So I as the grand vampire of news have not posted for a long time, enslumbered (it’s not a real word, but damn that) as I have been editing, but now I’ve wrested the reins from my colleagues to soar into a good old fashioned rage!
With the landmark ruling to legalise same-sex marriage across the United States of America, a decision drawing infantile calls for civil disobedience from bigots claiming to be anything other than bigots, it was inevitable in this heady climate of LGBTQ backslapping that a film about the beginning of the struggle for people like me would be on its way. Roland Emmerich’s “Stonewall” has rolled up claiming to be just such a film to authentically capture the ‘true story’ of that turning point for LGBTQ rights so monumental that Barack Obama mentioned the Stonewall Riots in the same breath as Seneca Falls (when those nasty feminists reared up demanding more, the cheek of it) and Selma (when the uppity coloured folk demanded more).
The story of the film Stonewall is a fictionalised one of a young gay man named Danny fleeing his corn-fed roots to live in New York, ending up with the assorted queers of the Stonewall Inn in 1969. Here he finds acceptance from the marginalised but he didn’t realise the petty, cruel oppression of the NYPD against people who didn’t conform to the sexual norm. On that fateful day when the down, out but not out-for-the-count queer community of the Stonewall Inn was again raided for no good reason by the NYPD, Emmerich’s film says that Danny threw that first brick through the window of the bar when the embattled police barricaded themselves within.
Bravo, Roland, have an Oscar you sensitive bastard! A gay man telling the story of the birth of the modern gay rights movement must surely be a sign of the times. Why, yes it is! Now I don’t like to bash, but Roland Emmerich is a wealthy, white, cis-gender gay man. I don’t take issue with his wealth, I take issue with him fundamentally misrepresenting this historical fact by placing a white gay man at the centre of the action.
Transgender people and women, mostly recognisably not white folks, were the instigators and it was a black trans drag queen Marsha P. Johnson who was at the heart of the inciting incident. And it was Puerto Rican transwoman Sylvia Riveria, a.k.a. Miss Major, that launched the first high heel at the police putting her sisters in the back of paddy wagons. And when queens are throwing their heels, they mean business! Both of these women went on to become key figures in LGBTQ activism, also campaigning against racism, sexual violence, transphobia, and for AIDS awareness and treatment.
To be very clear, the Stonewall Riots WERE NOT spearheaded by some young white twink. There were certainly white gay men there, but as Roy McCarthy (who was actually there so I like to believe him) says, “the gays joined in”. He acknowledges that this moment in history is not one that can have a white saviour slapped onto it. The patrons of Stonewall had among them prostitutes (McCarthy himself was one), drug addicts, drag queens, and a huge transgender contingent; they were the people forced out of other gay clubs because they just weren’t palatable for assimilation. These people were forced onto the edge of society and the edge of the queer community.
Do you know where the indomitable Miss Major is in the film “Stonewall”? Nowhere. Sylvia Rivera is not even a footnote. Do you
know where Marsha P. Johson is in Emmerich’s masterwork? A minor character, relegated to the edge of the screen, and lost among a sea of credits. The trans community and ethnic community in the great big rainbow is a sideshow in Emmerich’s film. These communities have too long been a sideshow in the public face gay rights organisations present to the the heteronormative world. In 1973, the Queens Liberation Front had been fighting in court for 3 years against discrimination, but ultimately removed protections for trans people from the wording of the bill to see it passed. The trans community sacrificed its own well-being so that the rest of the queer community could breathe easier.
In this time where Laverne Cox and Caitlin Jenner are conquering headlines, should we not show the trans community the respect it deserves? The situation for ordinary trans people is on the whole abysmal, improving in liberal nations certainly but not where it should be. Transpeople should be socially where gays and lesbians have been lifted up to, since they are ultimately the ones that lifted the LGBTQ community up to fight. So I say to you, everybody whether queer or straight, don’t see this film. This film is a lie. This film will not educate anyone. This film is nothing new. This film is another straight white saviour come to save the Other. We’re above that.