Article | Stonewall: Reclaiming Their Narrative

50 years ago today, on 28th June 1970, the first anniversary of the Stonewall movement, many activists and members of the LGBT+ community marked the day by gathering in Sheridan Square, New York City and together they marched up Sixth Avenue to Central Park, the parade stretching for 15 blocks. It is recognised as the first gay pride.

Sergeant Morena Thomas-Wickham is a Police Service Northern Ireland LGBT+ Network Committee member and she says: “I have this black and white photograph mounted on a wall in my house, not as some sort of provocative statement but as a reminder to myself. I did not throw the first brick but I have a part to play and I am indebted to those brave enough to stand up and begin a long fight for equality. Those faces in this picture faced arrest and were jeered and spat at in the street. They faced being fired from their jobs and refused basic rights but they still marched, taking a stand and sparking a global movement into action.”

What is the Stonewall movement?

In the early hours of 28th June 1969, NYPD officers entered The Stonewall Inn, Greenwich Village, NYC. It was to be the third such raid on a gay bar in the area in a matter of days. Gay bars were a place of refuge for LGBT+ to socialise in relative safety in a city where homosexual relations was illegal. Unfortunately, these bars were subject to police harassment. Seen as easy arrests the LGBT+ community were historically passive and offered officers little resistance. This night was different. As the officers cleared the bar, arrested employees and ordered the arrest of anyone not wearing at least three articles of ‘gender-appropriate clothing’, the crowd did not retreat as it had in the past and a riot broke out trapping the officers inside the bar. Police reinforcements assisted the officers and quelled the riot, but over the next five nights, the riots waxed and waned. This was a spontaneous protest against police harassment and social discrimination. Stonewall was a galvanising point in LGBT+ history; the gay rights movement didn’t start that night but it was invigorated by what happened and just as Rosa Parks’ refusal to give up her seat on a bus in Alabama had the effect of animating the civil rights movement 14 years before, Stonewall electrified the push for LGBT+ equality.

So what has The Stonewall Inn and a riot 51 years ago got to do with modern policing?

Beth Wickham-Thomas, Co-Chair of the Police Service NI LGBT+ Network answers: “Stonewall is in the living memory of the LGBT+ community and it was not an isolated incident of oppression, we can see similar incidents across the UK and Ireland. Many LGBT+ people remember these incidents as they lived through them; this has manifested a deep-rooted mistrust in police in a lot of people. The LGBT+ community’s hurt and circumspection have been a barrier to overcome in order to achieve real and purposeful engagement. Despite huge progress over the last few years there remain many barriers to overcome.

Visiting the Stonewall site.

“When I was in New York in 2016 it was really important for me to visit the site of the Stonewall uprising. The site has been designated a national monument in the US. It was a moving experience for me to stand on the site where Marsha P Johnston, a black trans woman, pushed back against oppressive police tactics and changed the world. I think being a police officer made it all the more poignant as being an ‘out’ queer police officer would have been unheard of in 1969. It really showed to me how much the world has changed for the better because of Stonewall,” said Constable Paul Bloomer, Co-Chair of the Police Service NI LGBT+ Network.

Article | Transgender Day of Visibility

Today is transgender day of visibility, or TDoV for short.

It is a day when trans folk, the LGBT+ community and allies celebrate the lives of trans, non-binary and intersex people. A day to honour trans people, to embrace diversity and to raise awareness of the challenges trans, non-binary and intersex people still face as well as celebrating the contributions of trans people to society. The day was founded by US-based transgender activist Rachel Crandall, citing the frustration that the only well-known transgender-centered day was the Transgender Day of Remembrance which mourned the murders of transgender people but did not acknowledge and celebrate living members of the transgender community. The first International Transgender Day of Visibility was held on 31st March 2009.

The trans pride flag is flown by many organisations across the country to celebrate the day. The flag represents the transgender community and consists of five horizontal stripes: two light blue, two pinks, and one white in the centre. The designer of the flag, Monica Helms, explained the design as such: “The stripes at the top and bottom are light blue, for baby boys. The stripes next to them are pink, the traditional colour for baby girls. The stripe in the middle is white, for those who are transitioning or consider themselves having a neutral or undefined gender.”

Sergeant Morena Wickham-Thomas of the Police Service NI LGBT+ Network committee said: “Research indicates that 51% of trans people have hidden their identity at work for fear of discrimination. The ignorance and misconceptions around the trans and non-binary community is perpetuated by media sensationalism and this manifests itself in an unwelcoming workplace. This is why, as allies, we must do better. I must do better. As a supervisor I would be embarrassed if I found out that one of my team was frightened to be themselves at work. We all have a responsibility to make our work environments supportive, safe spaces for a diverse workforce.”

Constable Paul Bloomer, Co-Chair of the Police Service NI LGBT+ Network said: “In these challenging times of isolation and social distance which are necessary to fight the pandemic we face, we must remember those whose isolation is compounded due to them being trans and not being able to be themselves at work. It is more vital than ever that trans people and trans allies remain visible and connected.”

Leo Lardie, a trans man and Sexual Health Development Officer for The Rainbow Project said: “Trans Day of Visibility (TDoV) is about recognising, validating and celebrating trans and non-binary people for being their authentic self in a world that often frames our mere existence as a problem to be ‘solved’. With anti-trans rhetoric on the rise it is more important than ever to remember that trans and non-binary people are not an abstract concept to be debated. We are human beings who deserve the same compassion, respect and dignity that any human deserves. Today is about highlighting the accomplishments of trans and non-binary people who were often written out of history. But it’s not just about us, it’s about you. You must come out of the shadows to say that you appreciate, support and love trans and non-binary people like us. Remember to stand up for trans and non-binary people not just today but everyday! We cannot erase transphobia alone, but with your help we can!”

Profile | Remembering Marsha P. Johnson

In celebration of LGBT History Month the Network will be profiling a selection of LGBT figures who have played significant roles in shaping modern LGBT culture or had a significant impact on LGBT issues in the public consciousness.

Today we remember Marsha P. Johnson. She was a trans black woman activist that lived in New York until her death in 1992. She is remembered by some as the person who threw the stone which broke the front window of the Stonewall Inn, in New York on the 28th June 1969. While the account that she cast the first stone is disputed, what is not in dispute is that the Stonewall uprising birthed the modern LGBT rights movement.

Marsha is believed to have played a key role in the uprising that began at the Stonewall Inn in New York’s Greenwich Village after police raided the gay bar. Protests followed over the next six days. Marsha was on the front lines of those protests against oppressive policing, which disproportionately affected the LGBT community in New York at that time. Throughout her life she advocated tirelessly on behalf of trans people, sex workers and people with HIV/AIDS. She did all this in heels, fabulous outfits and flower headpieces.

“We were … throwing over cars and screaming in the middle of the street ’cause we were so upset ’cause they closed that place,” Marsha told historian Eric Marcus in a 1989 interview. “We were just saying, ‘no more police brutality’ and ‘we had enough of police harassment in the Village and other places’.”

The first anniversary of the protests prompted the first gay Pride parade in 1970.

An interaction with a reporter gave us one of her many memorable quotes, when asked what she wanted from the Pride protests she responded: “Darling, I want my gay rights now.”

Marsha was a drag queen and a sex worker; she was often homeless and she is remembered as one of the most significant activists for transgender rights, although the term ‘transgender’ wasn’t commonly used during her lifetime. Johnson identified as a ‘transvestite’, gay and a drag queen, and used she/her pronouns.

Marsha died in disputed circumstances following the 1992 New York Pride march. Her body was recovered from the Hudson river with a large wound to the back of her head. Her death is recorded by the NYC Coroner as a suicide but her friends and family dispute this.

Constable Paul Bloomer says: “It’s sad that she never got to see the many changes that have come about as a result of the activist movement she helped start. She never got to see police eventually embrace the LGBT community and become part of the Pride parades which were once protests against police action. She never got to see the New York Police Department on the 6th June 2019 make a formal apology for the past treatment of LGBT people and the raid which started the Stonewall uprising.

“The actions taken by the NYPD were wrong, plain and simple” said James P. O’Neill, the NYPD Commissioner. That frank admission was a momentous moment for LGBT activists, many of whom felt it was long overdue. The city of New York has also recently commissioned a public monument dedicated to Marsha’s memory.

Constable Paul Bloomer continued: “When I was searching for images for this article I found it hard not to smile when looking at pictures of her. Marsha will always be remembered as an icon of the LGBT rights movement. Her smiling face remains a beacon of inspiration to many today.”