Glimmerglass is proud to support the LGBTQIA+ community — in Cooperstown, the Central New York region, and around the globe.
Yesterday marked the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, the 1969 rebellion against police violence that swelled into national protest, fueled the gay liberation movement of the late 60s and 70s, and catalyzed international recognition of June as Pride Month. Lifelong LGBTQIA+ rights activists and key figures in these protests include activists Stormé DeLarverie, Marsha P. Johnson, and Sylvia Rivera.
The uprising began at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village. At the time, the State Liquor Association frequently denied liquor licenses to known gay bars, making them an easy target for police raids. The Stonewall Inn was no exception, and during the early morning hours of June 28, police entered the Stonewall, justifying the raid as an investigation of illegal alcohol sale. They began arresting and questioning patrons, but unlike previous police raids, bargoers fought back against the police — a lesbian resisted arrest, was hit by the police, and punched back.
The crowd erupted, with protestors throwing coins and bottles at officers.
The rebellions continued over the next week, and a year after Stonewall, the first Pride march — titled the Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day March — was held in New York City to commemorate the initial uprising. That same night, activists in Los Angeles held a “Christopher Street West” demonstration, and over the coming years Pride grew into an international event. In 1999, President Bill Clinton officially declared June Gay and Lesbian Pride Month in the United State. Ten years later, President Barack Obama expanded the name to Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Pride Month.
Many believe the woman who punched back at police during the Stonewall Uprising was Stormé DeLarverie, a lesbian, drag king, and self-appointed guardian of the Greenwich Village lesbian population. DeLarverie has stated that she threw the first punch, but her legacy extends far beyond Stonewall. She travelled the streets of the Village, protecting the lesbian community from harassment for decades — all the way into her 80s.
“She literally walked the streets of downtown Manhattan like a gay superhero,” DeLarverie’s lifelong friend and legal guardian Lisa Cannistraci said in an interview with The New York Times. “She was not to be messed with by any stretch of the imagination.”
Joining DeLarverie as crucial activists in both the Stonewall Uprising and gay liberation movement were Marsha P. Johnson, a Black transgender woman, and Sylvia Rivera, a Latinx transgender woman. The pair were close friends, and in 1970 co-founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), an organization to shelter transgender, homeless youth in New York — the first of its kind in the nation. Johnson and Rivera founded STAR as a direct response to the mistreatment of transgender activists by the gay rights movement.
“Some gay and lesbian activists took the tack that they were no different from their straight peers,” wrote Gillian Brockell for The Washington Post. “[They] thought that argument was harder to make if Johnson showed up in plastic heels and with fruit in her hair.”
Rivera broke off her involvement with the Gay Liberation Front and the Gay Activist’s Alliance after the organizations denounced her actions. New York’s Gay and Lesbian Community Center banned her after she destroyed a lobby desk in protest of the group’s neglect of the homeless transgender youth who slept outside their doors. At a 1973 Pride march, she was booed offstage after addressing the crowd with, “If it wasn’t for the drag queen, there would be no gay liberation movement. We’re the front-liners.”
Rivera passed away from lung cancer in 2002, at the age of 50. Johnson passed away in 1992 at the age of 46, her body found in the Hudson River. Police ruled her death a suicide, but those close to her suspected otherwise. Her death received little media coverage.
DeLarverie passed away in 2014, following a heart attack. She was 93.
The Stonewall Uprising and the life-long activism of DeLarverie, Johnson, Rivera, and many others propelled the United States to expand LGBTQIA+ rights nationwide — but much crucial legislation only went into effect over the last 20 years.
New York State’s Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act was legalized in 2003, same-sex marriage was legalized statewide in 2011 — and nationwide in 2015 — and as recently as June of 2019 Gov. Andrew Cuomo passed a ban on the LGBTQIA+ “panic” legal defense (also called gay/trans panic), a tactic described by CNN as “[finding] that a victim’s sexual orientation or gender identity is to blame for a defendant’s violent reaction.”
As Glimmerglass celebrates Pride this June, we honor the LGBTQ+ activists past and present who continue to dedicate their lives to fighting for equality.
Glimmerglass had planned to travel to the Albany Pride Center, the oldest continuously operating pride center in the country, to march with the Central New York LGBTQIA+ community. The parade has been rescheduled to prioritize community safety amidst COVID-19, and Glimmerglass is proud to partner with mezzo-soprano Jamie Barton to present a virtual Pride performance.
From our family to yours, happy Pride.