Stonewall Vet Miss Major: I Did Not See Sylvia Rivera or Marsha Johnson At The Stonewall Inn

Stonewall Riots Back2Stonewall

 

Before I begin I just want to say that I am writing this not to disparage any person or group but to set the record straight and try to keep our history intact.

Ever since Roland Emmerich’s trailer for his fictionalized re-telling of the Stonewall riots has been released there has been many arguments of white-washing, acts of vandalism and the passing around of folklore as history that is not true.  Much of this centers around trans-activists Sylvia Riveria and Marsha Johnson and their involvement in the actual raid and riots itself.

So far we have heard:  Marsha was in the bar to celebrate her birthday, Marsha was outside the bar and ripped up a parking meter and used it as a battering ram and Marsha threw the first brick.  Whe have heard: Sylvia was inside the bar (even though she was 17 and had no ID),  Sylvia was outside throwing pennies, Sylvia threw the first heel, and so on.

My late uncle Bob Kohler was a Stonewall veteran; he could never actually place either Sylvia or Marsha at the bar. And in light of the recent developments I went to a source that many cannot dispute Miss Major Griffin-Gracy.  Miss Major is a community leader for transgender rights, with a particular focus on women of color and  serves as the Executive Director for the Transgender GenderVariant Intersex Justice Project and was actually in the Stonewall Inn meeting with a girlfriend when the bar was raided.  In her past interviews I noticed that while mentioning that Sylvia and Marsha were both important figures in LGBT history (which they are) that she never really placed them at the bar itself.  

So I asked her straight out.  Were either Sylvia or Marsha at the bar  when it was raided or when the riot started?

Her answer was no.

Miss Majors

Now the Stonewall Inn is not and was not a large bar. And Miss Major has placed Sylvia at a rally afterwards but cannot place her or Marsha at the bar that night or the melee directly afterwards. There is no doubt that both Sylvia and Marsha were involved in the three days of rioting afterwards but no witness has ever been found that place them at the Stonewall Inn at the time of the raid or immediately following the riots.   Even Marsha P. Johnson had said herself many times that she was the one who told Sylvia about the raid after it started and things were well underway. The only person that ever claimed that Sylvia was in the bar was Sylvia herself.  And that was 15 years after the fact and and at a time when she was trying to raise awareness for her group S.T.A.R (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries). Anyone who is alive today who actually knew Sylvia could tell you that while she had good intentions she was a bit…….”emotional.”

Now BOTH Sylvia and Marsha did a lot for trans steet kids and all street kids in general L, G, B, and T and they deserve respect and credit in our history for that.  But the rumors, and folklore must stop.  No individual, no certain group of people started the Stonewall Riots.  It was ALL of us who did.  Gay, Lesbian, Bi, Trans, Straight, Black, White, Hispanic and so on. Everyone took part and honestly those who do try to claim credit or a certain individual and group are just as bad as Roland Emmerich.  

Our history is not well documented and very fragile.  Lets try to keep it truthful and well documented and keep personal agendas out of it.

 

Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, writer, blogger and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Advocate, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, Raw Story, and The Huffington Post

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11 Responses

  1. Dominique says:

    I have a friend who was there, too. And he DID see both of those brave transwomen of color. (Yeah, we didn’t call them that back then. But they were there!) #WhiteWashedStonewall

  2. Art says:

    Why is it always a white guy trying to discredit the contribution of trans and people of color … The way you stared your article said it all. That she didn’t see them doesn’t mean they weren’t there. In another interview she talk about hearing a noise. That she didn’t now what imwere it was coming from … Most people think it was MARSHA braking a glass. But you show such glee in this crediting them. So go see your twink white savor fantasy movie.
    http://youtu.be/O8gKdAOQyyI

    • Will Kohler says:

      Actually Miss Major is the witness that can’t put Sylvia or Marsha at Stonewall. It was not a large bar and she knew both women. She would have been aware of them during the raid. Stonewall is about EVERYONE. Not one person and our history is much too important to fuck with because of an agenda

  3. STAR People says:

    Will, if you knew Marsha and Sylvia you would know they didn’t identify as women. They were street queens. Femme gay men who expressed themselves through dressing and acting as they wanted, not as straight people want us to. And Marsha didn’t alway dress femme neither. Those of us in the scene with them knew this. And know this. We’re not all dead. I get it that young people now want to claim them, but they need to respect their identities and true histories.

    Since you weren’t there, watch the documentaries OK, the interviews with Marsha and Sylvia. They are very clear. Marsha never called herself transgender. She said she lived as a woman at some points but said in interviews near the end: “I’m a man.” Near the end of her life Sylvia used the term “transgender” occasionally – as an -organizing strategy-, but she really didn’t like the label for herself. The only time she used it she called herself a “transgender person” = a gender variant person. This is very different from being a trans woman.

    I don’t know if Sylvia made it to the first night of the riots. I tend to believe Marsha. But Miss Major is not known to all of us, either. Miss Major is also claiming she was at the Attica riots, and I’ve seen no evidence of that. So there are more than a few things here that doesn’t make perfect sense. Thank you for looking to preserve history, but dig a bit deeper, OK 🙂

  4. Once again we are trying to pinpoint facts which while historically important are not the entire story. Talk to Jeremiah Newton as well as Martin Duberman. Who was inside,outside, threw what, when, and how is a journalistic fetish which I understand and appreciate, but largely ignores the fact that riots are messy, inchoate animals with many actions. We live now in a constant digitally recorded world which didn’t exist then. Both Sylvia & Marsha could spin a tale and elaborate depending on additives, just as most of us! I find this rather contentious detailing a bit of a sidetrack to the truer confusion of 3 days in which queer liberation created it’s own perception!

    • Will Kohler says:

      Martin Duberman took many statements at face value without any collaborating info and sensationalized it. His book is nothing more than fables which has helped creat this mess. But I agree that everyone was involved and everyone should be credited but the recent lores about Sylvia and Marsha are wrong and that should be known. They should be remembered for what they did do. Not things that they didn’t because some trans-activist think its kewl

  5. aelarsen says:

    Do we know for certain that Miss Major was there? She recently claimed that there were very few gay men in the riot, and that it was mostly drag queens and trans women, which seems contradicted by a lot of other people. And since several other people place Marsha there (Carter’s book accepts her presence, for example), are we certain Miss Major is the one speaking the truth? I have no ax to grind one way or the other–I’m just curious.

  1. September 25, 2015

    […] later. Miss Major Griffin Gracy, a black transwoman activist, claims to have been present, but has denied that Johnson was present and has also denied that there were many gay men involved, both claims that are refuted by numerous […]

  2. June 25, 2016

    […] people have claimed being there that actually weren’t.  In an interview with this website Miss Major Griffin-Gracy a community leader for transgender rights, with a particular focus on women of color and  serves […]

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