Ahead of the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the city of New York has announced that they will commemorate two seminal LGBT rights activists, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, in the form of a public monument.
On Wednesday, the city of New York announced a permanent monument honoring gender non-conforming and trans activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.
Major news on the eve of #WorldPride: NYC’s next public monument will honor pioneering trans activists Marsha P. Jo… https://t.co/wt3BQVfZFh— NYC Cultural Affairs (@NYC Cultural Affairs)1559181085.0
The Times reported that the two statues are proposed to be installed in the Ruth Wittenberg Triangle, a block away from where Johnson and Rivera played a key role in the seminal Stonewall Uprising––the 1969 resistance (initiated by Stormé DeLarverie in response to a police raid on a Greenwich Village gay bar) that paved the way for the modern LGBTQ+ rights movement.
As pioneering figures in the fight against racism, sexism, and transphobia, Johnson and Rivera were both drag queens afflicted by homelessness and cultural hostility at a time when trans rights were hardly recognized. In 1970, they worked together to found the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, a group that advocated for homeless gay youth (the term transgender was not widely used at the time).
This is not the first time the city has set out to commemorate the formative Stonewall uprising in a public memorial. In 1992, the city erected a set of statues in Christopher Park, featuring four seemingly cis-gender figures painted white. The monument, while probably made in good faith, was criticized for its failure to depict specific figures or include transgender women or people of color. In fact, it's been widely noted that the narrative of the gay rights movement often involves the erasure of trans women and POC activists. The statues of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera will hopefully go a short way towards combating that trend.
Stonewall statues / Christopher Park Alliance
"The LGBTQ movement was portrayed very much as a white, gay male movement," New York's First Lady McCray told reporters at a press conference on Wednesday. "This monument counters that trend of whitewashing the history."
While the monuments are ostensibly a step in the right direction, this gesture can't undo the years of systemic violence against the trans community, particularly towards its POC members, by the city of New York. Despite Greenwich Village's storied past of gay rights liberation, the neighborhood has since become increasingly gentrified, rendering it financially, and perhaps culturally, inaccessible to many. Considering Johnson and Rivera's struggles with the erasure of marginalized trans bodies from the broader gay liberation movement, Greenwich Village's history is fraught with privilege and exclusion.
That being said, this announcement does demonstrate the city's effort to address New York's blatant gender gap in its public art. Among the hundreds of statues across New York City's five boroughs, only five depict historic women. The city says this monument to Johnson and Rivera will be one of the world's first for gender non-conforming and trans individuals.
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In the opening pages of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Earth is destroyed. Now if that doesn't scream 2020 so far, what does?
In Douglas Adams's 1979 novel, which premiered as a radio series on BBC Radio4 in 1978 (42 years ago—but more about the significance of that number later), Earth is suddenly blown up in order to make room for an intergalactic superhighway. Now, in a year that has—after only 3 months, people—given us a contentious, confusing democratic primary, the death of Kobe Bryant, new and worsening facts about our climate and habitat at large, appalling leadership, and of course the rapid spread of and global shutdowns by the coronavirus (COVID-19), it seems impossible to turn to any source for comfort.
Enter The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: a novel that starts with the global annihilation that we might be heading for and then follows the characters as they cope with new realities, with isolation and loss, an endless information source that brings with it endless anxiety, and an egomaniacal, arrogant, selfish, attention-craving president of the galaxy.
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It's time to study.
Now that you've flooded Instagram with photos of black squares, it's time to hunker down for some real activism.
If you're a white person, you're sitting on top of about four centuries of institutionalized racism. In the wake of George Floyd's murder by police and countless Black Lives Matter protests across the nation, it's time to show up—with your body, with your voice, and with your brain.