This month marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, in which queer and trans people in New York City launched the modern Gay Rights Movement by fighting back against police violence. Over the last half-decade, the cultural narrative of the Stonewall Riots has become whitewashed, and pop cultural depictions have obscured the central role played by black transgender women in particular. Below are some films and collections of music that highlight the voices and experiences of those actually involved with the riot and the defiant, embattered queer culture that birthed it.
“Pay It No Mind: The Life and Times of Marsha P. Johnson”
Marsha P. Johnson was a black transgender woman at the vanguard of the Stonewall Riots. Although Johnson’s erasure from the popular cultural narrative of Stonewall has been somewhat remedied in recent years, many LGBTQ folks are still unaware of her prolific work on behalf of her transgender and queer siblings in 1960s New York City, including her founding of the transgender advocacy organization Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries. “Pay It No Mind” features interviews with Johnson shortly before her death in 1992, painting a vivid portrait of her role as “the mayor of Christopher Street.”
Lavender Country, which bills itself as “the world’s first gay country band” released their self-titled debut album in 1973, drawing inspiration largely from the Stonewall Riots. With songs like “Cryin’ These Cocksucking Tears” and “Back in the Closet Again,” Lavender Country is a fearless and righteously angry album, draped in twangy guitars and drippy, drawling vocals.
“Storme: The Lady of the Jewel Box”
Filmed in 1987, “Storme: The Lady of the Jewel Box” follows the life of famous male impersonator Storme DeLarverie, who is said to have thrown the first punch against police at Stonewall. The film features Storme herself reflecting on her long history as an integral part of the black queer performance scene beginning in the 1940s.
“Paris Is Burning”
Although set in the late 1980s, roughly 20 years after the Stonewall Riots, “Paris Is Burning” follows the story of young queer and transgender people of color in the New York ball culture scene, a population that was also at the center of the riots. Like their predecessors in the 1960s, the subjects of “Paris Is Burning” craft a fiercely supportive and innovative culture in the midst of a hostile city and uncertain future.
“Songs of the Stonewall”
The non-profit Stonewall Rebellion Veterans Association has published a list of songs featured on the Stonewall Inn’s 1969 jukebox collection. Featuring tunes from Barbara Streisand, Gladys Knight and Stevie Wonder, the list is an opportunity to slip into the past, partying as the rebels of Stonewall themselves did.