Reclaiming Stonewall – Redux

I suspect that most people in the LGBT community have heard the name Stonewall, and know something about the Stonewall Riots of 1969, and how they led to the Gay Rights movement which has campaigned for equal rights for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual people across the world. But, to all intents and purposes, the LGB movement has seemingly ignored Trans people, leaving us to campaign on our own. I suspect, though, that not too many LGB people recognise the horrible irony of this.

I’m going to throw two names at you, dear reader and, be honest with yourself, there’s a good chance that you’ve probably never heard of them or know who they are. They are: Sylvia Rae Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. No? Then read on. (Kudos if you really did know).

These two are trans women who, on the 28th June 1969, became leaders in the Stonewall riots, a turning point in LGBT rights, when a police raid on the Stonewall Tavern, a gay bar, on Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, NYC resulted in a series of of spontaneous and violent demonstrations. Rivera and Johnson, both present in the bar, became the first to strike back at the police. Rivera is quoted as saying “I’m not missing a minute of this — it’s the revolution!”

Sylvia Rivera went on to become a founder member of both the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance and, with Marsha Johnson, also formed STAR, Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries. One of the GLF’s first acts was to organize a march in response to Stonewall and to demand an end to the persecution of homosexuals. The GLF had a broad political platform, denouncing racism and declaring support for various Third World struggles and the Black Panther Party. They took an anti-capitalist stance and attacked the nuclear family and traditional gender roles.

A parallel GLF was set up in the UK in 1970 which eventually led to the creation of  the London Lesbian & Gay Switchboard and then to OutRage! and Stonewall.

Sylvia Rivera eventully left the GLF due to a falling out over the marginalisation of trans people by the gay community.This marginalisation was brought to the fore in the 1973 Stonewall Rally when feminist activist Jean O’Leary protested the presence of crossdressers and drag queens, believing they were mocking women. During a speech by O’Leary, in which she claimed that drag queens made fun of women for entertainment value and profit, Sylvia Rivera and Lee Brewster jumped on the stage and shouted “You go to bars because of what drag queens did for you, and these bitches tell us to quit being ourselves!”

This marginalisation continued through the years. Marsha Johnson died in 1992 in mysterious circumstances, her body found floating in the Hudson River. The police ruled it suicide but, with continued pressure from her friends and supporters, eventually reopened the case in 2012. Trans exclusion increased over the years, as attitudes about binary and fluid sexual orientation and gender developed and came increasingly into conflict.

Rivera eventually led a protest march against trans marginalisation in 1994, in response to the exclusion of trans people from the Stonewall 25 march in NYC. Since then, trans exclusion from the LGB community seems to have grown. In the US, the inclusion of transition expenses and surgery costs  was removed from medical insurance cover, in 1980, on the recommendation of the radical feminist Janice Raymond. It also seems that its impossible for US trans people, especially trans women, to perform even the simplest functions, such as using a public toilet, without suffering from some form of harassment. Things in the US, however, are changing slowly. Many states have voted in protections for trans people, equal marriage, and now coverage for transition-related medical expenses (including surgery) from medical insurers.

In the UK, in the last few years, our situation has improved as well. Despite it’s flaws we have the Equalities Act, the introduction of the GRC (Gender Recognition Certificate) giving us the ability to change our birth certificate to reflect the correct gender, and the Marriage (Same-Sex Couples) Act, giving us the legal ability to get married, (the annoyance of the spousal veto notwithstanding).  Our ongoing, (and sometimes problematical), ability to obtain treatment on the NHS, with ongoing support, is something none of us take for granted.

Unfortuantely, some of what benefits us as trans people has been gained as a by-product of changes put in place to benefit LGB people, with trans people often left out of the decision-making process. Everything that directly affects us only, as trans people, has been gained as a result of the work and dedication of trans people, by those at the forefront of activism in the UK. People such as Sarah Brown, Roz Kaveney, Natacha Kennedy, Sarah Savage, C. N. Lester, Fox Fisher and many others.  Every inch of legal protection, every scrap of equality, every ounce of recognition has been gained by trans women and trans men.

Yet, we have been treated, as a whole, like the little sister sitting in the corner that no one has time for, marginalised and left to fend for ourselves by the gay rights movement that trans women helped to start, and the organisation that carries its name.

We need to talk. Things need to change.

I think it’s time we reclaimed Stonewall, don’t you?

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Reclaiming Stonewall

I suspect that most people in the LGBT community have heard the name Stonewall, and know something about the Stonewall Riots of 1969, and how they led to the Gay Rights movement which has campaigned for equal rights for Gay, Lesbian and Bisexual people across the world. But, to all intents and purposes, the LGB movement has seemingly ignored Trans people, leaving us to campaign on our own. I suspect, though, that not too many LGB people recognise the horrible irony of this.

I’m going to throw two names at you, dear reader and, be honest with yourself, there’s a good chance that you’ve probably never heard of them or know who they are. They are: Sylvia Rae Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson. No? Then read on. (Kudos if you really did know).

These two are trans women who, on the 28th June 1969, became leaders in the Stonewall riots, a turning point in LGBT rights, when a police raid on the Stonewall Tavern, a gay bar, on Christopher Street, Greenwich Village, NYC resulted in a series of of spontaneous and violent demonstrations. Rivera and Johnson, both present in the bar, became the first to strike back at the police. Rivera is quoted as saying “I’m not missing a minute of this — it’s the revolution!”

Sylvia Rivera went on to become a founder member of both the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activists Alliance and, with Marsha Johnson, also formed STAR, Street Transgender Action Revolutionaries. One of the GLF’s first acts was to organize a march in response to Stonewall and to demand an end to the persecution of homosexuals. The GLF had a broad political platform, denouncing racism and declaring support for various Third World struggles and the Black Panther Party. They took an anti-capitalist stance and attacked the nuclear family and traditional gender roles.

A parallel GLF was set up in the UK in 1970 which eventually led to the creation of  the London Lesbian & Gay Switchboard and then to OutRage! and Stonewall.

Sylvia Rivera eventully left the GLF due to a falling out over the marginalisation of trans people by the gay community.This marginalisation was brought to the fore in the 1973 Stonewall Rally when feminist activist Jean O’Leary protested the presence of crossdressers and drag queens, believing they were mocking women. During a speech by O’Leary, in which she claimed that drag queens made fun of women for entertainment value and profit, Sylvia Rivera and Lee Brewster jumped on the stage and shouted “You go to bars because of what drag queens did for you, and these bitches tell us to quit being ourselves!”

This marginalisation continued through the years. Marsha Johnson died in 1992 in mysterious circumstances, her body found floating in the Hudson River. The police ruled it suicide but, with continued pressure from her friends and supporters, eventually reopened the case in 2012. Trans exclusion increased over the years, as attitudes about binary and fluid sexual orientation and gender developed and came increasingly into conflict.

Rivera eventually led a protest march against trans marginalisation in 1994, in response to the exclusion of trans people from the Stonewall 25 march in NYC. Since then, trans exclusion from the LGB community seems to have grown. In the US, the inclusion of transition expenses and surgery costs  was removed from medical insurance cover, in 1980, on the recommendation of the radical feminist Janice Raymond. It also seems that its impossible for US trans people, especially trans women, to perform even the simplest functions, such as using a public toilet, without suffering from some form of harassment.

In the UK, in the last few years, our situation has improved. The inclusion of gender identity in the Equalities Act, the ability to change our birth certificate to reflect the correct gender and our ability to get married. Our ability to obtain treatment on the NHS, with ongoing support is something none of us take for granted.

Everything we, as trans people gain, has been as a result of the work and dedication of trans people. Every inch of legal protection, every scrap of equality, every ounce of recognition has been gained by trans women and trans men.

Yet, we have been treated, as a whole, like the little sister that no one has time for, marginalised and left to fend for ourselves by the gay rights movement that trans women helped to start.

I think it’s time we reclaimed Stonewall, don’t you?

Love, Hate and Violence….

Over the last few years my eyes have been opened, wide. I knew, being transsexual that, when I transitioned, there would be prejudice and a certain amount of hate possibly levelled at me, but I hadn’t reckoned with the absolute levels of hate and violence against trans people as a group, and the sources of it.

It seems that, having spent much of my life in a drunken stupor (see here), I had missed out on a huge chunk of what was going on. I was so, so naive. To me, church was a place you went to talk to an implausible being who was probably too busy anyway, a Christian was someone who did this, turf was sheets of grass used to make a lawn, right-wing was something to do with politics and prejudice and discrimination happened to other people. How things have changed. How I’ve grown up. I’ve had to. Transition is not an easy journey.

There have been the changes socially. I get treated as a woman. Doors opened for me (nice), people talk to me more, especially other women, shopping is a much more fun experience, even silly things like male drivers letting me out at junctions. There are some not-so-nice changes, (I’m not complaining, just commenting), mainly things I took for granted pre-transition, such as being treated like I don’t know anything in DIY shops, (having a pink toolkit recommended to me!), and car shops, but the best is computer shops where thirty years in the business gives me a chance to have fun.

But then there’s the hate and the violence. The sheer immensity of it is staggering.

It appears that much of the hate for us is Right-Wing (largely) Christian led, mainly in the US, but there is a large component here in the UK. They run around, selectively quoting the Bible to justify their hatred and intolerance, pointing at us and calling us abominations, freaks, and worse. Then they say they can cure us, with love and God’s grace but, when that doesn’t work, its back to inciting violence and hatred.

Then there are the TERFs, (TransExclusionary Radical Feminists), feminists that want people like me dead, who would look upon a trans suicide as a victory, who see us as nothing but men in dresses raping women. Feminists like Cathy Brennan, Janice Raymond and Victoria Brownworth to name but a few. I have read some of the TERF websites and Twitter postings with a kind of horrified fascination that this sort of thing could actually exist.

But the worst hate of all is the fear and hate generated by ignorance. The fear that some people have of the unknown. This is the hate that kills, the hate that destroys lives. This is the hate that is fed upon and encouraged by the Right and Christian Right and TERFs, the hate and fear that is turned into violence and murder. The hatred that causes the 44% level of suicides of trans people and makes stepping out the front door a nervous journey into unknown familiarity for many more. The hatred that has killed more than two hundred trans people in the last year for no better reason than who they were, and has given rise to an annual Day of Remembrance.

The hatred and fear is real, visceral. The only weapons we have are law and education. Knowing a thing removes the fear of that thing. We can only show that we are people trying to get on with our lives. We only shout and make a fuss when we are treated less than any other, when we are pushed to the back of the bus. Otherwise we want to live without fear of being killed simply because we are truly ourselves.

Please Note: This article was originally posted in The Girl From Nowhere