In Lev. 25:10, we find a very famous verse, regarding the Jubilee year:
You shall proclaim Liberty throughout the Land for all its inhabitants, for it shall be the Jubilee for you all, and every person shall return to their possessions and their families.
This commandment is engraved on the Liberty Bell, found at Liberty Hall in Philadelphia. It pertains to the release of indentured servants from Israelite service at the 50th Year Jubilee. As I am writing this, it is Juneteenth, a very special day in the Black community in the United States, and one that is also called Jubilee, because it marked the official end of slaveholding in the US, when, two and a half years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, Texas finally acknowledged the end of slavery and freed their held Black slaves.
It is a historical coincidence that Pride occurs the same week as Juneteenth, but there is a reason for everything. In my scholarship, I often state that while the Black and Trans communities are separate, the work for advocacy and activism for the two is inextricably linked. When we study the history of the Pride uprising it becomes clear why.
There were a number of events that occurred prior to the Stonewall riots. Most notorious is probably the Compton’s Cafeteria riot in San Francisco, which occurred in August 1966. It was enacted by trans/queer women of color who were fed up with harassment by the San Francisco police department. Despite extensive research efforts, trans historian Susan Stryker has been unable to find a single name of an actor in the Compton’s riot. The story of this riot is told in the movie Screaming Queens. (Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria on IMDB.)
The most famous riot of course was the Stonewall riot. There is a movie about this, too, but it is an abomination. (Stonewall, on IMDB.) In this terrible film, the producers make the claim that the prime actor was a cis-white-gay man. This could not be further from the truth.
In fact, there were many trans/queer women of color involved. I will list the most famous here:
- Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, who were inside the bar initially. Marsha P. Johnson was later murdered in New York, and there is dispute over whether it was the mob or the police who killed her.
- Stormé DeLarverie (who had a Black mother and white father, and could pass as white) was believed to have thrown punches during the riots.
- Zazu Nova “Zazu” who reportedly threw the first brick during the riots.
- Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, the only hero who is still living, was struck in the head and taken to the hospital during the riots. Miss Major is, of course, in very poor health, having suffered a stroke several years ago, but she is still very active on social media.
I would also note that there is a meme in social media this year, showing a pallet of bricks with the caption “a new drop of Pride merch.” This is lampooning the commercialization of Pride, and memorializing Zazu’s brick.
The point of bringing out this history is that too many in our collective communities have been erased by those in power. Thus, whenever I see an opportunity, I use it to bring these facts out. By doing so, even if we cannot put names to all the unsung heroes, we are still giving life to them, by maintaining their memories.
My rabbinic tradition teaches that if we save a life, Scripture ascribes to us that we have, in effect, saved the world. So, by remembering this history, we work to save the world. We teach the same thing in Holocaust history. That by teaching the history, we hope to prevent the world from being doomed to repeat it.
Lev. 18:5 teaches us that saving lives is a primary concern for us. Thus, recalling these histories is always important. I was alive during Stonewall, but not aware of it, having come to myself very late in life, but of course, not during the Civil War period. As Santayana teaches, those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
I pray that we come to a time in the future, when we no longer need to commemorate days like Juneteenth and Pride, because senseless hatred is a thing of the past. Because people can live together regardless of their race, skin color, gender identity or presentation, sexuality or any other distinction. When, as the Psalmist teaches (133:1) (adapted):
How wonderful and pleasant it can be when all of us dwell together as one.
Category: Transgender History