'The Death & Life of Marsha P. Johnson.'

ActivismSex & Gender

#stonewall50: thank black trans women

June 28, 2019
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If you spent any part of June celebrating Pride, thank a Black trans woman. Like so many things in society and culture, the only reason the LGBTQ community is able to don rainbow flags and celebrate who they are in the streets each month is because of the labor of Black trans women who came before us.

After countless police raids on gay gathering spots in New York City during the summer of 1969, patrons like Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera  led the charge in fighting back, igniting a watershed moment for the LGBTQ community.

It’s a good reminder that for many of us, watering holes, dance floors and night clubs aren’t just about having a good time; they’re political. They’re monuments to preserving our community and affirming that we matter and exist. When licensing boards refuse to give liquor license to gay establishments — as they did with the Stonewall Inn — it’s political. When 39 people died in a fire at New Orleans’ Upstairs Lounge and their deaths were met with apathy because they were queer; it was political. When a gunman killed 49 people during Latin Night at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, again, that was political.

Like most movements against police violence, the Stonewall uprising was also a Black and brown uprising. Marsha P. Johnson, a Black trans activist who was celebrating her 25th birthday on the night of the Stonewall riots was the first to resist, throwing a shot glass at police, followed by Rivera.  Make no mistake: the police were not there to “protect and serve” or to keep order; they were there as agents of state sanctioned violence against an already marginalized community.

That’s why it’s so important to center and affirm our Black and brown trans family during Pride celebrations. Black trans women are facing violence at alarming rates. Some are disrespected in death, dead-named and misgendered by family or police reports. But they’re also disrespected in life by a media and social consciousness that only talks about their deaths and their pain without talking about their lives and their potential and their dreams. Pride is about Black trans women turning collective dreams into reality. It’s about being able to imagine a better reality and fighting to achieve it.

So, while you’re celebrating Pride this year, don’t forget that it’s about more than corporate brands during their Twitter avatar rainbow. It’s political.

Listen to Black artist Myles E. Johnson talk about what Stonewall and Pride means to him as a younger person in the community.