In the month of June, we celebrate Pride Month to commemorate the activists of The Stonewall Uprising that took place on June, 28th 1969. At a time when homosexual acts remained illegal, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a New York City bar that served as a safe haven for the city’s gay, lesbian, and transgender community. As they began making arrests, patrons started to resist and fight back against law enforcement’s mistreatment and discrimination. Over the week, thousands of people took to the streets and showed their support for The Stonewall Inn and the people it served. These events and ensuing riots served as a call to action for LGBTQ+ political activism. The bravery and determination of these selfless pioneers sparked a revolution and paved the way for the activism we have today. In today’s blog, we highlight some of these trailblazing LGBTQ+ activists and their contributions to the community.
Marsha P. Johnson:
Marsha “Pay it No Mind” Johnson was a Black transgender woman who was a force behind the Stonewall Riots and surrounding activism that sparked a new phase of the LGBTQ+ movement in 1969. Along with Sylvia Rivera, she established the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.) in 1970–a group committed to supporting transgender youth experiencing homelessness in New York City. Marsha P. Johnson was tragically murdered on July 6, 1992 at the age of forty-six. Her case was originally closed by the NYPD as an alleged suicide, but transgender activist Mariah Lopez fought for it to be reopened for investigation in 2012. Marsha P. Johnson is now one of the most renowned icons in LGBTQ+ history.
“No pride for some of us without liberation for all of us.”
Sylvia Rivera a trans Latina activist, campaigned with the Gay Activist Alliance (GAA) in urging the city to enact a nondiscrimination ordinance. However, facing racism and discrimination by the mainly white male GAA leadership, she began to work with homeless teenagers, co-founding the activist organization and youth shelter S.T.A.R. In the 1990s Rivera was embraced as one of the fundamental figures of the LGBTQ+ movement.
“We have to be visible. We should not be ashamed of who we are.”
Dr. Audre Lorde:
Famously self-described as a “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet,” Audre Lorde was an American writer and gay civil rights activist. During the 1960s, Lorde began publishing her poetry in magazines and anthologies, and also took part in the civil rights, antiwar, and women’s liberation movements. She received many honors throughout her career including the 1990 Bill Whitehead Memorial Award and the 1991 Walt Whitman Citation of Merit, making her the Poet Laureate of the State of New York for 1991-1992. In 2001, the Publishing Triangle association instituted the Audre Lorde Award for distinguished works of lesbian poetry.
“Caring for myself is not self-indulgence, it is self-preservation, and that is an act of political warfare.”
Bayard Rustin was an openly gay, civil rights activist who fought alongside Martin Luther King Jr. His unapologetic openness pushed him to work mostly behind the scenes of the movement. He later urged New York City Mayor Ed Koch to work on a gay rights bill before his death in 1987. He was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Honor by President Obama in 2013.
“If we desire a society in which men are brothers, then we must act towards one another with brotherhood. If we can build such a society, then we would have achieved the ultimate goal of human freedom.”
In 1977, Harvey Milk was elected county supervisor in San Francisco. His participation in local politics and activism earned him the nickname “Mayor of Castro Street,” making him the first openly gay elected official in California. Milk spent his time on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors working on many issues including gay rights before his tragic assassination in November 1978.
“It’s not my victory — it’s yours and yours and yours. If a gay man can win, it means there is hope that the system can work for all minorities if we fight. We’ve given them hope.”
A devoted and radical activist, Howard, who was bisexual, vehemently supported and participated in the antiwar and feminist movements, as well as the Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists’ Alliance. To celebrate many of her friends inside the Stonewall Inn the night of the uprising, Howard created a one-month Stonewall anniversary rally in July 1969. Then, one year after Stonewall, she and a committee planned Gay Pride Week and the Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade, the first permitted parade supporting gay rights. Often called “The Mother of Pride,” Howard’s week and parade evolved into the annual New York City Pride march and Pride celebrations we now know around the world.
“The next time someone asks you why LGBT Pride marches exist or why Gay Pride Month is June tell them a bisexual woman named Brenda Howard thought it should be.”
From the earliest marches in 1970 to the celebrations we have today, Pride continues to be a demonstration of self-love and acceptance in the face of discrimination and remains symbolic of the resistance against those who attempt to deny the LGBTQ+ community of their rights. Pride parades serve as a visible act of cultural protest that brings the LGBTQ+ community and its supporters together in solidarity while working to change public attitudes through a joyful, public parade. If you are an ally or identify as LGBTQ+, consider showing your support through advocacy groups, providing safe spaces, and participating in your local Pride parade.
As an agency, The Guidance Center’s Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion Committee hosted an illuminating discussion on the intersectionality of mental health and queer identities and a “Lunch & Learn” to share resources that serve the LGBTQ+ community.
Learning about the experiences and history of LGBTQ+ people shouldn’t stop after June. Here is a list of resources to help us all learn how to be the best allies we can be!
- PFLAG (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays)’s National Glossary of Terms
- GLAAD’s LGBTQ Resource List
- The Better Allies email list shares 5 weekly actions to create a more inclusive workplace
- Pride events in the greater Los Angeles area
- Transgender Resources | GLAAD