Fred Sargeant, a 71 years old gay activist who has actively campaigned against the inclusion of transgender individuals in activist efforts has claimed that transgender people “Did nothing.”
Over the 50 years since Stonewall, a lot of folklore has developed around the fateful night in 1969 that saw a dirty dive bar, the Stonewall Inn, become the landmark of a tipping point in history that would propel the fight for LGBTQ Americans.
Was there a brick? Wasn’t there a brick? Was it a stone? A shot glass? Did street queens form a kick line and dance in front of Police? Who catalyzed the violence? Was it Marsha P. Johnson, the beloved black trans person? Was it Sylvia Rivera, the Latinx transgender woman who would later form S.T.A.R (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries.) Was it the gender non-conforming lesbian, Storme Delarverie, a Biracial singer whose cry for help catalyzed the conflict that would ensue?
The problem remains that much of the truth is lost to the tides of time, as many participants likely died in the AIDS epidemic that ravaged the LGBTQ community in the following decades. Others who have been interviewed have different perspectives or political alignments that influence their opinions of what exactly occurred in the chaos and in what chronology.
Those who were there, as well as historians who have combed over faded images, old news articles and broken film and audio reels attempting to piece together an accurate depictions of the events rather than allow some fantastical recreation to satisfy, perhaps, the prejudices of others.
In the case of Fred Sargeant, the man who has been anointed by the media as the go-to expert on the events surrounding the Stonewall Riots is one of those whose bias and inherent bigotry has distorted the truths in an effort to whitewash it to serve a conservative narrative.
Sargeant has specifically challenged the involvement of transgender women, accusing the trans community of having “No early History so they have to take LGB figures and trans them to create a history.” Sargeant has actively and often aggressively degraded transgender women on social media, referring to them as “Men in dresses” and aligning with notorious anti-trans agitators.
Sargeant has received honors, awards and tributes for his role in- Not for his participation in the Stonewall riots- but organizing the Christopher Street Liberation Day March along with other organizations active in the community at the time. He is cited, frequently as a “Pioneer of the LGBT fight in the United States.”
It is increasingly disappointing to see a figure being hailed as a pioneer for the same rights he, today, actively tries to have stripped from Transgender people while simultaneously scrubbing them from a pivotal moment in history to satisfy his own pride, including dead-naming high profile activist Marsha P. Johnson, who died in 1992 at 46 years old.
By Sargeant’s own account, he wasn’t involved in the Stonewall Riots, but a bystander. According to him, “We were walking by the Stonewall as the riot started. I was one of the people that Stormé DeLarverie called out to for help as she was being taken to the paddy wagon.” In a message sent to me in December of 2019, he added “During my time in NYC I had no contact with trans people. Same when I became a cop a few years later. There was this hermaphrodite sex-worker who was a frequent arrestee but I don’t think that that counted as trans.”
Over the 50th Anniversary of Stonewall, Fred devoted his time to invalidating transgender people whose participation has been widely documented and express his frustration at the inclusion of Transgender people in the crusade for rights and protections. According to his wiki, when detailing his support for a radical anti-trans organization, LGB Alliance, Sargeant tweeted:
“I prefer to call @AllianceLGB a pro-LGB human rights organization under attack from homophobic trans rights groups. It’s time to remove the T from same-sex advocacy groups. Trans has nothing to do with us and we owe them nothing.”
Fred’s assertions that Trans people are stealing gay history due to having no history of our own are deeply misguided. In fact, Transgender was not a word that was used in in the 1960’s to identify oneself. We were often called homosexuals, gays, transvestites, cross-dressers, or drag queens. There wasn’t an appropriate word, in that era, to allow trans people the dignity or even the distinction from gay men.
Recently LGBT Historian and Archivist, Brian Ferre found an old box containing Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson’s earliest recorded interview from 1970. While they identified as Transvestites- because that’s all a cruel society would allow them, they were both transgender women. At the time of the interview, both discussed being on hormones, their lives and their fear of male violence as trans women. At the time of the interview, Rivera was 19, and Johnson was just 25.
It is unlikely that Sargeant had never encountered a Transgender person in New York City. It is much more likely that they even marched alongside him and he dismissed us as drag queens or transvestites. And they were at Stonewall, whether or not he chose to acknowledge them back in 1969, or today.
However, in 1969 and 1970 the gay rights movement had gained momentum and international attention, a lot of gay men were uncomfortable with the focus the media seemed to take on drag queens and transvestites to sensationalize the demonstrations. Marsha P. Johnson’s best friend and roommate until her death, Randy Wicker told the Podcast Making Gay History in a joint interview with Johnson:
See, I, I, Stonewall, I don’t want… I shouldn’t start on this note, but it puts me in the worst light, because by the time Stonewall happened I was running my button shop in the East Village and for all the years of Mattachine and you see the pictures of me on TV, I’m wearing a suit and tie and I had spent ten years of my life going around telling people homosexuals looked just like everybody else. We didn’t all wear makeup and wear dresses and have falsetto voices and molest kids and were Communists and all this.
And all of a sudden Stonewall broke out and there were reports in the press of chorus lines of queens kicking up their heels at the cops like Rockettes, you know, “We are the Stonewall girls, and you know, fuck you police.” And this, I thought, you know, it was like Jesse Jackson used to say, rocks through windows don’t open doors. I felt this… I was horrified. I mean, the last thing to me that I thought at the time they we’re setting back the gay liberation movement twenty years, because I mean all these TV shows and all this work that we had done to try to establish legitimacy of the gay movement that we were nice middle class people like everybody else and, you know, adjusted and all that. And suddenly there was all this, what I considered, riffraff.
There is probably no other more clear evidence that the famous clip of Sylvia Rivera taking the stage at the Christopher Street Liberation Day Rally in New York City in 1973 — Yes, the same event founded by Sargeant- where mostly white gay men and women shouted and booed her as she detailed the extent- and consequences- of her activism for gay, lesbian and transgender lives, rights and freedoms.
“Y’all better quiet down. I’ve been trying to get up here all day for your gay brothers and your gay sisters in jail….
Have you ever been beaten up and raped and jailed? Now think about it. They’ve been beaten up and raped…. The women have tried to fight for their sex changes or to become women…. they do not write women, they do not write men, they write ‘STAR’ because we’re trying to do something for them.
I have been to jail. I have been raped. And beaten. Many times! By men, heterosexual men that do not belong in the homosexual shelter. But do you do anything for me? No. You tell me to go and hide my tail between my legs. I will not put up with this shit. I have been beaten. I have had my nose broken. I have been thrown in jail. I have lost my job. I have lost my apartment for gay liberation and you all treat me this way? What the fuck’s wrong with you all? Think about that!
I do not believe in a Revolution, but you all do. I believe in the gay power. I believe in us getting our right or else I would not be out there fighting fr our right, that all I want to say to our people. If you all wanted to know about the people in jail — and do not forget Bambi LeMore, Andora Marx, Kenny Messner, and other gay people that are in jail. come and see the people at STAR house on 12th street, on 640 East 12th street between B and C, apartment 14, The people that are trying to do something for all of us, and not men and women that belong to a white middle class, white club, and that’s what you all belong too!”
Later in her life, Rivera no longer used the words “transvestite” or “cross-dresser” to identify herself. She was Sylvia Rivera, a proud transgender woman.
Not many trans people were allowed, socially, to exist outside the gay bubble. The concept of being trans was riddled with stigma and persecution. Stonewall was one of the only gay bars in New York city to allow “Drag Queens.” The law at the time in terms of dress was incredibly strict. If you were caught not wearing articles of clothing that identified your gender clearly to authorities, you would go to jail. Most Drag Queens were transgender women leveraging the performative nature of drag to bridge the gap between themselves and their womanhood, although they were still exposed to the same slurs and discrimination that gay men were. In 1969, we were all “Faggots” according to the rest of the world. We were all abominations to religion, to conservative politics, to those who built the scaffolding around sexuality and gender and lay in stone the definitions and guidelines for what was allowed and “normal.”
Another false narrative to pop up in later years represented Stonewall as a predominately white, gay male bar. History has proven that the Stonewall Inn was a very mixed demographic. Because it was perceived as a “Slum bar” by middle class white people, it became a safe space for Black, Lantinx, Chinese and other minorities across the racial spectrum to socialize. Sargeant has worked had to remove those people from history.
Interestingly, when looking at pictures of Sargeant’s Christopher street Liberation Day event, it also appears to be mostly white people. The exclusion of minorities, like transgender people, seems deliberate to make the movement more palatable to middle America at the time.
The Stonewall Inn, however, was not predominantly white- and the inclusion of Bisexuals in Stonewall history has also gone ignored.
The Stonewall concept has veered from an honest representation of historical data lending itself instead to a modern day retelling that is decidedly racist, transphobic, biphobic and mysognist.
In an era of rampant racism, ignorance to the gender and sexuality spectrum, the Stonewall Inn denizens existed as people who rebuked the social rules. It revealed to the “Drag Queens” and “Cross Dressers” who would now likely identify more comfortably as transgender, that they did not matter to the movement. They were often excluded for the optics- to convince the greater oppressive society that they were just like them… and not at all like the so-called deviants and lesser-sorts fighting by their side for their rights.
“They left us behind.” A tearful Rivera said near the end of her life. However, Sylvia, Marsha and a great many other transgender people continued their activism for LGBTQ rights throughout their lifetimes- even when it didn’t serve them. In fact, Pride was weaponized against transgender women and minority communities to prop up the white gay agenda; They believed it would be a more direct passage to equality if they didn’t have to tug along the other undesirables of society. For three years in a row, Sylvia was not allowed to address the Christopher Street Liberation rallies after allying with them for equality… because she was transgender and non-white.
Sylvia left the Gay rights movement for over 20 years after that. In an interview she said “I was hurt… and I felt that the movement had completely betrayed the Drag Queens and the Street people. And I felt that the years I had already given them had been a waste. I went home, locked up the house, if it wasn’t for Marsha I wouldn’t be here right now. I got 60 stitches in my arm. She came home and found me bleeding to death.”
50 years on, most of the LGBTQ community has reframed Pride events to stand against transphobia and racism. Yet, some aged white men from that era are fighting against history itself to ensure that it is retold in a fictional context, still clinging to the belief that acceptance by the mainstream hinges on their rejection of their own staunch allies.
It has worked for Sargeant, who has aggregated the support of anti trans radical feminists, including JK Rowling and even straight white males who laud themselves as saviors to feminists, like Graham Linehan… except what we have seen instead, quite plainly, is that they aren’t nearly as much invested in advancing the efforts of feminism or gay rights as they are in the relentless pursuing, harassing, intimidating and campaigning against transgender women.
As Pride rolls around every years and Sargeant has his profile elevated to celebrate his contributions while claiming “No trans person was involved in same-sex marriage… that was lesbians.” That is a lie.
Many transgender men and women, including myself, campaigned, voted and rallied for equal marriage rights. It was not a feat accomplished alone by white, gay men and women.
We were alongside you then, even if you chose not to see us. Again.