In the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, police raided the Stonewall Inn, a popular gay bar in the Greenwich Village section of New York City. That night the street erupted into violent protests and demonstrations that lasted for the next six days. The Stonewall riots, as they came to be known, marked a major turning point in the modern gay civil rights movement in the United States and around the world.
Two often-forgotten people who made an impact that night were transgender women of color: Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.
Johnson was a patron at the bar who “really started it” on the night of the riots, according to one witness in the book Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution. Originally from New Jersey, Johnson moved to the West Village in 1967 to escape the bigotry she had faced growing up across the river. She went to Stonewall that night to celebrate her 25th birthday, reportedly becoming part of that initial moment of resistance that sparked the landmark rebellion.
Rivera was a 17-year-old Puerto Rican drag queen on the night of the riot and is cited as one of the first bystanders to throw a bottle, a big deal given the power dynamics of the situation with police.
Immediately after the Stonewall riots, the Gay Liberation Front was founded to advocate for gay rights. Rivera and Johnson co-founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, a group that worked with homeless drag queens and transgender women of color in New York City.