Queer Query: The Riot on Christopher Street

Welcome to Queer Query’s second issue! Thank you for joining us once again. This newsletter is meant to highlight the voices of young LGBTQ writers. What the reader will find ahead is a wide spectrum of identities, sexualities, and experiences that embrace everything that we are, and everything that we stand for: inclusiveness and unity.

Thank you to SFGN, Compass GLCC, and our readers for making this opportunity available to us. When we published our first issue, it was prior to the Supreme Court decision that passed marriage equality in the United States. We are apart of history itself. We carry the torches of this in our voices, our thoughts, and our ideas. So I wanted to take a moment to acknowledge the time and place where it all began.

On June 28th, 1969, the queer liberation movement changed forever.

Stonewall was always lauded up to be the grand start of the LGBTQ movement, but I disagree. Grassroots movements have always existed. Small, tight-knit communities have always thrived. Underground, our narratives began through threads of normalcy. Threads of acceptance. Threads of survival.

The most radical politics for the LGBTQ movement in its beginning was us simply existing. We existed. We thus contradicted society's old-world view of gender and love. We clashed against norms with our non-conforming natures, or for our "deviant" ways of loving human beings that may or may not have matched with our sex.

We weren't "proper" individuals who could always seamlessly collaborate with society, undetected. Many of us died throughout history for this radical act of embracing our true selves. In secrecy, we survived. In silence, we were safe.

Ultimately, Stonewall wasn’t the grand beginning of our movement. The movement always existed. No, the riot on Christopher Street was something greater. It was the grand beginning of rebellion. The riot itself was the spark. We were the flames.

Before The Riot, it was custom for the mafia to be tipped off whenever a raid was planned. So whenever one was planned, it gave them a head-start to avoid confrontation with police. That didn’t happen that night. The police raided the place and started rounding up people in lines.

A woman many identify to be Storme DeLarverie (1920-2014) told an officer that her cuffs were too tight. When he hit her with a baton in response, she attempted to escape custody multiple times. She told the crowd: “Why don’t you guys do something?” She was a well-known New York City butch lesbian, stage performer, and a biracial woman. When the cop finally heaved her into a wagon, that defining moment began the greatest spark for human rights in modern history. It was the moment. It was when the crowd began fighting back.

Considered one of the most underrated civil rights pioneers, Sylvia “Birdy” Rivera (1951-2002) was a Latina trans woman who was also present during the Stonewall Riots. Not only was she present, but she was believed to be one of the first to riot against the police.

Another prominent figure was Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992), a black trans woman who rebelled alongside Sylvia Rivera and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy. The Stonewall Riots began by mostly trans and queer women of color. We owe much thanks to these early activists, for our movement wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for these women.

Soon, organizations began getting formed immediately after the riots in 1969. The first gay pride events were held that next year, as an anniversary to the Stonewall Riots. We began getting more visible. The flames of these sparks spread. We spread our love and our ideas into the open air, and it carried throughout every major city.

As time went on, the early activists of Stonewall began getting pushed aside by the mainstream movement. The mainstream community began getting more assimilationist - by erasing drag queens, transgender people, and all those that didn’t conform to the attractive boxes of “normalized” binary gays and lesbians. The people who didn’t fit in were in the middle of so many intersectional identities, they found themselves getting cut out.

In our modern era, the mistakes of the early mainstream community can be righted. To survive as a community, we must lift each other up. Let’s start by acknowledging the shoulders that lifted us here in the first place.

To know that although we don't know all of their faces or their names, the fact that these early activists carried the same rainbow flag as us was enough. The fact that they marched down the same streets, loved people the same way, and expressed themselves in a way that was sincere and true to themselves.

No matter the pain, the anguish, or the violence, to be visible has always been a dangerous thing. To me, Stonewall symbolizes something greater. It wasn't the start of us as a movement per say, but the start of us as a thriving one. It was the start of us rising from the shadows of dirty bars and into the streets. Visible and surviving. Visible and empowered.

Our drag queens, our gender variant souls, and our queers all arrived there on Christopher Street and we couldn't hide anymore. We stood united, for on June 28th, 1969, we couldn’t stand to be voiceless another day longer.

Ultimately, it was the start of action. The start of empowerment. The start of pride.

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