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, for just being who she was. It was not an option for them to hide — and with the courage to be themselves, they set us free.
“Marsha and I, we were the liberators. And the street people and the drag queens were the vanguard of the movement. We were the ones that stood the forefront and fought the cops off. And we’re the ones that didn’t mind getting our heads bashed in” — Sylvia Rivera
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 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.
“I’ve been trying to get up here all day for your gay brothers and your gays sisters in jail! They are writing me every motherfuckin’ week and ask for your help! And you all don’t do a goddamn thing for them! And they write STAR, not the women’s group. They do not write women. They do not write men. They write STAR because we’re trying to do something for them. But you all tell me to go and hide my tail between my legs. I will not put up with this shit. I have been beaten. I have had my nose broken. I have been thrown in jail. I have lost my job. I have lost my apartment for gay liberation. And you all treat me this way? What the fuck’s wrong with you all? Think about that! I believe in the gay power, I believe in us getting our rights, or else I would not be out there fighting for our rights.” — Sylvia Rivera, Pride 1973.³
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 our rights. Our rights to be who we are, our rights to live in the open, our rights to not hide anymore, our rights to not be a crime.
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 alongside them. It’s so easy to use the “we don’t need you anymore” card when things get mainstream but it’s not when things get heavy.
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.
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.
We are still waiting for the revolution.