This has been a weird week (heck, it’s been a surreal year!). But today is Pride Day. A day when ordinarily I and my husband would be walking from the hotel where we had been attending Locus Awards Weekend the previous two days, and we’d watch the Pride Parade, then walk to the Pride Festival. But this year everything (including sci fi conventions) has moved on line, so that we can avoid gathering in large groups and causing more spikes of the pandemic.
But it is still Pride Day, even if we’re all social distancing and meeting virtually. It’s a day to commemorate the time that a bunch of queers got fed up with police brutality and decided to fight back.
It was the night that Marsha P. Johnson hurled a shot glass at a cop when they began their usual routine of lining up everyone in the gay bar, then singling out all the trans and gender-non-conforming people to arrest. Marsha wasn’t the only trans person of color to fight back that night, and she wasn’t the only one to keep fighting for queer rights, helping to found several of the organizations who took the fight to both the streets and the halls of government. When you hoist that rainbow flag, remember to thank those trans women of color who started it all.
Pride Day Links:
Every year Joe Jervis at Joe.My.God.com reposted the complete text of the very condescending story that the New York Daily News ran shortly after the original Stonewall uprising. I think it’s good to remember how people saw (and many still do) our community and concerns: LGBTQ History: “The Foot Wore A Spiked Heel”.
President Barack Obama Celebrates LGBTQ+ Equality (Clip) | Logo TV:
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Black Trans Lives Matter | Full Frontal on TBS:
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The Kinsey Sicks: The Sound of Sirens (Simon & Garfunkel Parody):
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Show Me Your Pride – By Miss Coco Peru – OFFICIAL MUSIC VIDEO:
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This Is Me | Boston Gay Men’s Chorus:
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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.
I had several news stories that either didn’t make the cut for this week’s Friday Five, or that I found after posting. And there was even a good strong theme emerging. And then I saw something that had totally slipped by me yesterday: Miss Major Griffin-Gracy Has Suffered a Stroke – The Stonewall veteran and lifelong transgender activist has been hospitalized. Miss Major is one of the trans women of color who was involved in the Stonewall Riots. Unfortunately, she was struck on the head by a cop and taken into custody during the riots, and while in jail was beaten severely. Before Stonewall, she had been actively fight for trans rights and women’s rights, and she had continued the fight for all the years since.
So, I think this Weekend Update is more of an extension of my Pride report posted last night, today I want to point you to more information about Miss Major, and the role she and other trans people of color have played in the fight for queer rights:
Last weekend we watched part of the Parade before slipping into the Pride Festival. I took a lot of pictures, but most of them aren’t that interesting in retrospect. I was usually trying to get a picture or a cool costume or a neat t-shirt, et cetera. Because I’m vertically challenged and we were trying to keep me in the shade, while I could see the parade, I was doing a lot of looking between people’s heads, which makes it difficult to get good pictures.
Because we walked to the Parade route from the Locus Awards Hotel, where ever we wind up watching the Parade will be close to the end of the route. We’ve previously found spots that were far enough from the end that we only had to see and hear the God Hates Fags people for a short time, as they usually walk down the length of the route before the official start of the parade, with a police escort. I’ve written before about why I think this is wrong, so won’t go into it here.
This year, we were much closer to the end, and it turns out that when the haters get to that point, they leave the route and assemble near the places where police have set up to maintain roadblocks and such. And they keep spouting their hate over megaphones for a long, long time. And have all their hateful signs.
Here’s where I repeat that I believe in free speech and the right of people to protest. But I believe in treating each other with respect, believe that science and demonstrable fact trump groundless claims and disprovable convictions (no matter how sincere). I also despise hypocrisy and misattribution. So, while I think they have a right to counter-protest the parade, I also believe that shouting hate and disinformation into a megaphone in a public space is barbaric and unproductive behavior.
And it is misinformation. They had multiple megaphones but took turns (I’m presuming because of battery issues and to give vocal cords a rest?). two of the guys kept claiming that Jesus said that all “you homos and lesbos and trannies and other faggots” were going to burn in the lake of fire. “You will spend eternity in Hell, you workers of iniquity!” And that is fundamentally a lie. It’s multiple lies. First, Jesus never once said a single word about homosexuality. Comb through the gospels as much as you like, and you will find not a single mention. Second, the only time he talked about people going to eternal punishment, he was talking about people who claimed to be Christian but didn’t follow his teaching (Matthew 25:42-46). And the phrase “workers of iniquity” is from a passage where Jesus was talking about people who preach falsely in his name (Matthew 7:21-23). Fortunately, someone showed up dressed as Jesus with a counter-sign. I have to really zoom in to one of the pictures I took trying to catch him.
The Satanic Church showed up with pro-gay signs, to surround the main group of anti-gay folks and block their signs. That seemed to drive most of them off, leaving one guy with a sign and megaphone. I will say that he tried to talk more calmly and didn’t just hurl slurs at people. But at one point the last anti-gay protestor was surrounded by the Satanic Church people and a bunch of folks wearing the trans flag as a cape, and they had parasols they were holding up so no one could see his sign. Even he eventually gave up and walked away.
The festival was fun. I like seeing all the different kinds of us that are there. Between us, we each found a t-shirt at one of the booths we wanted to buy, but they didn’t have the one Michael wanted in his size. Michael found two variants of Pride flags that I didn’t have, so we grabbed those. It was wonderful seeing a bunch of women wearing “Free Mom Hugs” t-shirts. Then at one point I was sitting somewhere resting (and taking pictures) while he went looking for some lemonade. He came back and asked me if I knew there was a queer gamers/comics fan mini con in the pavilion. There, inside an air conditioned space were two publishers that specialize in queer comics and related books, plus gaming companies, some artists, and a bunch of arcade style games. One of the publishers, Northwest Press, is a company I frequently buy stuff from at Geek Girl Con, so I was on the mailing list, and only after we went in did I remember that I had seen an email from them with a subject line about looking for them at Pride.
It was a good day. I got to see and applaud some cool Parade entries. I got to smile and say “Happy Pride” to a huge number of complete strangers. And contrary to what the guys with the megaphones were shouting at us, the main reason we’re at Pride isn’t to revel in our supposed sins, it is to celebrate the fact that we’re alive and thriving despite the efforts of the haters. To paraphrase the meme I shared earlier: it isn’t about who we have sex with, it’s about the fact that we have survived the taunting and gaslighting and yelling and bashing and shaming. We’re celebrating the fact that we’re tough enough to walk out in public with our true selves fully on display. And that’s why the most of the crowd kept laughing at the haters and the nonsense they spewed on their portable sound systems. We’ve spent years surviving far worse than what they can dish out in a single afternoon, and we’re realized that we are strong enough to stand on our own feet, while all they have is hot air.
And here’s something to think about the next time you see those haters. A blogger who goes by Riot Grrl Dyke was once a child of those haters who was taken to Pride by her parents to try to confront the sinners. RiotGrrlDyke has this to say about Pride:
I’ll never forget my first pride.
I can’t remember my actual age, but it was in the range of 10 to 13 I think. my parents had dragged me to a Pride festival, and walked across the street from the main event, across where the lines were drawn, to where a sea of people in red shirts that read “god has a better way” tried to drown out the celebration with speakers blasting christian music, and shouting and loud praying.
the leaders pulled all us kids to the side and gave us the spiel. they told us how the rainbow had been stolen from us, and that these people were tricked by the devil and just needed prayer, but that if we didn’t save them, they were going to hell.
I rolled my eyes because I already didn’t believe in god, and although I barely knew what being gay was, I knew my parents were usually on the Wrong side of things, and I shouldn’t be siding with them.
“We aren’t allowed over there if we’re wearing the red shirts,” the leaders told us, “so we’re sending people over in secret without them so you can pass out tracts and pray for people. they won’t talk to us, but they’ll talk to the kids. does anyone want to volunteer?”
the people in red shirts disgusted me. the people on the other side of the line were cheering and having fun. I raised my hand.
we were supposed to go in groups with young adults, to make sure we were doing what we were supposed to be. I wandered off the minute I could and stood nervously at the edge of a crowd, watching on as people went by, happy and unbothered by the protests across the street. I felt a little pride myself in tricking the protestors into giving up a witness spot to me, when I was going to smile on and think profanities at god instead.
there was an older woman standing outside the crowd too. she asked if I was here with anyone, a girlfriend maybe? I said no, my parents were across the street. she nodded, and said she was here with her kid. a daughter, that she came to support, but couldn’t keep up with in the crowd.
I almost cried. I told her how amazing that was, because I couldn’t imagine my mother showing support like that to me over anything, much less something as serious as Being Gay. I imagined if I was gay, and at a pride event just like now, but this time because I Belong.
I knew automatically that my mother, without a doubt, would still be in the same place, across the street.
I got hungry after a bit, and tried to find a good food truck. I had a little money and I was unused to being on my own like this, but I didn’t want to go back to the Other Side. I knew now without a shadow of a doubt, this was the Good side and that was the Bad side.
as I was eating the gyro I got, there was a stream of red shirted protestors trickling through; I had reached the end of the boundaries, and the protestors were allowed in here. I backed up a little, spotting my dad among them. I didn’t want him to tell me to go back.
there was a line of women closing ranks around the Pride attendees, separating them from the protesters as they walked through. they spread their arms out and told every person the protesters spoke to that they were not obligated to respond, they could walk away and not engage.
my dad spotted me back, and made a beeline over. he couldn’t cross over because a butch lesbian stood between us. I didn’t know what those words meant, but I never forgot the buttons she was wearing.
he tried to tell me that it was time to go. “you’re not obligated to speak to him,” the butch said, cutting him off and edging further between us. I smiled at her, a little in wonderment. no one had ever told me that I didn’t have to speak to my parents, or do anything other than blindly obey them. I watched my dad get held behind a line by a woman half his height, with no intention on letting him get to me, and I smiled and walked away.
I didn’t have a clue who I was then, and I wouldn’t for a good few years to come. but I never forgot the supportive mother, who symbolized to me everything a mother should be, that mine, for all her religious self righteousness, would never hold a candle to. I never forgot that she was the person I wanted to be, and my mother was the person I did not want to be.
I never forgot the butch who stood between me and my dad, and for the first time ever, put the idea in my head that I was ALLOWED to make my own choices in my beliefs, and made me feel protected in a way I hadn’t known I needed.
the image of her standing between me and my dad, being a physical barrier to protect me against any potential threat, that inspired the image of who I admired and wanted to become. it inspired the version of me who could stand up to my dad – to the point that I could hold my ground and educate him enough that over a decade later, he walked side by side with me at a pride festival, with no intent of witnessing to or condemning anybody.
pride month may be over, but the impact this month and these events can have is so damn important. I became who I am because of two people I met at a pride festival. I’ll never forget.