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Marsha, Sylvia, Stormé: Black Queer and Trans People Made Stonewall Possible

Marsha P. Johnson handing out flyers in support of gay students at New York University, 1970. Photograph by Diana Davies.

Every Wednesday in June and July, we’ll be featuring important moments from LGBTQ+ history. From ancient to recent, we’ll be exploring the incredible diversity of gender and sexuality across time - the people that came before us, the incredible lives they lead, and the communities that shaped them.

This week, let’s talk about the queer and trans people of color who made Pride possible. Let’s talk about the Stonewall Riots.

On June 28, 1969, patrons of the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in the Greenwich Village, New York City, found themselves under attack. The Stonewall was owned by the Mafia, who paid off the police to tip off the bar in advance of raids, giving staff and patrons enough time to cover up any illicit activity. That night in June, the police didn’t tip off the bar in advance, leaving everyone caught unawares. As the police started making arrests, the patrons decided enough was enough. People fought back against police brutality, starting not only a riot that lasted days, but also a new wave for gay rights in America.

Every state in the country except Illinois criminalized homosexuality in 1969. States like New York additionally enforced laws requiring individuals to wear at least three pieces of “gender-appropriate” clothing at any given time.

Not everyone who frequented the Stonewall Inn faced the same amount of risk. Black trans women like Marsha P. Johnson and trans women of color like Sylvia Rivera faced additional violence from police - not only for their sexuality, gender presentation, and race, but also for relying on sex work to survive. Other gender outlaws of color, like drag king and butch lesbian Stormé Delarverie - credited with throwing the first punch at Stonewall - faced similar attacks.

As we celebrate Pride this year, we can’t forget the queer and trans people of color who faced - and still face today - multiple oppressions from a racist, sexist, homophobic, and trans phobic society. The more we learn, the more we can honor and support our LGBTQ+ communities of color - none of us are free till all of us are.


Learn more about the Black queer and trans people who made Stonewall possible.

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