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Over the past several weeks, since the release of the trailer for the upcoming movie Stonewall, there have been several op-eds written by distinguished, mainstream, older, LGBTQ white activists, shaming or dismissing those of us who intend to boycott the film. Here is a link to Larry Kramer’s thoughts on the idea of boycotting Stonewall.
The racist and condescending undertones of these op-eds galvanized us, a group of Philly Latino LGBTQ-identified individuals, to respond specifically to an op-ed written by Mark Segal of the Philadelphia Gay News and published by The Advocate on why we shouldn’t boycott Stonewall the movie.
Mr. Segal is “amused” and “angered” by the idea of a boycott because “nearly all the people on both sides have one thing in common: They weren’t there.” He further states, “Stonewall's perceived lack of acknowledgment of [Sylvia] Rivera's and [Marsha P.] Johnson's contributions seems to be the central reasoning for a boycott of the film. … This shows a lack of understanding of our own shared LGBT history.” In the end Mr. Segal does express concern for the potential continued marginalization of trans communities but concludes his opinion piece by dismissing the idea of a boycott, saying, “Wondering how you can boycott something you haven’t seen and that is a fictional movie based on a true story.” He then directs readers to access LGBTQ history through books: “That's where the truth is, not in your local multiplex.”
As Latino LGBTQ individuals living and working in Philadelphia, we acknowledge we were not present during the Stonewall riots of 1969; however, we are here today because of LGBTQ Latino and black organizers Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, Stormé DeLarverie, and many more. Their lives and work justify our anger at the continued exploitation of their stories.
We appreciate Mr. Segal’s time with the Gay Liberation Front and other influential organizations of that era, but trauma as a result of intersecting subtle and overt forms of racism, sexism, and transphobia does not allow the Latino LGBTQ community in Philadelphia the privilege to dismiss Stonewall the movie as pure entertainment. Further, the effects of racism and poverty on our communities does not easily grant us access to our history through books. Research shows there has been an historic and systematic disregard for the very specific needs of the Latino LGBTQ population in this country, including the erasure or downplaying of our roles in history books by white LGBTQ authors and scholars — in particular, author David Carter, who repeatedly downplays the roles trans women of color played before, during, and after the Stonewall riots of 1969, specifically in his book Stonewall.
As young Latinos in the United States, we grew up thinking there were no Latino LGBTQ people, specifically, for us to look up to. Because we could not easily access our history through books, many of us relied on word of mouth with other people of color and movies to learn our histories. Our perseverance led us to our Latino LGBTQ predecessors. Because these individuals lived for us, fought for us, and died for us, we resent and do not accept the racist and condescending attitudes of Mr. Segal and Mr. Kramer.
We are angry because racism and transphobia continuously delegate us to supporting roles in history. We are angry because racism and transphobia fuels the many voices that are telling queer people of color that a boycott of Stonewall is extreme and that we should be grateful a movie about the Stonewall riots was even made. We are angry because highly influential gay white men are amused and angered by our anger and resentment of how intersecting forms of racism and transphobia create movies like Stonewall.
As Latino LGBTQ individuals living and working in Philadelphia, we believe the release of Stonewall does not contribute to the empowerment of Latino LGBTQ people or any LGBTQ people of color but instead continues to reinforce subtle and overt forms of racism. As PGN readers and members of the Philadelphia Latino LGBTQ community, it is our responsibility to hold powerful individuals and institutions like Mr. Segal, the PGN, and The Advocate accountable to the needs of our community. Because of this:
1. We demand that the white LGBTQ community fully consider how racism intersects with other forms of oppression such as transphobia, sexism, and class privilege to shape how history is interpreted and then presented to mainstream audiences.
2. Mr. Segal, we ask you to fully consider how racism, transphobia, sexism, and class privilege pushed you to direct readers to access “our shared history” through books written by gay white men unwilling to fully acknowledge the roles trans women of color played in the pivotal moments of the modern LGBTQ movement.
3. We ask the white LGBTQ community to consider the constant anger communities of color live with when told to accept entertainment at face value, as if we don’t know the impact a Hollywood movie will have on how stories will be told for years to come.
4. Mr. Segal, we ask you to not be amused or surprised when our community expresses anger through boycotts.
5. Mr. Segal, please do not compare your anger to ours.
Fighting for freedom has always been and will continue to be a shared experience for our community. With that said, we demand The Advocate, PGN, Mr. Segal, and other older white LGBTQ activists end their complicity with a system that consistently diminishes the grand part queer Latinos had in beginning the LGBTQ civil rights movement. Our opinion may not be a brick. but its words hold weight.
This piece was collectively written by the following Latino LGBTQ community members from Philadelphia in response to the backlash that queer communities of color have received in voicing their opinions on the racism and transphobia that is rampant in the larger LGBTQ community;
Rafael Alvarez Febo
Louie A. Ortiz-Fonseca