. And that’s who was buried there. But decades later, during one of those surges of monument building, the Daughters of the Confederacy paid to have a monument to soldiers of the Confederacy erected in the cemetery.
There are no Confederate soldiers buried there. Not one.
And there are no soldiers’ names engraved on the massive monument. But there it is, erected in a cemetery full of Union soldiers—a monument to the so-called noble cause of the Confederacy.
Now that some communities are rethinking these monuments—many of them extremely cheap bronze statues erected during times of civil rights tensions—other people are claiming taking them down is erasing history. No, taking down these post-dated monuments in public parks and so forth isn’t erasing history, it’s erasing anti-historical propaganda. The other argument that is put forward in defense of the monuments is that “both sides deserve to be heard.” That’s BS in this case, because there aren’t two sides to racism. There aren’t two sides to bigotry. There aren’t two sides to genocide. White supremacy is not a legitimate side to any argument.
When we defeated Hitler’s armies, we didn’t turn around and erect monuments to the government that murdered millions of people in concentration camps. We destroyed their symbols. When we liberated Iraq, we tore down the statues of Saddam Hussein, we didn’t enshrine his image in an attempt to give both sides equal time. Those few Confederate monuments that list off names of people who died are fine (even if a lot of them have cringeworthy language about the cause they were fighting for). Cemeteries where actual Confederate veterans are buried of course can have symbols of the Confederacy on the tombstones and the like. But the other monuments, the ones erected years later? They don’t belong in the public square.
They belong in the dustbin of history.
I’ve written more than once before about how who owe a huge debt to the people who stood up and fought back that night, 51 years ago, at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. Most of the legal rights that LGBTQ+ people have in the U.S. today is thanks to those Black and Puerto Rican queens who fought back, threw bricks, and so forth when the cops raided that bar.
Miss Marsha P. Johnson (which is how she identified herself whenever asked), was impossible to ignore—always appearing in public wearing a flowered hat and flamboyant dresses. Once when appearing in court on a disorderly conduct charge, after the judge asked her what the middle initial P stood for replied airily, “Pay it no mind!” Some early accounts of the Stonewall Riots said she was the one who threw the first brick or the first shot glass at a cop. In interviews she would admit that she threw several things at cops that night, but wasn’t certain she was the first person to throw anything. After the riots, she was one of the founding members of the Gay Liberation Front, and also co-founded the gay and transvestite advocacy organization S.T.A.R. (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), alongside close friend Sylvia Rivera. A note here about terminology: at the time several terms that would he considered slurs by transgender and gender nonconforming people today were commonly used within those self same communities. At different times Marsha identified herself as a street queen, a drag queen, and a transvestite. But she also always insisted on female pronouns and consistently introduced herself as Miss Marsha. Which is why most of us refer to her as trans.
Silvia Rivera was only 17 and living as a self-described drag queen at the time of the Stonewall Riots. Most historians (and her friend Miss Marsha P. Johnson) agree that she wasn’t at the Stonewall Inn the night of the raid, being at a party at another location that night. Her whole life she asserted that she had been there. And there were others who agreed and said she was the person who threw the first brick at a cop car. She certainly joined the protests and rioting that continued the following nights, and later founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.) along with Johnson. She was also a member of the Gay Activists Alliance. In a speech she gave at the 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day Rally (what they called the annual event commemorating the riots for the first several years), she espoused a definition a belief that people such as herself belonged to a third gender.
Stormé DeLarverie was often described as a butch lesbian. Before Stonewall, she had been part of a touring theatre troupe which, among other things, performed a number called, “Who is the one girl?” and audience members seldom guessed correctly that the tall latino “guy” in a tailored suit wearing a false mustache was the one woman in the dance number. She was one of several who resisted arrest the night of the Stonewall police raid. Many witnesses claimed she was the woman who broke loose from the cops before being loaded into one of the waiting paddy wagons several times, to run, get caught, and dragged back through the crowd, each time making the crowd more angry at the cops. Of the events at Stonewall that night, DeLarverie always argued that it should not have been called a riot: “It was a rebellion, it was an uprising, it was a civil rights disobedience – it wasn’t no damn riot.” She remained active in many gay rights groups and activities in the years after Stonewall, but was most often remembered as the self-appointed guardian of lesbians who patrolled the neighborhood at night with her baseball bat to drive off bashers.
Raymond Castro was another Veteran of Stonewall. Because we was not dressed in gender nonconforming clothes, he was not arrested, and was told he could leave. When he realized a friend was being arrested, he went back inside to try to help the friend. This got him arrested and put in handcuffs. He struggled with the cops, managing to knock a couple of them down. This seemed to encourage several other people nearby to start struggling. One of the officers that eventually wrestled him into the truck commented that he was “some kind of animal.” Castro was active in several gay rights organizations in the years after Stonewall.
Miss Major Griffin-Gracy was at the Stonewall Inn with her girlfriend the night of the police raid. She was one of several to fight back. Unfortunately she was struck unconscious during the fight and was taken into custody. Miss Major has been active in a lot of transgender right organizations, civil rights organizations, and in the 80s became active in multiple HIV/AIDS organizations. She was the original Executive Director of the Transgender Gender Variant Intersex Justice Project, which advocates for the rights of incarcerated trans and nonbinary people. And Miss Major is still alive today, still fighting! Her Instragram account shows her at a Black Lives Matter protest earlier this week. She suffered a stroke last year and has a lot of medical expenses, which you can help with by donating here Miss Major’s Monthly Fundraising Circle.
So here we are (at least on this side of the International Date Line) at the fourth day of the month of May, where one of the things that tends to happen on the internet are various references to Star Wars, because of the pun, “May the Fourth Be With You.” So, happy Star Wars Day to those of you who observe it.
The fourth of May has other significance for other people. And we would be remiss not to acknowledge these important events that ought to be commemorated on this day. So:
- On May 4, 1436 Engelbrekt Engelbrektsson was assassinated. Englebrektsson was a Swedish nobleman who led a rebellion against the King of the Kalmar Union, an event which eventually led to Sweden becoming a kingdom of its own. Englebrektsson is considered a national hero of Sweden because his actions gave peasants a voice in government for the first time, creating a Riksdag (a deliberative assembly or parliament) structured so that peasants and laborers would have equal representation with the number of nobles.
- On May 4, 1886, in the midst of a long-running strike, police marched on demonstrators in Hay Market Square in Chicago, Illinois. Someone threw a bomb. The police began shooting randomly. And I really mean randomly, because autopsies determined afterward that almost all seven of the policeman killed in the riot were the victims of a bullet from another officer. Four of the labor demonstrators also died from gunshot wounds, and more than a hundred other people were wounded by either gunfire or shrapnel from the bomb. While May Day parades and demonstrations by labor had been occurring for a few years before this occurred, this event is often credited as solidifying the significance of May Day as a Worker’s Rights commemoration.
- On May 4, 1930, the leader of India’s civil disobedience campaign, Mahatma Gandhi, was taken into custody by the British police for the crime of making salt from seawater. His arrest sparked an upsurge in civil disobedience, generating world wide publicity and incredible pressure on the British to come to terms with the protestors.
- On May 4, 1970, during a protest at Kent State University against the bombing of neutral Cambodia by U.S. military forces, the Ohio National Guard fired on unarmed students, killing four and wounding nine others. In response to this, students at other universities went on strike, shutting down many campuses. The event also was significant in turning more public opinion against the war in Viet Nam.
- On May 4, 1983 the British warship, HMS Sheffield, was struck by missiles during the Falklands War. The excess rocket fuel in each missile ignited, killing 20 members of the crew. The ship’s diesel stores burned for days after the crew had been evacuated. The ship sank while it was being towed in for repairs.
Important historical events, all.
But while two of those occurred within my lifetime, one must remember that I am a white-bearded old man. The median age of the human race is currently 29 years old. Which means that half of the people currently alive on the planet were born in 1991 or more recently.
Which means that none of those events can be considered “current.”
Which isn’t to say that they shouldn’t be remembered, but there isn’t really a good reason that any of those events should be considered more important in history than the others.
Which also means that there is nothing wrong with people sharing a silly pun on this same day.
Regardless, we’re in the middle of a world pandemic. The more people you get wearing masks (and feeling socially shunned for not wearing masks), the more we reduce the spread of the disease. That’s just science. It’s also the moral thing to do.
So, wear a mask. Wash your hands. Keep observing social distancing. Let’s all do our part to keep as many of us alive until there’s a vaccine as we can. Okay?