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A Brief History of the Stonewall Riots and the Gay Rights Movement

Transgender and Street Youth


Late transgender activist Sylvia Rivera.

Late transgender activist Sylvia Rivera.

© Jim Fouratt
Very few images of the Stonewall Rebellion of the summer of 1969 were captured by the press or participants. The handful that have circulated, like these images, capture the atmosphere after the dispersion of thousands of rioters. However, few images exist that mark the beginning of the rebellion, which was initiated by transgender and street youth.

In his letter, "Mother Stonewall and the Golden Rats," Stonewall veteran Tommy Lanigan Schmidt describes those that started the modern day LGBT rights movement:

"This wasn't a 1960's Student Riot. Out there were the streets. There were no nice dorms for sleeping. No school cafeteria for certain food. No affluent parents to send us checks. [This] was a ghetto riot on home turf. We already had our war wounds."

Late transgender activist Sylvia Rivera, at the time in full drag, recounted her protest to police: "You've been treating us like shit all these years? Uh-uh. Now it's our turn!... It was one of the greatest moments in my life."

Next: Early Gay Rights Organizations
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