Who was at the Stonewall riots in 1969? And have “white gay men” stolen the history of Stonewall from trans people and people of color?
For those unaware of what Stonewall is, here is Wikipedia’s succinct description:
“The Stonewall riots were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the gay (LGBT) community against a police raid that took place in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn, located in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City. [The police routinely raided gay bars at the time.] They are widely considered to constitute the single most important event leading to the gay liberation movement and the modern fight for LGBT rights in the United States.”
President Obama just this week designated the Stonewall Inn a “national monument.” It’s the first national monument devoted to LGBT history.
I was at a Pride event last year here in NYC, and a few people were angrily demanding that the history of Stonewall be “taken back” from “gay white men” who “stole” it from trans people and people of color. It’s a claim that’s been made before.
Fast forward to today.
Two longtime LGBT leaders/activists, who were at the Stonewall uprisings, one transgender and one lesbian, have just weighed in publicly. Here’s what they witnessed that night.
Trans leader Dana Beyer writes:
“I was there [at the Stonewall Uprising] the second night, too, and the streets were overwhelmingly filled with white men (which included the way I was perceived back then, too).”
Lesbian activist Robin Tyler:
“I was there [at the Stonewall Uprising] the second night. The majority of protesters were white gay men. And a lot of people were very upset about the death of Judy Garland and their grief turned into anger. We talked about it.”
Now, this doesn’t mean that trans people and people of color (or women for that matter) weren’t there too, fighting for all of our rights. As Dana notes, they were — including trans activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. But it does mean that gay white men didn’t steal, or “whitewash,” the history of Stonewall from anyone. Gay white men were there in overwhelming numbers.
We don’t need to rewrite our history in order to honor it. There’s enough suffering for everyone.