Two queer, gender-nonconforming women vandalized a famous New York City monument to gay liberation, saying they did so to protest what has been called the "whitewashing" of the Stonewall riots, by painting the statues' faces and hands brown and dressing them with wigs, bras and scarves.
A sign left by the vandals, who were granted anonymity in exchange for an interview with Autostraddle, read, "Black Latina trans women led the riots, stop the whitewashing."
Created by famed artist George Segal, who was known for painting his bronze statues white to resemble the plaster molds he used to cast them, the statues are a regular tourist attraction for LGBT people. After almost a decade of public opposition, they were dedicated in 1992 following a renovation of Christopher Park, near the site of the 1969 riots at the Stonewall Inn.
The activists say they were inspired by comments by Stonewall veteran Miss Majors, who said in an interview with Autostraddle that the statues "whitewash" the history of the famous riots. Controversy has erupted over Roland Emmerich's upcoming film, Stonewall, based on what can be seen in advance clips and previews. The criticism from transgender individuals and persons of color is that the filmmaker features cisgender caucasians, ignoring and erasing the vital role they played in sparking what is considered the beginning of the modern LGBT rights movement.
Majors, speaking about the movie, told Autostraddle:
"It’s absolutely absurd — you know, young people today aren’t stupid. They can read the history, they know that this is not the way it happened. These people can’t let it go! Everybody can’t be white! This is a country of different colors and people and thoughts and attitudes and feelings, and they try to make all of those the same for some reason.
"Not like it’s going to work, but damn if they don’t stop trying. It’s bad enough that across the street from Stonewall, they have statues up to commemorate that night. That’s cute, but there’s not a black statue there! The statues look like they’re made from flour and sugar! What is this? Why can’t one of the girls go up and throw up a little makeup on one of these bitches?"
The women who admit to vandalizing the monument say they got the message. "To Miss Major: This is for you. Thank you," they told Autostraddle Tuesday:
"Those sculptures are supposedly there to commemorate the Stonewall riots. But there isn’t a trace of the actual riots in them. They’re a slap across the face to the Black and Latina trans women who got whacked with batons and shoved into police vans, and still had the guts to continue to lead the fight for LGBTQ liberation. I mean, the people who modeled for the sculptures weren’t even at the riots! That’s just a straight-up insult. It’s also important to note that the Mildred Andrews Fund paid a (presumably) straight and cis white man $90,000 to depict gay people. It’s no wonder that the sculptures are so impassive and tone-deaf.
"We painted them because Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, Miss Major, Storme DeLarverie and all the other Black and Brown people who led the movement deserve credit for their courage and strength. What we did was rectification, not vandalism. Those statues are bronze (brown) underneath the layer of white paint — the symbolism behind that is infuriating. I know that some people are going to be angry, but I’m not concerned with preserving bullshit art. I’m angry about the whitewashing of LGBTQ history.
"To the people who’ll end up repainting the sculptures: brown and black lacquer exists. Think about what it means to repaint the statues white, and then stop."
The statues have since been repainted white. The activists say they are prepared to be arrested if their identities become known.