Young Irish writer remembers the Stonewall Riots and honours the activists involved

As part of the #GCNnewvoices series, we platform the opinions and thoughts of LGBTQ+ young writers from across the country.

An illustration of two women under an umbrella in front of the Trans flag
Image: Clare Foley

GCNnewvoices in partnership with BeLonG To platforms the opinions and thoughts of LGBTQ+ young writers from across the country, speaking about issues that matter to them. Ash Caulfield talks about the Stonewall Riots.

The image on this story contains strong language.

When most people think of LGBTQ+ history and our fight for rights, their minds go straight to the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City, and they would be right to do so. But the names and faces behind this battle are often overlooked, even and especially when they belong to Transgender women of colour.

Their stories have not been forgotten by history, but it is only more recently that they are getting the recognition and respect they deserved all along.

The Stonewall Riots began in the early hours of 28 June 1969, when police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Greenwich Village, New York City. The riots continued for five days, with hundreds fighting back against the police, tired of the homophobic and transphobic abuse that they had spent years facing at their hands.

Many of those who helped to spark the initial protests were Trans women, such as Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Many others participated and fought, but these are two that a lot is known about.

Marsha P Johnson was a Black Trans woman who spent her life fighting for LGBTQ+ rights. She was also an AIDS activist. She was well known in New York’s queer community, and was a major player at the Stonewall Riots, along with Sylvia Rivera. Johnson and Rivera also founded STAR – the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, which looked to help Trans people who were living rough in New York at the time. When asked what the ‘P’ in her name stood for, Marsha is noted as always having replied, “Pay it no mind”.

Sylvia Rivera was one of the most radical LGBTQ+ rights activists of her time. She was Transgender and Latina, and reportedly threw the second Molotov cocktail at Stonewall at just 17 years-old. Another famous moment was her “Y’all Better Quiet Down” speech at the 1973 Christopher Street Liberation Day Rally in Washington Square Park, where she spoke of her suffering and anger at the exclusion of Trans people throughout her fight for “gay liberation”.

These women, and so many others, spent their lives fighting for the rights of their community, and ended up shunned due to the fact that they were Transgender. They deserve to be celebrated and held up for their work throughout their lives to further LGBTQ+ rights and truly achieve equality. 

Words cannot even begin to describe the impact that their lives and work have had on so many, especially the Trans community and Trans youth of today.

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