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Stonewall, Trans Women of Color, and the Legacy of Pride

June is Pride Month for the LGBTQ+ Community. June was selected because it is the month when the Stonewall Uprising occurred in Greenwich Village in New York City in 1969. The Stonewall Uprising was a watershed moment and responded to long-standing harassment, discrimination, and brutality from the New York City police and state government. Lasting for six days between June 28 and July 3, the uprising started after police raided the Stonewall Inn. 

In the 1960s, bar raids were routine in New York City and other places because it was commonly illegal for LGBTQ+ bars to exist. So, when police received tips, they would storm in and arrest patrons. 

Like other LGBTQ+ establishments at the time, the mafia owned the Stonewall Inn. This meant that as long as the bar continued to be profitable, the owners cared very little about what happened to their clientele. The Stonewall Inn was routinely raided leading up to the June 28, 1969 raid and had been raided once already that same week. 

On the morning of June 28, 1969, police entered the Stonewall Inn and began harassing and roughing up the patrons who were there simply to socialize. Many of the patrons were either people of color or drag queens. Police initially arrested 13 people for various violations, including violating a New York law that prohibited individuals from wearing clothing allegedly not intended for their sex assigned at birth. 

Often after a raid occurred, the patrons would flee and disperse. This was because local and major newspaper publications sometimes published the names of individuals who had been arrested. Those individuals frequently would lose their jobs or would be blacklisted by employers as a result. But this night was different: the crowd refused to disperse and began resisting. The crowd threw anything it could find, which ignited the days-long protest. 

Pride Month is important for another reason: it is an opportunity to reflect on the contributions of trans women of color to the liberation of LGBTQ+ individuals. Specifically, many of the patrons who resisted the police that night were transgender women of color. Notable among them are Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. Johnson is often credited with throwing one of the first projectiles that ignited the riots. 

A year after the Stonewall Uprising, in 1970, Johnson and Rivera went on to cofound STAR, which was a shelter for homeless transgender youth to create a safe space for them. Women like Johnson and Rivera receive wide recognition for their efforts, but they were assisted by many other individuals of color and varying identities whose names and faces we will never know, but to whom much is owed for securing the ongoing liberation of the LGBTQ+ Community. Now, every June, the LGBTQ+ Community marks this anniversary with parades, festivals, and celebrations.

Although Stonewall was an event in New York, Wisconsin also deserves recognition for its support of the LGBTQ+ Community. For example, in 1982, Wisconsin became the first state in the nation to ban employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Likewise, in 2012, it became the first state to elect an openly gay woman to the U.S. Senate: Senator Tammy Baldwin. And Madison, Wisconsin has an openly gay U.S. House Representative: Representative Mark Pocan. 

Additionally, after taking office, Governor Tony Evers decreed that the Rainbow Pride Flag be flown above the State Capitol in June. This year, 2022, it was replaced with the Progress Pride Flag, which includes colors that specifically symbolize the trans community and communities of color. A fitting symbol given our state motto: Forward.

This June and every June, we celebrate inclusivity and remember that the work that lies ahead is no more insurmountable than what seemed impossible decades ago. 

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