By Janessa Rutiaga
Blog Content Contributor
We all know that February is Black History month, and that we use it to celebrate prominent figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Malcom X, Harriet Tubman. However, there’s a sliver of black history which never gets the light it deserves. I’m talking about the revolutionary black leaders that paved way for the LGBTQ+ Society. The following three women are prominent black figures throughout the LGBTQ+ community.
Marsha P. Johnson
Marsha Johnson was a drag queen and gay activist through the 1960s to the 1990s. She’s regarded as one of the leaders of the Stonewall Riots in 1969. She was also referred to as a “drag mother” since she spent a lot of her time mentoring, feeding and looking after other of the LGBTQ+ scene that lived on the streets. One of her most notable accomplishments is her founding of STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) with Sylvia Rivera. With this organization, Johnson hoped to help feed and house LGBTQ+ people who lived on the street. Johnson also worked as an activist with ACT UP, an organization that helps impact the lives of people with AIDS. Johnson died in 1992, and while it was ruled a suicide most people believe she the victim of a hate crime.
Storme DeLarverie (pronounced Stormy de-LAR-ver-ee), also known as the “Rosa Parks of the gay community, was a lesbian and gay civil rights activist throughout her life. She was a key leader in the Stonewall riots (who may or may not have thrown the first punch), and she also worked as bouncers and body guard for gay clubs and bars. As well as supporting the LGBTQ+ society, she also worked towards helping abused women and children. She was thought of as a protector and mentor throughout her community, and served as one diligently throughout her life. Storme passed away in her sleep on May 24, 2014.
This butch warrior launched the weekend of rebellion. Whacked a cop upside the head with a rock, or yanked a parking meter out of the ground and threw it into the plate glass window: it was a night of confusion and melee, so the story is still a bit fuzzy. But it's certain Storme was there, along with Marsha and Sylvia and Jim and many, many others (there's Ed White, on the fringe of the crowd, observing, observing…)–launching projectiles, directing events. I used to see her all the time in the Village. Storme walked slowly, and with authority; Inscrutable as the Buddha, as proud as any pope. Storme favored leather vests. QIn those days the sexes did not mix. Gays did go to lesbian bars and lesbians did not go to gay bars (and straight girls certainly did not go to gay bars), but occasionally I'd tag along to the Cubby Hole or Henrietta Hudson–one drink only, then out!–and Storme would be there, in the corner, at the window, holding court. And like all royalty worth talking about she did not extend herself; the subjects knew enough to come to her. #stormedelarverie #stonewall #pride
Miss Major Griffin-Gracy
Miss Major has lived her life as an activist for trans women rights, especially for trans women of color. She also participated in the Stonewall Riots of 1969. Throughout her life, she faced a lot of stigmatism for how she lived her life and for what she believed in. She had been expelled from two different universities, she lived on the streets as a young adult and faced jail time due to the Stonewall Riot. In the late 70s when the AIDS epidemic happened, Miss Major helped as best she could by providing health care and aiding people with funerals. She now works as an executive director of the Transgender GenderVariant Intersex Justice Project (TGIJP). She’s been awarded The Social Justice Sabbatical Award and the Bobbie Jean Baker Memorial Award.
Writing this piece has been a revelation for me. We learn so little about black history through our school system, and it completely bypasses any history for the LGBTQ+ society. These three women have not only been activist for their community, but for all people. They’ve been fighting for equal rights for the last four decades, and we are only now seeing results for their hard work. They fought hate and prejudice for their entire lives, and they are owed the respect and recognition they deserve. Our society would not be the same if it wasn’t for them.
Featured illustration by Emily Castillo.