By Sydney Chun
The summer of 1969 saw many important events in history, like the Apollo 11 moon landing, the Manson murders, and Hurricane Camille. A lesser-known turning point, the Stonewall riots, are widely recognized as a catalyst for the movement for modern LGBT rights in the United States.
In the early hours of June 28, 1969, a police vice squad raided the popular Stonewall Inn, commonly known as a safe haven for gay people in Greenwich Village because it was serving liquor without a license. Such invasive and disrespectful raids were common demonstrations of police brutality. Policemen ordered trans people to provide identification and to be wearing at least four pieces of “gender-appropriate” clothing.
The raid turned violent as patrons who were tired of the police specifically targeting gay clubs and bars and infringing on safe places began to fight back. It was the inciting incident for several days of rioting and demonstrations, with the crowd growing to over a thousand people. The riot police were sent to control the crowd, but waves of people continued to stand in solidarity.
Stonewall was a seedy dive bar run by the mafia, but more importantly, it was a safe place for poor or young LGBT individuals to express themselves at a time when society disapproved of them. At the time, homosexuality was still classified as a psychological disorder by the American Psychiatric Association. The bar hosted patrons of different genders, racial backgrounds, and sexualities. Furthermore, the goal of the Stonewall riots was not to conform to the heteronormative society, but rather to create safe spaces for queer people and resist harassment. Stonewall started conversations about LGBT civil rights that have continued to this day.
The Stonewall riots were led by drag performers, trans women of color, and LGBT people of color, but the film fails to adequately represent them. The recent film “Stonewall” does not feature real-life historical figures like Marsha P. Johnson, Storme Delarverie, or Miss Major; instead, the film’s fictional protagonist is a white, very “straight acting” gay man. When criticized, the director even said that he aimed the film toward straight audiences so that they could be able to identify with the characters and situation, which makes no sense because it’s supposed to be a movie about LGBT history. Furthermore, LGBT movies, such as “But I’m a Cheerleader,” “Brokeback Mountain,” and “Fried Green Tomatoes,” have been successful before. If the movie was accurate and did not have such an overwhelmingly straight, white cast, LGBT audiences would flock to theatres and generate a lot of box office revenue. Also, the role of a trans character was given to a non-trans actor, although the role could have been more-accurately portrayed by a trans actor. The casting decision also implies that gender can be portrayed through costume and “gender-appropriate” clothing. Casting non-trans actors as trans characters also takes roles away from trans actors.
“Stonewall” erases the experiences of marginalized groups and represents a missed opportunity by doing so. People will not know about the reality of the Stonewall riots if media continues perpetuates the myth of white males leading the cause and furthering the “white savior” trope. This kind of erasure also sends the message to LGBT youth of color that their stories are not worth telling and only straight white stories are.
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