QUEER HISTORY: Miss Major Griffin-Gracy

Miss Major Griffin Gracy is a trans elder and activist and among other things, was present at the Stonewall Inn Riots in 1969. She’s a community leader who has worked tirelessly over the decades to support other trans girls/women and the LGBTQ community, especially those who are or have been incarcerated, and helped spark the modern trans movement.

Miss Major was born in 1940 and grew up in Chicago. Early on in her life, she became involved in drag balls in Chicago and came out in her teens. After being kicked out by her family, Miss Major made her way to New York City and was a part of the Stonewall Inn Riots in June of 1969. She spoke about the riots to the Huffington Post a couple years ago, saying in particular:

And the aftermath of that ― there was a sense of pride that stood up for ourselves and we fought back. That they didn’t just roll over us like one of those concrete things that smooths the roads. We actually stood up and it was empowering.

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Queer Eye (Reboot)

In 2003, a new show premiered on Bravo: Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. The reality show starred five gay men (called the Fab Five) who were all ‘experts’ in five different fields: fashion, culture, grooming, design, and food/wine. This Bravo show had five seasons and 100 episodes focused on helping make over different straight men. It ended in 2007 but ten years later, Netflix decided to bring it back.

With an all new Fab Five, the first season of Netflix’s Queer Eye premiered in February 2018 to positive reviews. The show was a bit different this time around. There were new members of the Fab Five, the show was centered in Atlanta, Georgia, and it wasn’t just straight guys getting make overs. By the time that season two came out in June of 2018, three of the sixteen episodes were not about straight men.

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What’s Happening At The Border

One of the biggest news stories in the United States over the past few weeks has been immigration and the situation at the border. Thousands of children are currently living in cages, separated from their families and are often not allowed to hug the other kids around them. Countless people have made the difficult and sometimes fatal trip to the United States and over the border. For decades, deportations and changing borders have separated families.

For me, it can be overwhelming to first understand and keep up with everything, especially knowing the context of US immigration and border policies. Then, it can be overwhelming to know how to best move forward and call for a more just and humane society.

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BOOK REVIEW: Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist by Franchesa Ramsey

In 2011, Franchesca Ramsey had been making YouTube videos on her Chescaleigh channel for a few years. Some were about her hair and how to style locs. Others were comedic, including a parody song about student loans. But the one that went viral was a parody of a few popular videos from that year. “Sh*t White Girls Say… To Black Girls” (SWGSTBG) propelled Ramsey into the national spotlight in just a few hours after posting it and started her down a path of on and offline entertainment and activism.

Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist is Ramsey’s first book and in it, she writes about her journey leading up to the viral SWGSTBG video and the years after it. She writes with such vulnerability about the struggles and mistakes she’s faced while trying to break into the entertainment business while simultaneously being an activist in the public eye. There are many parts of the book that reflect on the many mistakes she’s made, how she dealt with some of the fall out, and how she learned from them all.

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Trans Roles in Media.

Recently, Scarlett Johansson made news after it came out that she will be playing a trans character in an upcoming movie. This is the second controversial casting news that Johansson has been a part of in the last couple of years (the first being her role in the 2017 film Ghost In The Shell, where she played a character that had been an Asian woman in the book the movie was based on).

And while this isn’t the first time that Johansson has been at the center of a casting controversy, this also isn’t the first time that a cisgender actor will be playing a trans character. Matt Bomer, Jared Leto, Eddie Redmayne, and Hilary Swank are just some of the most notable actors to do so. But just because it’s been done before (and with some critical acclaim), doesn’t mean it’s right.

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Learning From History.

Over the past few weeks, people have been comparing current events and politics to ones from history. The collection of rosaries from immigrants crossing the US/Mexico border has reminded people of the collection of wedding rings from Jewish folks in concentration camps. People have reminded folks that both the Holocaust and slavery were legal and that legality isn’t always equal to morality, as bad policies have been in place for quite some time.

In the first episode of the NPR/WABE podcast ‘Buried Truths’, host Hank Klibanoff talks about the importance of the show by saying that “… when we understand who we were, we can better understand who we are.” Learning about history and who we were can bring new meaning and context to current issues. And by looking at history and the full context, we can also better understand how these issues work, the ways in which we can combat injustice and inequality, and find role models.

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The History of Pride.

For many people, Pride month is coming to an end but there’s one important anniversary to celebrate and remember today: the 49th anniversary of the Stonewall Inn Riots. So often, many people forget the history of Pride and the long history of LGBTQ activism and existence. We’ve been around for centuries but homophobia, transphobia, and queerphobia have made it difficult for LGBTQ folks throughout history to exist happily and openly.

While the Stonewall Inn Riots are one of the most famous LGBTQ events in US history, police raids on gay bars were common during the 1950s and 1960s throughout the United States. And they didn’t stop after the Stonewall Riots. People were frequently arrested for different reasons, including for not wearing three articles of gender appropriate clothing. Those who frequented the Stonewall during this time also dealt with police harassment outside the bar and many were ostracized from their families and communities if or when they came out.

In the 1950s, gay people were also barred from government jobs with the notion that they could be blackmailed about their sexuality into sharing secrets. This is often called the ‘Lavender Scare’ and in addition to hundreds of people being harassed about their personal lives and sexuality, many lost their jobs because of it.

Additionally, many people during this time also thought that being gay or bisexual was an illness and something that could be cured. Gay, bisexual, and trans folks were regularly (and wrongly) seen as ‘perverted’ and wrong. There were many people during the 20th century who would live in the closet in their professional lives and places like the Stonewall provided a safe space. And like today, there were also many LGBTQ folks who dealt with poverty and homelessness during that time. For many, the Stonewall was a community center as much as a bar, as it was a warm place for LGBTQ folks to openly congregate and be with friends.

All of this is to put things into context, as people had some very good reasons to protest and riot. To deal with losing your job, family, and friends because of your gender identity or sexual orientation and to constantly hear that these things are also an ‘illness’ that needs to be cured is tough. It’s frustrating, degrading, and angering to be incorrectly labeled as a risk and wrong because of how you express yourself and who you love.

So on June 28th, 1969, when the police raided the Stonewall Inn again, people fought back for days instead of dispersing like they had done before. People at the Stonewall were fed up with how the police and rest of society were treating them. This event is often credited as the beginning of the gay rights movement and like Miss Major Griffin Gracy said, it was an empowering moment for many folks. It wasn’t the first moment that LGBTQ folks stood up and fought back but it was a moment that helped push the US towards justice and equality for the LGBTQ community.

One year after the riots, the Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day took place. This event was a remembrance for what had happened that June in 1969 and was also a continued fight for legal rights and social acceptance. It began with a march with a few hundred people gathering at the outside of the Stonewall Inn and by the time that it ended in Central Park in 1970, there were a few thousand people! By 1973, the Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day was an expected event in New York City and there were other cities holding similar events.

In the decades since the Stonewall Inn Riots and first Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day, Pride has grown and evolved. There are numerous events all over the country and all over the world during June and the first couple weeks of July. Many corporations, police departments, and governments now slap a rainbow on products, vans, and more each June. Parties of all kinds happen throughout the month and people of different identities often join the celebrations.

While we’ve come a long way over the last 49 years, we also have a long way to go for a more just and equitable society. Pride shouldn’t just a celebration nowadays; it should also be a protest. These two things can, and should, go hand in hand. Celebrating our community and feeling joy in our existence is often an act of resistance and we should keep celebrating. But using this time and space to also work towards a better world is in the spirit of Pride and honors those who came before us.

History of the LGBTQ Flag.

These days, the rainbow flag is a symbol for the LGBTQ community and thousands of people march with the flag through streets all over the world during Pride month. But the flag has a decades long history, as today happens to be the rainbow flag’s 40th anniversary. June 25th, 1978 was the first time the flag made an appearance! It flew over San Francisco’s Gay Freedom Day Parade after a group of activists in the area worked towards creating a new symbol for the community.

Gilbert Baker is often credited for creating the flag and he did play a huge role in how the flag looks and what it represents. But he also had a team and community that helped him. Harvey Milk and Artie Bressan Jr both encouraged him to create another symbol for the LGBTQ community to celebrate what the community was becoming. During that time, the pink triangle had been reclaimed but was steeped in the history of Nazi Germany using it to identify  gay men in concentration camps during the late 1930s and early 1940s. (Many gay men were imprisoned, forced to work, and killed along side many Jewish people and others during the Holocaust.)

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Trans Day of Action (#TDOA)

Today (June 22nd, 2018) is the 14th annual Trans Day of Action, a day organized by TransJustice, a political subgroup of The Audre Lorde Project in New York City, to demand safe access in public and private spaces for trans and gender nonconforming folks and to honor all the victories made in the trans movement over the last year. The NYC event is happening today, 4pm-7pm at Christopher Street Pier (Pier 45 on Manhattan’s West Side).

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Where I’ve Been and Hope to Go

ContagiousQueer was a project started in the summer of 2013 as a way for me (Charlie) to be angry while also learning more about the world. It started as a way to learn about oppression and injustice and sharing that journey with others.

This project has grown and changed over the last five or so years. I’ve written about different things in the media, police brutality, being mentally ill, politics, and so much more. Over the last year and a half or so, my commitment to this project has wavered as depression and life have taken over. But my commitment to learn more about the world hasn’t left. I still want to learn about all the issues that influence the lives of individual people and want to share all the ways in which I’ve learned how to be a better person.

The goal of ContagiousQueer was originally to be a collection of resources on social justice. I hope that this will still be a place for people to learn and grow but now, I hope this project can be more focused on queer life/history, mental health, and a few other things.

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