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Black trans activists' roles in leading 1969 Stonewall Riots

June 23, 2022

Updated June 23, 2022. Original post appeared June 11, 2020.

Directions: Read the news summary, watch the video and answer the discussion questions. To read the transcript, click here. 

Summary: June is Pride Month—a month to celebrate and recognize the contributions of the LGBTQ+ community. This month comes on the 51st anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, a series of protests started by a black transgender woman named Marsha P. Johnson. These 1969 riots are largely credited with sparking the contemporary LGBTQ+ rights movement. However, in the 51 years since, not everyone has benefited equally. Black trans people such as Marsha P. Johnson “have not benefited from the movement that they started,” according to Soros Equality Fellow and creator of Translash Media Imara Jones.

  • In 2019, at least 26 transgender or gender nonconforming people were murdered; 91% of them were black women. 
  • In recent memory, a young black trans woman named Iyanna Dior was violently beaten in a convenience store. Two black transgender people—Nina Pop and Tony McDadewere killed in recent months. Tony McDade was killed by police. 

Discussion questions:

  1. Essential question: Historically, who tends to start and participate in political movements for social change? Why are those who start these movements not necessarily the same as those who benefit from them?
  2. How might a social movement more effectively portray, remember or credit those who start them? 
  3. Media literacy: In the video, Imara Jones talks about recent beatings or killings of black trans people, such as Iyanna Dior, Nina Pop and Tony McDade. To what degree have you heard these stories in the news? Why do you think that is? If you have heard these stories, what medium did you hear them through (Cable news, social media, radio, etc.)? What significance does this medium have?

Extension activity: Stonewall in the press

Have students read this article in The Conversation about the way the Stonewall Riots were covered in the media at the time. Then answer the questions below.

Today, the Stonewall Riots are celebrated as the catalyst to the LGBTQ+ rights movement. At the time, however, the events at Stonewall were largely viewed less favorably. After the riots in 1969, many major newspapers exclusively interviewed police and painted a picture of “an almost unprovoked riot.” Read this article about news coverage of Stonewall in 1969 and answer the discussion questions.

  1. Why was it that the alternative publications, and not the “big dailies” like the New York Times and the New York Post, covered the experience of the Stonewall protesters?
  2. What do you imagine New Yorkers in 1969 heard and believed about the Stonewall Riots?
  3. Are there movements or events today that receive the type of coverage the Stonewall Riots received from the big dailies in 1969? How might people in future generations look back on social movements today?

This daily news lesson was written by intern Carolyn McCusker, a senior at Amherst College.

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