Brigid Downey

June 11, 2020

Black Lives Matter and the History of Pride Month: The Stonewall Riots

Every year I do a pride post decked out in rainbow for the beginning of Pride Month. It’s one of my favorite posts to do all year, but such a carefree post doesn’t feel right this year. In the wake of George Floyd’s murder and the rise of protests against police brutality across the world, I want to talk about the history of Pride this year. I want to talk about the reason we get to have a parade with rainbows painted on our faces every year and celebrate. Our first Pride, the Stonewall Uprising, was a riot against police brutality.

The History

Also known as the Stonewall Riots, the Stonewall Uprising started on June 28, 1969. When police raided The Stonewall Inn, a gay club in Greenwich Village, it sparked a protest that spread across the city lasting six days. LGBTQ+ activists around the world consider the Stonewall Inn protests the spark that lead to what we know Pride as today.

A year after the protests, Central Park hosted the Christopher Street Liberation Day– largely considered to be the first Pride celebration ever. The parade stretched fifteen blocks and marched from Sheridan Square up Sixth Avenue to Central Park.

[Read more about the riots here: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/27/nyregion/pride-parade-first-new-york-lgbtq.html]

Black Lives Matter

The protests and riots following the murder of George Floyd are making this year’s Pride Month look very similar to 1969. Anger has gripped America–and the world–as thousands of protesters take to the streets to protest police brutality plaguing Black communities under systemic racism. I want to make it clear that Black Lives Matter and I stand with you. I, as a white woman, respect the fact that I will never understand what it is like to live as a Black person in America. I also acknowledge that because of the Stonewall Riots I owe my rights as a lesbian in America to two amazing black women.

Marsha P. Johnson

Marsha P. Johnson is the name most people should think of when they remember the Stonewall Riots. Johnson–a black transgender woman–is largely credited with “throwing the first brick” during the 1969 protests.

She was a drag queen, a sex worker, a model for Andy Warhol, and an activist on the front lines for LGBTQ+ rights in America. She worked for social justice for homeless LGBTQ+ youth and was an advocate for AIDS patients. She was 23 when the Stonewall Uprising happened.

In 1970 Marsha P. Johnson would go on with Sylvia Rivera, a Latinx activist, to form Street Transvetite Action Revolutionaries (STAR). STAR advocated for young transgender people, and, for a while, they housed, fed, and clothed them from 213 East Second Street.

[More about Marsha P. Johnson: https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2018/obituaries/overlooked-marsha-p-johnson.html]

Stormé DeLarverie

Born in New Orleans, LA, Stormé DeLarverie was a butch lesbian largely credited with throwing the first punch at the Stonewall Riots in 1969. She often performed as a drag king and in 1961 was the emcee, musical director, and vocational stage manager of the Jewel Box Revue in New York City.

She had a white father and a Black mother and was never issued a birth certificate because in 1920 interracial marriage was illegal. She celebrated her birthday on December 24.

After the Stonewall Riots, DeLarverie’s girlfriend of 25 years, Diana, passed away. DeLaverie left entertainment and became a bodygaurd for the wealthy during the day and a bouncer for lesbian bars in the West Village at night. She was also a board member of the Stonewall Veterans’ Association.

[More on Stormé DeLarverie: https://www.them.us/story/drag-king-cabaret-legend-activist-storme-delarverie]

Current Change

In February of this year (2020) the East River State Park in Brooklyn was renamed after Marsha P. Johnson. It was the first state park in New York to be named after an openly LGBTQ+ person. It’s also been announced that a memorial to Marsha P. Johnson and Silvia Rivera will go up in Greenwich Village by the end of 2021.

[More heres: https://www.theroot.com/east-river-state-park-in-brooklyn-to-be-renamed-after-m-1841434403]

The legacy of these women and others is echoed today in the rights we have as LGBTQ+ people. And while we as an LGBTQ+ community still have a way to go, we owe them a lot

Pride as We Know It

Today Pride is a celebration decked out in rainbow glitter punctuated with house and club music. It’s a place to be your authentic self surrounded by laughter and love. But it’s important to remember, especially this year, that the first Pride wasn’t full of rainbow feather boas and dancing on floats. The first Pride was a riot. The first Pride was violent and messy.

So as the world rises up for change as we mourn George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many countless others I’d like us to acknowledge our history. I want to acknowledge that I owe the right to live openly gay in America to some extraordinary Black activists.

I’m heartbroken and angry, but I know words don’t do much. I just want you all to know this blog and any of my online spaces are safe places. I’m educating myself and learning so much and I’d encourage any of my followers to do the same. I acknowledge that I’m very likely going to mess up and I want you to call me out on it. I promise I will always do my best to fix it and acknowledge you.

Black Lives Matter.

Love is Love.

Learn, donate, and help the cause here: https://blacklivesmatters.carrd.co/

I found this article about black LGBT leaders that I thought was super interesting if you want to know more about the impact black people have had on the LGBTQ movement: https://www.ebony.com/news/celebrating-black-lgbt-pioneers-photos-506/

Instead of my Patreon this week I’m urging you to go donate to this fundraiser for Black trans women: https://www.gofundme.com/f/homeless-black-trans-women-fund?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=m_pd+share-sheet

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