I have rigorously studied the LGBTQ movement in this country, and unfortunately, it tends to be white washed, or patriarchal in the way our history is portrayed. It is extremely important that we pay homage and shed light on the groups of people who forced equality into existence. I was taught that LGBTQ rights started during the Stonewall riots in 1969, and it was presumed that white men were the main contributors due to the media portrayal of the riots. Also, the very limited discussion of the riots that occurred in introductory LGBTQ studies courses only mentioned the riots involved gay men. Though I’m sure unintentionally, that narrative disregards the efforts of women, non binary, and trans bodies. Of course, white men were integral to the movement, but the backbone of the movement was queer and trans people of color with nothing left to lose.
The 2015 movie Stonewall attempted to capture this historic movement but cast a white man as the hero who incited the monumental riots. This is not historically accurate. The Stonewall Inn was frequented by trans women of color and butch dykes and should have been represented on screen. It is a travesty to ignore the triumphs and effort put in by queer and trans people of color, because they are the reason we are living in a time where we can get married and have job security as LGBTQ people.
Stonewall was a manifestation of smaller battles that had been fought and for the LGBTQ community. A lesser known but equally important staple in our history was the Compton Cafeteria Riots in August of 1966, three years before Stonewall. Compton’s Cafeteria was a small café in San Francisco and a popular spot for trans people of color to gather. They regularly suffered abuse by police until they decided to take action by rioting. Stonewall did not just happen overnight, it was a culmination of events largely involving queer and trans people of color.
Nobody knows exactly what happened the night of the Stonewall riots, but Marsha P Johnson, a black trans woman, was said to have thrown her shot glass to begin the riots, nicknamed the shot glass heard around the world. Stormé DeLarverie, a black butch lesbian, is rumored to have roused the crowd and even thrown the first punch. Every year we celebrate the first Pride march in honor of the Stonewall riots, but too many young queer people do not know what we are celebrating or who we have to thank. I attended four parades before I actually understood the history behind them and have had many conversations in which teenagers who are queer have no idea about Stonewall. However it is through no fault of their own, high school does not teach us about queer history and in college a student must take very specific courses to learn about LGBTQ history.
It took me four years of academic research to find out about Marsha, Stormé, and the Compton’s Cafeteria riots, which is disheartening. To all the young LGBTQ people who, like me, can hold their partner’s hand in public without fear, get married, or adopt children together, do not forget who we owe our gratitude to.
LGBTQ history is essential for understanding the history of this country and how we’ve developed socially and morally. As of July 2020, California, New Jersey, Colorado, and Illinois have now added LGBTQ history to their public school curriculum. This will have a positive impact on how LGBTQ students view themselves, as well as bring a historically accurate and diverse perspective if taught in a manner that recognizes the contributions of queer and trans people of color.
Lastly, just because the LGBTQ movement is advancing does not mean our work is done, the LGBTQ community encompasses every identity group, therefore we must stand with every movement for equality and justice because our community is not liberated until our queer and trans brothers and sisters are no longer oppressed by their race, ethnicity, religion, or any other identity.
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