The Real Heroes of the Stonewall Riots

No doubt that in the past few weeks, you would’ve heard of the film based around the Stonewall Riots, with the release of its trailer and media attention. Roland Emmerich’s new movie tells the story of the infamous riots at the Stonewall Inn, which lead to the glorious birth of the LGBT rights movement. It’s absolutely wonderful that a film is being dedicated to the heritage and legacies of the LGBT community, but recent and widespread outcries have surfaced following Emmerich’s decision to make a white cisgendered gay male the lead protagonist.

The outcry highlights the whitewashing of the movie, eradicating main roles to POC, trans people and women, all of which played crucial and world changing roles in the riots. The bar was one of the only places in Manhattan where people of the same-sex could dance together, in a time where women wearing men’s clothing was illegal.

A petition to boycott the film for this has reached over 20,000 signatures, stating how “it is time that black transwomen and drag queens are recognised for their efforts.”

Emmerich has responded to the news adding that “audiences will see that it deeply honours the real-life activists who were there”.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kNXkJMXPBGc&w=560&h=315]

But who were these “real-life activists” that Emmerich refers to and who, truly, are the unsung heroes of the 1969 riots that changed the world?


  1. Marsha P. Johnson

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The trans-woman of colour from New York was known as one of the best drag queens in the country. One of the leaders of the riots and the woman who fought back after the famous Police punch, Johnson didn’t make the news due to the movement mainly being seen as a white, male movement. Johnson later founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries with Sylvia Rivera and died in 1992 under mysterious circumstances.

2. Sylvia Rivera

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One of the younger veterans of the infamous riots was Sylvia Rivera, a 17 year old Puerto Rican drag queen. Rivera was in the starting crowds that gathered outside of the Stonewall Inn, a bold move in such times. She’s documented to be heard saying “I’m not missing a minute of this, it’s the revolution,” and was one of the first bystanders to throw a bottle. Sylvia later went to work to help countless homeless drag queens. She died in 2002.

3. Stormé DeLarverie

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Probably one of the most beloved and missed members of the riots is Storme. The Drag King and lesbian activist was rumoured to be the first to throw a punch at a police officer when the raid kicked off while escaping a police van. Described as the “guardian of the lesbians”, DeLarverie was a singer, bouncer and bodyguard prior to the riots. The activist rejects the term “riots” being used, describing it as a rebellion and uprising.

4. Scott Brown

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Though the aforementioned leaders are imperatively important in the leading and morale of the riots, the anonymous members were equally as needed. Scott is one of the oldest living survivors and is proof that the riots were far more than white men.

5. Frank Kameny

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Kamely was dismissed from his position as an astronomer because of his homosexuality and was later established as one of the spearheads of the LGBT movement. Unsurprisingly, though before the riots, the white activist is included within the film but is widely considered as one of the starting sparks in gay activism.

Words – Dean Eastmond