Two important, and often unsung, heroes are getting their much-deserved recognition.
This year is the 50th anniversary of Pride and two activists who played roles in the movement’s inception are being honored with monuments.
While stirrings of Pride were on the rise in the West coast of America through riots happening in California, it’s the Stonewall riots in New York City that are marked as the start of the gay rights movement.
The Stonewall Inn was a hole-in-the-wall gay bar being terrorized by homophobic police and opportunistic mafia members. After being bothered by a sloppy police raid one night, several customers fought back. Trans patron Marsha P. Johnson was an active member of the riot that ensued.
While there were about 205* customers within the bar during the initial police raid, historians believe that it was “flame queens,” hustlers, and gay “street kids” who started the riot against hostile police officers.
Marsha P. Johnson is also recorded to have been among the crowd during the historic night. She not only actively fought against the police, including the rumor of climbing a lamppost and dropping a heavy bag onto a police car’s windshield, but she also made several speeches and protest events after that night.
Sylvia Rivera is noted for saying of the moment, “You’ve been treating us like shit all these years? Uh-uh. Now it’s our turn!… It was one of the greatest moments in my life.”
That said, there has been some question as to the legitimacy of Rivera’s statement. Even Johnson herself, a friend of Rivera’s, stated that the latter wasn’t actually at the first riot.
The two were also founding members of both the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance. They also helped to create the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, or STAR House, which acts as a refuge for homeless LGBTQ people.
As for that first organization, it was one of the foremost organizations to fight for LGBTQ rights post-Stonewall.
“The magic and the spirit of Stonewall was created by the Gay Liberation Front,” said L.G.B.T.Q. civil rights pioneer and historian Mark Segal to the New York Times. Segal says the organization “is why we have everything that we have today.”
“Before Stonewall, you had organizations that only allowed white people who were properly dressed to ‘represent’ the community,” Segal said. “We were black, brown and every other stripe of the American quilt.”
“We no longer were professional men and housewives pleading for our rights, we were demanding them,” Segal said. “We would no longer let others label us.”
Now, decades after that fateful night and the following years of activism exhibited by both women, they are finally getting the recognition they deserve. Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera will be the first transwomen immortalized as statues in the US.
According to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office, the statues will be placed in the Greenwich Village area where the Stonewall riot took place.
50 years after the Stonewall Riots, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera will become the first trans women to be immortalized as statues in the US. Join @NYCMayor and @NYCFirstLady later this afternoon for the official announcement.https://t.co/vx9rWRF66p
— NYC Mayor's Office (@NYCMayorsOffice) May 30, 2019
These statues will cost the city an estimated $750,000 and the artist, who hasn’t been commissioned to work yet, will be paid out of the city’s $10 million budget allocated for new public artworks.
“Putting up statues doesn’t change everything, but it starts to change hearts and minds,” de Blasio explained during a press conference. “We want to honor them because they lived their truth and they made history.”
Happy Pride month to the women who helped start it all.
Update: This article’s title used to suggest that Johnson and Rivera were the “Mothers of Pride.” That mistake has now been corrected. In addition, a note has been added that Rivera’s presence at the Stonewall riot is hotly contested.
*Note: The number of patrons within the bar during the night of the Stonewall riot is hotly contested. Mutliple publications insist on 205 customers that night, while others insist on there only being 50. Perhaps the number of onlookers from the outside who later joined the riot is adding to the confusion.