We need to pay more attention to the marginalized groups within the LGBT community

A short look at how the LGBT community seems to forget who our heroes are

I sadly watched a film that told the history of Marsha P. Johnson, one of the most knowingly black LGBT activists, Stonewall veteran, without knowing the film had being stolen from a POC trans woman¹ by a white man — and this is the base for this entire essay, or rant if we are going to be real about it, as it is the base for our LGBT movement today and has been since day one: white-middle-class gay people stealing the power of more marginalized people within our community, denying, by doing that, our very past.

It was until the beginner of this century illegal to be homosexual in various states of US — after 2003 it was no longer a crime to be one in all US territory — so you can only imagine the hell it was to be one in the late 1960s. But that did not stop people like Marsha or Sylvia (Latinx trans woman, LGBT activist, Stonewall veteran) — that never did. Sylvia, for example, has spent her entire life being abused by the police, who have arrested her for daring to have the courage to violate gender rules, for not settling for a society that puts strict rules down the throat of LGBT people, . It was not an option for them to hide — and with the courage to be themselves, they set us free.

Marsha p. Johnson in the left, and Sylvia Rivera in the right.

There’s some controversial discussion about if Sylvia was or not in the night the Stonewall riots took place, but for me, being there or not, isn’t the point, because she kept fighting tireless after that for gay rights. We probably wouldn’t have all the progress we have today in the LGBT agenda if it was not for drag queens and street LGBT people, especially the trans community, because they were the ones who started it all. Their lives were a fucking fight for rights, they mere existence were a fight — a stand against a society who didn’t want them in their lives, and sure as hell didn’t want them alive.

While Sylvia Rivera fought for gay rights she was also very political about others issues concerning LGBT community at time — that persist until today and we tend to ignore — like the poverty of LGBT people, those who are throw out of their houses for just being LGBT, and especially for the T aspect of LGBT community who are less accept and face more prostitution in order to be alive. In a report released in December, 2016 by the National Center for Transgender Equality² had showed that 30% of trans adults have experienced homelessness in their lives, 20% of trans people work in the underground economy, 41% of workers have experienced physical assault during this work. And in the commercial sex industry, trans people are 3 times more likely to be attacked than cisgender people.

Sylvia Rivera and Arthur Bell, New York City, Oct. 1970. Photo by Diana Davies

Sylvia approach back then was more real because the fight for rights was crucial for her — and the countless of drag queen’s — life. They didn’t have the comfort to not think about class struggles like all the middle-class gay people had.

There’s small moments in life that you get so angry you have nothing to do but to cry. Watching Sylvia’s speech at Pride in ’73 was one of these moments for me. I felt impotent because there’s nothing left for me to do, right? I couldn’t make a space-time machine and go back in time and be there to support her and yell back at all those people. And was in that moment that I realized that Sylvia Rivera was the right kind of activist we need. She didn’t shut up in the face of the police, in the face of a law that made her a criminal for just being herself, and of course she didn’t shut up in the face of all those privileged middle-class cis people shouting at her. People experiencing a Pride that was only possible because she, among the drag queens, the transgender-street people, fought the police, started the riots, all of that for rights. rights to be who we are, rights to live in the open, rights to not hide anymore, .

After this Pride, Sylvia tried to kill herself, not been succeed. After that she left the movement, learning years later that the trans people should fight themselves for trans rights — see? Not “gays rights” anymore. Because it was not in the interest of gay people to fight that fight them. It’s so easy to use the card when things get mainstream but it’s not when things get heavy.

Christopher Street Liberation Day, New York City, June 28, 1970. Photo © John Lauritsen

It is a shame, really, seeing how we sleep so much on our past, how we ignore our real heroes, how we seem to forget that the mainstream media and the cops were never on our side, how we had to get our hands dirty to get the right to be treated like humans being. It is a shame how we just seem to legitimate only certain types of fights within our community and ignore others. Gay marriage is a legitim fight? Yes, so is the violence against the trans community. So is the poverty and homeless situation among LGBT youth. We as a community need to understand that we need to support each other in our struggles because no one else is going to do it. But instead we hold hands with the oppressor, seeming forgetting what we are.

Perhaps what push me towards Sylvia Rivera is the fact that she was vocal and fearless about these issues, and above everything else she believed in us, in the gay power. And even having nothing she opened, along with Marsha P. Johnson, STAR in the 60s to bring a shelter to street LGBT people, she helped in-jail gay people — who remember were in jail just because they were gay. They looked to the marginalized people inside an already marginalized group, doing more than the middle-class gay people ever dreamed of doing.

White middle class LGBT people erase everybody who doesn’t fit in their label (white and middle class), but who fought for our rights was POC/poor/trans people, they are the heroes; is because of them we have any kind of rights. We need to talk more about the marginalized part of our community, about the poor LGBT people, the POC LGBT people, the Trans people, because was them who give us what we have.

STONEWALL WAS A RIOT NOT A RAINBOW, Trans Day of Action, New York City, June 27, 2014 Photo by Hollow Sidewalks

I hope that in this June we start focus on the people who need us in our community.

I hope we do not make these people disappointed.

Engineer student, aspiring writer and activist. My life is a mess. Contact: alessandrafigueiredo@outlook.com | I write in English and/or Portuguese.

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