#QueerHeroes Day 5 – Audre Lorde

#QueerHeroes Day 5
Audre Lorde

“My sexuality is part and parcel of who I am, and my poetry comes from the intersection of me and my worlds. . . . Jesse Helms’s objection to my work is not about obscenity . . .or even about sex. It is about revolution and change. . . . Helms knows that my writing is aimed at his destruction, and the destruction of every single thing he stands for.”

Audre Lorde described herself as “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet.” She was not only a champion of queer rights, but of civil rights across a vast array of groups. Her work and ideas helped bring the concept of intersectionality to public consciousness. She was famous around Greenwich Village (Frequenting the Waldorf Cafe with James Baldwin) and also had a residency at Tougaloo College in Mississippi (where Alice Walker had a residency around the same time).

A warrior she was. Lorde used poetry and prose as a weapon to change minds and challenge oppressive ideas. Powerful and dangerous, indeed.


#QueerHeroes Day 4 – Edith “Edie” Windsor

#QueerHeroes Day 4.
Edith “Edie” Windsor

Edith Windsor was a queer rights activist who fought for us long before United States v. Windsor would solidify her legacy in our community. She met her partner and eventual wife Thea Spyer in 1963. In 1969, they arrived back in New York from a trip to Italy on the second day of the Stonewall Riots. After that, they began attending marches and Windsor would lend her Cadillac to queer rights organizations.

When Thea died, Windsor was demanded to pay over 300k in estate taxes because, under Section III of the Defense of Marriage Act, “marriage” was defined as a union between one man and one woman. The US didn’t recognize their marriage as legitimate and therefore Windsor couldn’t benefit from the estate tax exemption that surviving spouses in straight marriages enjoyed. Windsor took our country’s ass all the way up to the Supreme Court, where they found that “The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.” (Interestingly enough, this decision was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy who also authored the decision in the bakery case today).

I met Edith Windsor by chance in a theatre lobby one night. Needless to say, she wasn’t surprised when a teary-eyed gay came up and asked to hug her. I first saw her from a distance at my first Pride Parade (and the very first after the DOMA ruling). She was grand marshal and waved joyously to the crowd from a Cadillac Convertible—presumably the same treasured one she’d lent to queer organizations after Stonewall. Edie died in September 2017.

Keep in mind, y’all. We’ve been swaying the courts for generations. We may have moments of defeat, but we are collectively, ultimately irrepressible.

#QueerHeroes Day 3 – Jennie June

#QueerHeroes Day three.
Jennie June.

Jennie was one of the first transgender people to publish her autobiography. She was trans before the word existed, often referring to herself as a “Fairie” or an “Androgyne.” She was a sex worker at Paresis Hall (Now the headquarters of the Village Voice) in the 1890’s. The real name of Paresis Hall was “Columbia Hall,” but the public gave it the name “Paresis” (the medical term for insanity), because they perceived its patrons to be mentally ill. With her sisters, Jennie founded the “Cercle Hermaphroditos” “to unite for defense against the world’s bitter persecution of bisexuals [which meant ‘of two sexes’ at the time].”

Jennie would write two books– “Autobiography of an Androgyne” and “The Female-Impersonators” –under the pseudonym Ralph Werther. The autobiographies, due to their content, were at first only published in medical journals. I came upon them when researching for my book last year and Jennie June ended up inspiring the entire first chapter.

Trans women at the time usually lived under multiple aliases: Their given names, fake male names that they used in the “underground” when not presenting as women, and their chosen names. One woman remembers signing seven different names in one day and having to keep up with whom she was supposed to be at any given time. They could only present as their true gender under the safety of “degenerate” bars.

#QueerHeroes Day 2 – Bob Rafsky

#QueerHeroes day two
Bob Rafsky.

Rafsky was a PR executive and activist for ACTUP and later, the Treatment Action Group. His activism during the AIDS movement included confronting Bill Clinton (then a presidential candidate) at a fundraising dinner until Clinton ended up bellowing at him. He and other ACT UP members stormed the headquarters of Daichi Pharmaceuticals and chained themselves outsidethe CEO’s office because the company had slowed release of lifesaving and innovative AIDS drugs. The most striking act of his, to me, was when he and other ACT UP members brought their friend, Mark Fisher’s body in an open casket to hold a political funeral outside of George HW Bush’s re-election headquarters.

Rafsky said on a megaphone at the event: “George Bush…Here and now, standing by Mark’s body, we put this curse on you: Mark’s spirit will haunt you until the end of your days, so that in the moment of your defeat, you will remember our defeats. And in the moment of your death, you will remember our deaths…In anger, in grief, this fight is not over until all of us are safe. Act up. Fight back. Fight AIDS.” Rafsky died of AIDS at 47.

#QueerHeroes Day 1 – Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson

Happy Pride!
#QueerHeroes Day 1

Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson.
Their actions at Stonewall would be a huge reason the riots are seen as an epoch in the LGBTQ rights movement. They would go on to form the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries and continue to fight for our rights until their deaths, including during the ACTUP era. They often found themselves shut out of the more public liberation movements like GAA, Mattachine, and even ACTUP. Some articles say the organizations feared their radicalism, but their radicalism set the stage for us to celebrate this month.

This is a half assed bio, so absolutely look these women up. Their activism and stories are exemplary.