A letter, on this Pride Sunday. Shared with love, and addressed especially to my tween, teen, and young adult Queer family and friends.
Lots of folks are attending Pride parades today, throughout the U.S. That's cool.
But, let's never, ever whitewash (turn history and the present into a sea of untrue whiteness) or ciswash (turn history and the present into a sea of untrue binary gender norms) the Stonewall Riots, those humid nights and days in NYC's Greenwich Village, in the aftermath of Judy Garland's death in June of 1969, the "beginning" of a part of – but, definitely not all -- liberationist Queer politics, even before the word "queer" had been reclaimed (and not just by cisgendered, white, upper middle class, gay men writing expensive books using inaccessible language and often affiliated with universities).
Although it wasn't necessarily called “queer liberation,” at the time, I learned when I was much younger that folks had been involved in this kind of work for years and years, internationally and stateside. And, before as well as concurrent with the Stonewall Riots, folks’ assimilationist approaches and other labors -- essentially demanding to be treated with respect and common decency -- were damn radical, in their own ways. People were fired, threatened, attacked, blacklisted, locked up, and killed, just for being who they were, for living their lives somewhat or entirely openly, and for saying what they believed. This story is not just "history"... It is still happening, we must make no mistake, and it is especially true for Trans and gender nonconforming, Queer People of Color.
Regardless of what Hollywood and other mainstream narratives often claim or “tell” us, it was working class Black and Latinx drag queens and other gender nonconforming, Queer People of Color who started the Stonewall Riots – a sustained, radical, street rebellion -- refusing to let the cops harass folks any more.
When I lived in NYC, I used to see Marsha P. Johnson (a "Stonewall Veteran"), periodically, in Greenwich Village. I remain grateful for her role in the uprising.
Last year, journalist Eric Marcus shared publicly a recording of his 1989 conversation with Sylvia Rivera, another “Stonewall Veteran.” The audio recorded interview includes a transcript.
I am reflecting today, on this Pride Sunday. I am not attending any gigantic Queer party or protest, but sitting at home, writing, near a cat. I am reflecting on the marches that became parades and on the acts of civil disobedience that turned into festivals, fairs, and other places and spaces to buy rainbow hats, bracelets, buttons, flags, and other paraphernalia. (And, yes, I have some of these items, myself, to wear with pride.)
In Tucson, in the beginning of the 2000s, the police used to gate areas of a relatively big public park for "Pride," and my then-partner and I called it the Queer Zoo, because the straight people and curious folks of all backgrounds used to come and watch us all through the silvery fence. (I'm not sure if this is still the set-up or procedure.) This set-up was presumably for our protection, but it felt like being on display.
I also remember Liza Minella singing "Over the Rainbow" at the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Rebellion, during the NYC Pride parade, culminating in the scorching heat in Central Park.
The Riots began but did not end on June 28, 1969. I was three years old. Probably, I was sleeping in my crib. (Did I have a little bed by then? I will ask my mother.) I didn't know, yet, that I would grow up to be a gender nonconforming Queer and a dyke.
Thank you Marsha; thank you Sylvia. Rest in pride. Thank you for your leadership and advocacy, and thank you for telling the truth. We the living won’t forget.
Happy Pride, everyone.