In this third week of BlackLight, we’ve been working to illuminate the interstices of race and racism, and examining some of the more subtle ways in which race and racism play out. For this Change Maker Monday, we’re highlighting Black people who embody action at the intersections of race, gender, sexual orientation, class… and more!
Marsha P Johnson identified as a ‘transvestite, a drag queen and gay’ (as an aside, we note that while transvestite is now considered a slur, the vocabulary of trans* was not around in the late 60s), and was a pioneer of the gay rights movement that gained momentum after the Stonewall riot in July 1969. Marsha was among the first people to resist the police that night. You may not know about her role, as the influence of trans people at the time has been largely suppressed in the popular media (I’m looking at you, Stonewall the movie).
With Sylvia Rivera, she founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries after the riots, and was a passionate and forceful advocate for gay rights at the time. Unfortunately she died in ‘unknown circumstances’ in July 1992 at the age of 46. Her death was initially deemed a suicide, but those around her strongly suspected that she was indeed murdered. Clearly a story like that sounds like one that needs to be told? Surely the life and death of Marsha P Johnson should be shared? Netflix seemed to think so, when it purchased the rights to The Life and Death of Marsha P Johnson from filmmaker David France. However, in a theme that we might no longer be surprised about, it appears that much of the film is based on the work by Reina Gossett and Sasha Wortzel: they were working on a film ‘Happy Birthday, Marsha!’, and France apparently read a funding proposal by the pair and decided to make a film of his own. It appears Happy Birthday, Marsh! is in post-production, so hopefully we can enjoy the film soon. Also make sure to watch ‘Pay it no mind’, another film about Marsha by Michael Kasino.
Even when telling the story of a trans* activist is the theme of the film, it appears that doesn’t stop folks erasing the work of LGBTQ activists and artists. We must do better. For Marsha.
Destiny Frasqueri is better know by her stage name: Princess Nokia. Princess Nokia is an Afro-Puerto Rican rapper who inhabits the many facets of her identity with ferocity and pride. Growing up in the punk scene of NYC, she is no stranger to existing in spaces that are predominantly white, straight, and male– as an artist, she is now a vocal advocate for women of color to fully occupy the space that is theirs (wherever it may be).
Earlier this week, we discussed how white supremacy can manifest as the centering of whiteness as the norm (or even the ideal) of how something should be. In 1997, political scientist Cathy J. Cohen wrote about how a similar dynamic plays out in queer activism, where the centering of queer rights over other axes of oppression (e.g. race) effectively sets the goal of that activism as assimilation into white, heteronormative culture.
In “Punks, Bulldaggers, and Welfare Queens: The Radical Potential of Queer Politics?”, Cohen elucidates that not only does does this uphold the racism experienced by Black queer people, it also reinforces dominant dichotomies (for example, of binary gender identities, or heterosexuality versus “everything else”). In addition to her scholarship at the intersections of race, sexuality, class, and their expression in social movements, Cohen is also the author of several books, the founder of Black Youth Project, a website for Black youth, and a founding board member of the Audre Lorde Project, a community organizing center for QTPOC in NYC.