Central PA's LGBT News Source

It's Pride Season

What can we learn from Stonewall?

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It’s Pride season, marked by the festivals, flags and social media frames - and lots of opportunities to be out and proud celebrating who we are. I love this season, and it’s a reminder to me that amidst all of the attacks on our rights and daily microaggressions that we face, we can still come together and celebrate our communities - which is powerful.

We would be remiss, though, in celebrating Pride without remembering its roots. What we celebrate each year was borne out of the Stonewall riots, led by trans women of color fighting back against police brutality.

Stonewall was not just a gay bar in New York City - it was one of the only gay bars where the most marginalized LGBTQ+ people were welcomed and accepted - a haven for trans people, drag queens, sex workers, homeless youth and people of color. It was frequently subjected to police raids, and this raid was part of a broader crackdown on gay bars for operating without a state liquor license - which the N. Y. State Liquor Authority refused to grant to gay bars.

In the wee hours of the morning on June 28, 1969 the NYPD raided Stonewall, violating this haven and arresting at least 13 people - mostly trans people. The patrons of Stonewall had had enough and they fought back. This resistance was led by Black trans woman Marsha P. Johnson and Latinx trans woman Sylvia Rivera, as well as Black lesbian Stormé DeLarverie.

These facts about Stonewall often get overlooked, intentionally left out or white-washed away, as in the 2015 film Stonewall. Thus, it is imperative that we educate ourselves on this critical part of our LGBTQ+ history, and learn from what really happened at Stonewall to inform our movement today.

It is no coincidence that at Stonewall those who were most directly impacted by the police violence became the leaders of the resistance. Isn’t that how it is in all of our movements? The more marginalized you are, the more that resistance is not an option - it is necessary for survival. Yet in our movement, trans women of color rarely get the recognition, support and resources that they deserve for the vital work that they are doing.

How many trans women of color leaders can you name off the top of your head? Not just celebrities like Laverne Cox or Janet Mock - although they are doing incredible work increasing visibility for trans people - but people doing the work in our communities.

Naiymah Sanchez serves as the transgender advocacy coordinator for the ACLU of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, engaging with transgender communities and advocating and organizing across the state to advance the rights of transgender people in Pennsylvania.

In Pittsburgh, Ciora Thomas is the founder of sisTers PGH, which provides education, advocacy and emergency shelter for trans and nonbinary youth and adults, with the primary goal of establishing permanent low income housing for people transitioning out of emergency shelters.

Lordes Ashley Hunter serves as the co-founder and executive director of the Trans Women of Color Collective in Washington, D.C., which works to uplift the narratives, lived experiences, and leadership of trans and gender-nonconforming people of color.

In Los Angeles, Bamby Salcedo is the founder and president of the TransLatin@ Coalition, which brings together transgender Latina leaders to organize and advocate for the needs of trans Latinas in the U.S.

Each of them are doing incredible work, and we must elevate their stories and their leadership. We should not just be talking about trans women of color in the aftermath of violence, but lifting up their names and their stories of leadership and change-making daily.

For every Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera in our history, there is a Naiymah Sanchez and Ciora Thomas making change in our LGBTQ+ movement today. As we seek to frame a narrative of Stonewall that accurately reflects the leadership of trans women of color, let us also frame a narrative of today’s movement that elevates the ongoing work of trans women of color.

The writer is the executive director of the LGBT Center of Central PA.