Historically, movements have a habit of forgetting about the people whose unique backgrounds and experiences make the fight more difficult.
Early feminists, for example, excluded lesbians, referring to them as the “Lavender Menace” (which is my single favorite identifier for myself). Currently, the LGBTQ community has a couple of subgroups we like to forget about—namely the “T,” or transgender folks, and queer people of color.
If you look at the majority of the faces leading the LGBTQ fight for equal rights, you will find that they are nearly all white and mostly gay men—with the occasional lesbian thrown in there.
I want to make sure everyone is clear that I am a white cisgender lesbian woman. I am a part of the group that has been exclusionary, and I want to name that.
I want to name that I am complicit in the problem, but I do my best to create spaces in which the diversity of the LGBTQ community is reflected and embraced.
It is because of this systematic exclusion of trans people and people of color that I want to call out the incredible white-washing and cis-sexism of the movie Stonewall.
“Stonewall” is based on the real and important piece of queer history known as the Stonewall Riots which occurred in June of 1969. The Stonewall Inn was owned by the Mafia and was very accepting of LGBT folks. It is important to bear in mind that in 1969, police would regularly conduct raids on gay bars in order to arrest anyone caught cross-dressing—this could include transgender folks and butch women, among other groups.
On the night of the Stonewall riots, patrons of the bar refused to give their IDs to police, they refused to go quietly, and they refused to be discriminated against, harassed or ignored.
A crowd rapidly gathered at Stonewall, and eventually that crowd, which was made up largely of transgender women, people of color and lesbians, began throwing coins at the cops. When the police attempted to disperse the crowd by forcing people, the protesters threw bricks, forcing the police to barricade themselves in the Stonewall Inn. By the end of the riots, thirteen people had been arrested, four cops had been injured and many of the protesters were hospitalized.
This was the first time queer Americans gathered together in numbers to say that we exist, we deserve respect and that we will not accept other people’s hatred and bigotry. These riots are one of the most important parts of queer history, because finally gay and trans people had a voice.
Finally we were recognized as a force to be reckoned with—as a group of people with dignity who merited the same respect as any other group of people. Without Stonewall, we might not have marriage equality, nondiscrimination policies or open and affirming churches.
It is because of Stonewall that I can say that I am gay. It is because of Stonewall trans people are finally gaining recognition of their identities. It is because of Stonewall that the erasure of the identities of transgender people of color is incredibly unacceptable.
The first coins and bricks thrown at Stonewall were thrown by transgender women of color—they were thrown by people who would have been arrested and outed for the way they were dressed. They would have lost their jobs, their housing, their friends and family, maybe even their lives, when they were outed by the police who were supposed to be protecting them.
In the “Stonewall” movie, a cisgender gay white man throws the first brick. A fictionalized man designed to represent the movement which was made up largely of trans women of color throws the first brick. If that is not the most incredibly whitewashed, cis-sexist re-writing of history so that cis white people can feel comfortable, I do not know what is.
As a cis white person, this movie makes me uncomfortable. I am a white person, and white people should not be taking credit for Stonewall. As white people, we tend to only embrace minority racial and ethnic groups when there is a part of their culture that we want to steal and claim as our own. Stonewall does not belong to white cis men. They need to give it back to the trans women of color who risked their lives for the movement.
I am a gay white woman, and I demand better representation in the media. I demand that we give the credit to the incredible trans women of color who created our movement. I demand that we refuse to be complicit in the racist rewrite of our own history.
Much like the modern black lives matter movement, the Stonewall riots were a response to a systematic devaluation of the lives, experiences and identities of certain minority groups of humans. Trans women of color started the queer movement. People like me can feel safe because of everything these women did, and it is time they get some credit for that.
Black trans lives matter. Say their names.
I will not accept this false account of my history.