The Importance of Being Earnest: Why Truth Matters


Andrea and Miss MajorI am proud of my intersecting identities as a bisexual transgender woman of color. I recognize that I live at the margins of mainstream society, even within loosely formed LGBT communities. My Facebook wallpaper features a photo of myself with Miss Major Griffen-Gracy, I met her for the first time at the Trans Faith in Color Conference in 2012, in Charlotte, NC. She was being honored at the event for her lifetime of activism and commitment to transgender equality, which began that fateful June evening in 1969 at the Stonewall Inn. She was at the Stonewall Inn among other trans women of color, bisexuals, gays and lesbians who were fed up with constant harassment of police authorities at the historic bar in the “village.”

In an interview with Autostraddle, Miss Major spoke about the travesty, “The best thing I can remember about that night is that when the girls decided, “no, we ain’t doing this,” some of the girls got out of the paddy wagon and came back. The police got so scared they backed into the club and locked the doors. I mean, if nothing else, that was the funniest thing to have in your mind while watching it happen. And meanwhile across the street, there are all these cute little white boys cheering us on, and saying “don’t hurt the girls!” and all this blah blah. They weren’t in the fight.”

I mention this because it reflects the multiple attempts to erase trans women of color from the genesis narrative of the contemporary LGBT movement—a movement that has established the right for all members of United States society to marry the person they love regardless of gender. This erasure of trans women of color is transphobic, racist, and xenophobic and it needs to stop.

Roland Emmerich’s film Stonewall, in which a young white male protagonist from the farm is lifted up as the savior who threw the first brick launching a movement, is the latest example. When you watch the trailer ask yourself, where are the people of color that made the Stonewall Inn their hangout? There were very few places that Black and Latina “drag queens,” stone butch lesbians, and openly bisexual folks could hang out because they were not welcome in many other places.

The working and middle class white men who hung out in Greenwich Village had jobs and other liabilities they could not risk by confronting the police and rioting. That is why police felt so comfortable raiding these establishments frequently. The night of the police raid of the Stonewall was actually Marsha P. (the P. stands for “Pay it no mind”) Johnson’s birthday. Marsha P. Johnson and her best friend Sylvia Rivera have been widely credited by credible historians for starting the riots that sparked the movement. Unlike many of the white men who frequented other gay clubs, these Trans women had very little to lose.

That night people were fed up. Marsha P. Johnson and some of friends were celebrating when the police stormed the bar. Marsha threw her shot glass in a moment that has come to be known as the “shot glass heard around the world.” After the night, Marsha and Silva organized marches and rallies advocating for equal rights and the end of police harassment. They formed an organization called S.T.A.R.S., Street Transvestites Action Revolutionaries to address the needs of homeless youth, offer clothing, shelter, and other basic needs. One year later, bisexual woman Brenda Howard worked with people to organize a commemorating march that eventually became the annual Pride march that people perform around the world.

Even then, gay establishment leaders were hostile towards these women and other marginalized people because they did not fit the dominant narrative of respectable white men who were attracted to other men. Like their heterosexual counterparts, white gay male leaders have historically marginalized people who did not conform to their standards of beauty or value. This has included Trans people, bisexuals and even lesbians. So it comes as no surprise that a white gay male filmmaker and his supporters would carry on this abhorrent practice of erasing Trans and bi+ identities.

According to one report, between 2007 and 2013, 74 percent of characters in major Hollywood movies were white, compared to only 49 percent of moviegoers. Latinos make up 32 percent of the audience and 4.9 percent of the characters onscreen. To make matters worse, Hollywood filmmakers frequently cast white people as characters of color, such as Emma Stone in Aloha or the main cast in the Last Airbender movie.

My dear friend, Reina Gossett, is doing just that. Her new film “Happy Birthday Marsha” tells the true story of that night and the subsequent events that led to what too many people mistakenly call the Gay Rights Movement. Trans women of color wrote and star in the film. Please support the film. It is not enough for the community to merely boycott (that’s an interesting word, very gender specific) the film Stonewall, which you can protest by signing this petition.

This whitewashed, pinkwashed story of the Stonewall Riot cannot occur unchallenged. We must not stand by silently while our histories are being rewritten. That is why the image of Miss Major and I remains on my Facebook page. I want to stay connected to the legacy of unapologetic pride in who we are and what we, as trans women, bisexual women and women of color, have done to move equality and justice forward.