NEW YORK (Reuters) - A black transgender woman wanted to be heard, but the white men wanted to celebrate.
The scene at New York City’s Stonewall Inn on Saturday, as reported by multiple witnesses on social media, showed how long-simmering tensions between transgender women of color and white gay men have boiled over during the celebration of World Pride and the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising.
The unidentified woman wanted to address the crowd inside the Greenwich Village gay bar where patrons fought back against police harassment 50 years ago, birthing the LGBTQ movement. She arrived unannounced and disrupted a drag show, drawing an unfriendly response at first. The crowd eventually warmed and she was given the microphone and spoke for 12 minutes.
“She read the names of the black trans women who died. Facts about them. Their obituaries. She called on everyone in the bar to help. I would like to say the audience was respectful, but there was quite a bit of chatter and a few jeers,” witness Aspen Eberhardt, finance manager of the gay rights group PFLAG, wrote on Twitter.
For many gay men, this weekend’s celebration is about finally being able to live their true lives, unafraid to declare who they love and being grateful for achieving virtual equality, at least in places like Greenwich Village, where the rebellion began.
But many transgender women of color, representing the T in the LGBTQ community, have seized the moment to air their grievances, such as suffering from higher levels of unemployment and homelessness as their cisgender gay and lesbian brethren.
“If pride month is the only time you talk about these issues, that’s probably a sign you should look into just how privileged you are,” said Darya Shirvani, 19, a white Los Angeles college student.
Moreover, trans women are often the target of violence. Some 65 transgender people, nearly all trans women of color, have been murdered in the United States since 2017, according to Human Rights Watch.
“The trans community has not made the same progress as the cis gay community has. And I think it’s important to call attention to that especially because pride was started by trans people. We’ve been largely abandoned by the gay rights movement,” said Calamity Alexis, 19, a preschool teacher living in Brooklyn who uses both he and she pronouns.
Certainly many gay white men are active in promoting transgender rights, recognizing that transgender women of color in particular suffer from discrimination in ways they did 50 years ago. Mainstream gay rights groups often make a point of standing up for trans women.
“Growing up as a gay man in Texas, I found strength in that the rest of the community was there for me. And now, with where we are now, it’s my responsibility to be there for the rest of the community,” said Brett Donaldson, 28, a white gay man from New York.
But there is still lingering resentment born out of the movement’s origins. Two early pioneers of the Stonewall movement from the beginning in 1969 were transgender women of color, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera. But within four years, “drag queens,” as they were called then, were banned from the annual gay pride parade that Johnson and Rivera helped launch.
At the Trans Day of Action, a rally in New York’s Washington Square Park on Friday, people shouted: “Who started this fight?”
The crowd responded: “Trans women of color.”
Qweenb. Amor, 30, a nursing student from New Orleans and a trans Latina, said her activism on this topic was “an act of survival.”
“Gay men, they can assimilate. The rest of us don’t have the right or the privilege to blend in. We can’t blend in,” Amor said. “This is what it is and we need full force from the community to stand behind us.”
Reporting by Matthew Lavietes; Writing by Daniel Trotta; Editing by Lisa Shumaker