Updated: Oct 31, 2020
By Bren Bartol
Image via NY Landmark Preservation Commission
As a gender-fluid, gay individual, I have a different outlook on the world. I do not have the privilege to be cisgender (someone who identifies with the gender they were born with), or the privilege to be straight. I was assigned female at birth, and still have the body of a female, so I do not have the privilege that cisgender men do. However, I have one privilege that protects me before anyone knows anything about me: I’m white. Most of the time, no one knows I don’t identify with my birth gender or heterosexuality unless they talk to me. It is a protection that I have without having to do anything. I have always seen people with the same coloring as me on TV. I have never felt fear towards the police. I do not get followed around when I shop.
LGBTQ+ people have undergone some horrific circumstances, and I am not attempting to claim it did not happen or does not continue to happen. But there are a number of us who have the advantage of being able to be safe simply because of our skin color.
Recently, the Black Lives Matter movement has taken the world by storm, especially after George Floyd’s death. It has continued since (as it should) and was prevalent during June, which is designated LGBTQ+ Pride Month. Unfortunately, I saw many white LGBTQ+ people neglect to stand up for this movement and even denounce it. Not only is this racist, but it is also hypocritical.
Many think that Pride has been parades for forever. This assumption could not be further from the truth. Pride started as a riot. Pride, like the Black Lives Matter Movement, emerged in response to police brutality.
On June 28, 1969, in a small gay bar called the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, a riot broke out. It started because Stonewall had been raided by a group of police, a frequent occurrence at gay bars unless the owners paid off the police. Since the New York Mafia ran the majority of the gay bars in the area, the police would take a late payment as incentive to raid a bar. The police would also use excuses like the bar not having a liquor license, which was true only because of a law making it illegal for gay bars to obtain a liquor license. Keep in mind, anything we consider to be “gay” was illegal. Any act of homosexuality, even something as small as kissing someone of the same sex was illegal. Crossdressers faced arrest unless they had at least three garments of clothing of their gender that was considered socially acceptable. During raids, many of the bar patrons would scatter to avoid arrest. But that night the patrons didn't scatter. Instead, they stayed for what would become the famous riots that today we call the Stonewall Riots, one of the first demonstrations fighting back against the oppression of the LGBTQ+ community. These initial riots continued into the next week and expanded over the following months.
The first official Pride was not a celebration, it was a protest for gay rights a year later. This sparked the movement that led to the legalization of gay marriage, LGBTQ+ workplace protections, and LGBTQ+ health protections (even though these are currently revoked or under constant attack from the Trump administration. All of this is important, and this is a slightly more in-depth telling of the story than most people know. However, most people fail to acknowledge the most important part of the Stonewall Riots: who led it. While many on social media have simply referred to her as a queer Black individual, they have neglected to name her. Her name is Marsha P. Johnson, a trans womxn who was a regular at Stonewall. She was one of the first patrons to start yelling at the police. She actively led the group of pissed off patrons against the police, determined to take back their safe place. She was joined by Zazu Nova, another Black trans womxn. They led the riots, they united the people in their anger, and they helped that anger to boil over into a movement.
To all of you who are condemning the riots and violence - you have not studied your history. At Stonewall, the police barricaded themselves in the bar to escape the crowd. Trash cans were set on fire, bricks and coins and bottles were thrown, a parking meter was used as a battering ram, and Molotov cocktails were hurled at the Stonewall Inn because the police were inside. The crowd actively damaged a bar they called home to fight for justice, and the next night, the bar was back open to the community!
Every right you have regarding your LGBTQ+ identity is thanks to these amazing Queens of Color. It wasn’t white people who started the Riots. It was the Black community. They have supported us for over 50 years. It is the absolute least we can do to stand with them and support them right now.
There are so many beautiful people of color who are part of our community. Mila Jam, a Black trans activist, Alok Menon, a gender-fluid Indian American, Schuyler Bailar, a Korean American trans activist and swimmer, and Keith Zenga King, a genderqueer Ugandan refugee, are just of few of these amazing people.
If you have ever been bullied for your LGBTQ+ identity, you know what it is like to feel disdain for and disappointment in your peers as they silently watch from the sidelines. Do not be that bystander. If you have not been actively anti-racist so far, now is your chance to make a change. It is never too late to stand up for what is right. Now is the time to stand with our sisters and brothers and gender non-conforming siblings. We are not just a white community.
We are a community of all colors, shapes, sizes, ages, and abilities. If you can’t go to a protest, donate money. Offer refuge. Tell others. Educate yourself. Make art. I understand it can be scary, and may not be easy, but nothing worth fighting for ever is.
Written by writer Bren Bartol