In the wake of the June protests in response to George Floyd's death and systemic police brutality against black people, many folks are equating the Black Lives Matter movement with the revolutionary spirit of the Stonewall Riots. Beginning on the early hours of June 28, 1969, the Stonewall Riots began when New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, one of the few remaining gay (and gender inclusive) bars open in Greenwich Village. As the raid progressed and police arrested the bar's patrons, a sizable crowd grew in the street. Tensions escalated, and while accounts vary of what exactly started the riots, two prominent POC figures have emerged as faces of those fateful nights and the leaders of pride: Stormé DeLarverie and Marsha P. Johnson.
Stormé DeLarverie, a lesser known name from the Stonewall Riots, was a biracial lesbian and drag king. Before June 28, 1968, she performed as a drag king and MC in the Jewelbox Revue, the first racially integrated drag revue. The night of Stonewall, many recalled that she threw the first punch as she was arrested and brought out of the bar in handcuffs; this punch is what started the rioting in the streets and the altercation between the people of Greenwich Village and the police.
The second, more prominent figure to arise from the Stonewall Riots is Marsha P. Johnson, a trans black woman, drag queen, and outspoken gay rights advocate. She is also credited as one of the sparks for the riots that night: in some accounts, she threw a shotglass at a mirror behind the bar (deemed "the shotglass heard around the world"); in others, she threw a brick at a police officer. The most corroborated story is that she climbed a lamppost on the second night of the riots and dropped a brick on a cop car's windshield. Regardless, Johnson's involvement those nights and activism in the following years had a profound impact on the gay rights movement and visibility for trans people and drag queens within conversations about LGBTQ rights.
Often, it is the voices of the oppressed and marginalized that rise to great heights because they are put under enormous pressure. We can look to DeLarverie and Johnson's boldness and resilience to realize that we can, in fact, change the parts of society we can no longer accept. The actions of these two courageous individuals resonates all the louder through the perspective of the years that followed.
For a more intensive look at the Stonewall Riots and Pride in the last 50 years, we recommend the Stonewall 50-year anniversary coverage by the Atlantic.
Kelly Boner is a staff writer for LED Queens who joined the team in September 2019. She is a designer, drag artist, member of the Chicago LGBTQ community, and avid email marketing enthusiast.