There are some images that you never get out of your head. There are some moments that make everything explicit. This was both of them.
On June 26, 2015 the Supreme Court released a decision legalizing same-sex marriage across the country. The same day the Audre Lorde Project hosted its 11th annual “Trans Day of Action” — a protest that happens every year to honor the long history of resilience of trans and gender non-conforming people of color in New York City.
I was responsible for reaching out to media to cover the march.
That morning most of the media contacts didn’t show up. Instead, they all went to the Stonewall bar to cover the celebration for gay marriage. I wanted to tell them that some of the very people who started the Stonewall riots were marching with us. I wanted to tell them that many of these people still experience violence and homelessness today. But violence doesn’t sell like victory, does it?
I took this photo as our trans march passed by Stonewall.
The crowd gathered around the bar to celebrate marriage looked at us incredulously. Some of them heckled us: “Why can’t you just be happy?” We chanted about homelessness, about incarceration, about poverty, about occupation, about murder. “Why can’t you just be proud?”
I thought about who was behind the police barricade around Stonewall bar and who was marching on the streets with us. I thought about how much this says about the world. I thought about how Stonewall was a rebellion against police brutality. I thought about how the police are now invited to stand outside the bar. I thought about how much this says about the world. I thought about the word “community” and I thought about the word “barricade” and then I thought about them together and ended up thinking about the world.
Recently thousands of people across the world have called for a boycott of the new Stonewall movie because it fabricates a white cis gay male protagonist and erases the political contributions of the trans and gender non-conforming people who were there that night: Miss Major, Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, and more.
This movie is not an exception, it is the norm.
Erasure is not a moment, it’s a structure. It’s about who gets to tell the story about whom. It’s about the film Happy Birthday, Marsha! which features trans women of color leads and is still fundraising to cover the costs. It’s about the very people who started Stonewall — people of color, sex workers, trans people, gender non-conforming people, women, queer people, homeless people, drug users — still fundraising to cover the costs.
Which goes to say: It’s not just that the movie Stonewall erases these people. It’s to say that the movie Stonewall is making what’s happening around us explicit. It’s to say the gay movement and gay history is institutionalized erasure. It’s to say gay victory, is already always whitewashed and ciswashed. It’s to say that the gay movement is one of the biggest fairy tales ever told: a series of lies — let’s call them “stories” — that spread across the world through a fabricated body of a white cisgender protagonist. It’s about the entire world knowing about “Stonewall,” but not knowing about TGI Justice Project (TGIJP), Sylvia Rivera Law Project (SRLP), Streetwise & Safe, and all of the activists who still fight in the very legacy of anti-colonial trans resistance that Stonewall was a part of.
This is what happens when a movement becomes a metaphor.
The thing about fairy tales is that when they are told over and over again they become accepted as “truth” and as “history.” The thing about this movie is that when it will be shown over and over again it will make a nightmare seem like a wet dream: white police officers outside of Stonewall bar there to protect (white, cisgender) people from the very (Black, brown, trans) people who have and continue to put their bodies on the line for queer liberation.
There are some moments that make everything explicit. This is one of them.