|Michael (ftmichael) wrote in f_t_m,|
@ 2009-06-29 12:06:00
|Current music:||Absolute Radio|
Local activists among 40 ’transgender heroes’ honored at Stonewall bar
Local activists among 40 ’transgender heroes’ honored at Stonewall bar
by Ethan Jacobs
Bay Windows staff reporter
Thursday 25 June 2009
Stonewall’s legacy: (from left) Gunner Scott, Nancy Nangeroni and Grace Sterling Stowell will be immortalized as ’Transgender Heroes’ at the Stonewall Inn in New York City. (Source: Marilyn Humphries)
Historians have long credited poor and working class drag queens, bull dykes and other transgender and gender-non-conforming people as key participants in the 1969 Stonewall Rebellion, but within the wider LGBT community that defining moment is all-too-often remembered as a gay, rather than LGBT, milestone. The International Court System and the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force hope to change that. On June 25, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the riots that marked the birth of the modern LGBT rights movement, the two organizations will hold a dedication ceremony at the fabled New York City bar to unveil a plaque featuring the names of 40 transgender heroes past and present.
The plaque will go on permanent display at the bar, and Bay State visitors will likely recognize a few familiar names on the list. Among the 40 heroes are Gunner Scott, director of the Massachusetts Transgender Political Coalition (MTPC); Grace Sterling Stowell, executive director of the Boston Alliance of GLBT Youth (BAGLY); longtime activist Nancy Nangeroni, former president of the International Foundation for Gender Education (IFGE), former co-host of GenderTalk Radio and current host of GenderVision; and Cole Thaler, an MTPC founder who is now the transgender rights attorney for New York’s Lambda Legal.
"It will be permanent, so people going into the Stonewall Inn will be able to see this plaque and see the names of these, to me, true heroes of our community," said Nicole Murray-Ramirez, a longtime San Diego-based activist who presides over the International Court System as Empress Nicole the Great. The International Court System was founded in 1965, four years before Stonewall. Member courts in the United States, Canada and Mexico, including the Imperial Court of Massachusetts, hold events in which members don campy and outrageous costumes and adopt royal titles, all while raising money for LGBT and HIV/AIDS organizations.
Murray-Ramirez said he was inspired to create the list of 40 heroes to ensure that people remember the history of transgender and gender-non-conforming people. He pointed to the success of Milk, last year’s biopic of openly gay San Francisco City Supervisor Harvey Milk. For all the publicity around Milk’s legacy, Murray-Ramirez said there has been little attention paid to another trailblazer, José Julio Sarria, who in 1961 was the first openly gay candidate for public office, running unsuccessfully for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, more than a decade before Milk’s first campaign. Sarria, one of the 40 heroes on the list, was a drag queen and founded the International Court System in 1964 as the Empress I José, the Widow Norton, though when he ran for office he borrowed a suit and conducted his campaign out of drag.
"I’ve always believed that a community that forgets where it came from doesn’t know where it’s going. ... José is our Rosa Parks, because she used to be in the back of the bus when it comes to equality, and her candidacy made a petition that was heard all around the world," said Murray-Ramirez.
The International Court System solicited nominations from activists and community members across the country and narrowed down hundreds of nominations to the final 40. Murray-Ramirez said the list, which includes a mix of activists, politicos and entertainers, is not meant to be definitive.
"It was difficult, and these are not all of our heroes in the transgender community, but these are some of our heroes, and in different ways," said Murray-Ramirez. Russell Roybal, deputy executive director of external relations for the Task Force, said his organization agreed to co-sponsor the list and the dedication ceremony to spread awareness in the larger LGBT community of the centrality of transgender people to the Stonewall Rebellion.
"That was the entire reason for doing the list in the first place. It was to acknowledge the transgender and gender non-conforming community for their role in serving as a catalyst to ignite the modern day movement," said Roybal. The Stonewall Rebellion, a series of riots by patrons of the Stonewall Inn in response to police bar raids, was seen as a decisive moment in the history of early LGBT activism.
Scott, who said he nominated Stowell and Nangeroni for spots on the list, feels that the list is an important step in reversing a longstanding trend of erasing transgender people from LGBT history. Many gay people believe that Stonewall was a rebellion led largely by gay white men, he said, and there is a larger perception that the transgender community is a relatively recent
addition to the LGBT rights movement.
"There’s a lot of history that we’ve been written out of, particularly in the early gay rights movement. ... That whole assumption that we just showed up and started doing activism is so dismissive and not true," said Scott. "IFGE has been around for over thirty years. It’s just about who controlled that conversation, who controlled that message and who gets counted as history."
Nangeroni said she is honored by the recognition, but that there are many more transgender heroes, often working behind the scenes, whose names do not appear on the list.
"Post-transition transsexuals have done a lot of work in the LGBT community and have also endured a lot of discrimination, so I certainly welcome the recognition of their contributions. I’m always hesitant to single out any group and say they’ve done more than anyone else," said Nangeroni. "This 40 on the list is one I’m very proud to be a member of, but there are many more groups of 40 that could be added, many of whom are more deserving, I’m sure."
Stowell said that the recognition of so many Bay State trans activists comes at a particularly fitting moment in Massachusetts transgender history. Though the state has lagged behind others by failing to pass transgender-inclusive civil rights legislation, this year MTPC and its allies are making a strong second push to pass a trans-inclusive non-discrimination and hate crimes bill, bolstered by the support of more than 100 legislative cosponsors. The legislature’s judiciary committee will hold a hearing on the bill, House Bill 1728, on July 14; it is the top political priority of the state’s LGBT advocacy organizations. Stowell said where other efforts to advance transgender rights in Massachusetts have failed, MTPC has managed to lay the groundwork for a viable push for a statewide trans rights bill.
"For me what’s been more exciting is after several attempts and ways to try to do trans activism, MTPC seems to be a more established and viable organization to secure trans rights in Massachusetts, and that speaks well for our community," said Stowell.
To see the list of 40 Stonewall Trans Heroes visit http://impcourt.org/Trans40 .