Stonewall vet­eran and trans­gen­der ac­tivist Miss Ma­jor Grif­fin-Gracy will not be si­lenced

GA Voice - - Outspoken -

By DAR­IAN AARON

“Don’t change history if that’s not what hap­pened. Ad­mit it. You’re a bet­ter per­son for ad­mit­ting what it was than you are for cre­at­ing this fab­ri­cated lie that you con­stantly have to de­fend.”

Miss Ma­jor Grif­fin-Gracy is not here for your re­vi­sion­ist history. Nor will she qui­etly re­treat as a chap­ter in her life story is rewrit­ten and con­sumed by the masses.

Grif­fin-Gracy was in New York’s Green­wich Vil­lage in the early morn­ing hours on June 28, 1969, when a group of drag queens, trans women, les­bians and gay men re­belled against re­peated raids of the Stonewall Inn by the New York Po­lice Depart­ment. At the cen­ter of what would be­come known as the birth of the mod­ern gay lib­er­a­tion move­ment were trans and gen­der-non­con­form­ing peo­ple of color. Peo­ple like Grif­fin-Gracy, Mar­sha P. John­son and Sylvia Rivera, all beloved in the New York City trans com­mu­nity and all largely ab­sent from the trailer of the re­cent Hol­ly­wood drama­ti­za­tion by di­rec­tor Roland Em­merich.

The leg­endary gay ac­tivist Larry Kramer may not have said her name, but Miss Ma­jor Grif­fin-Gracy fits the pro­file of the “cra­zies” he blasted online dur­ing a rant that ac­cused ac­tivists of try­ing to de­rail the new “Stonewall” film. Grif­fin-Gracy is fine with be­ing la­beled crazy, but what she will not al­low to hap­pen is the era­sure of her iden­tity as a black, el­der, trans­gen­der woman, along with her con­tri­bu­tions and those of her trans sis­ters to the real Stonewall.

Many in the LGBT com­mu­nity have called for a boy­cott of “Stonewall” due to per­ceived “white­wash­ing” af­ter the re­lease of the of­fi­cial trailer. A new trailer por­tray­ing Mar­sha P. John­son more promi­nently has re­cently sur­faced online. Many be­lieve, although it can­not be con­firmed, that John­son’s re­sis­tance as a trans woman of color sparked the mul­ti­day Stonewall ri­ots. In the film, John­son’s im­age and story as a hero­ine have been re­placed by a fic­ti­tious white male char­ac­ter from the Mid­west. Grif­fin-Gracy is not amused. “Of course the white man has to step in and res­cue, that’s been their priv­i­lege since

Oc­to­ber 2, 2015

they were mis­sion­ar­ies in for­eign coun­tries,” says Grif­fin-Gracy.

“Don’t change history if that’s not what hap­pened. Ad­mit it. You’re a bet­ter per­son for ad­mit­ting what it was than you are for cre­at­ing this fab­ri­cated lie that you con­stantly have to de­fend.”

Now 74 years old and liv­ing in San Fran­cisco, Grif­fin-Gracy is miles and years away from the piv­otal night that changed the course of gay rights in Amer­ica. Yet, she still re­calls the blow she re­ceived to her head dur­ing the thick of the ri­ot­ing.

“All I know is the po­lice were there, we were fight­ing, and I’d been in fights be­fore,” she says. “When you get in that type of sit­u­a­tion with the po­lice, the best thing to do so they don’t hurt or kill you is to piss them off enough to knock you out. So I got knocked out early and lived to see another day, cause once they get you down they con­tinue to beat you if they think you’re gonna get up and fight back.”

Play­ing by the rules

Born in Chicago, Illi­nois, in 1940, Grif­fin-Gracy says she was sent to live with an aunt in the Bronx so she could be “straight- ened out” af­ter her par­ents’ at­tempt at med­i­cal in­ter­ven­tion failed to “cure” her ef­fem­i­nate na­ture.

“As early as 1957, I knew I was dif­fer­ent. They sent me to see a doc­tor. They thought they could get me some med­i­ca­tion and that would change me,” she says.

A rebel at heart, Grif­fin-Gracy un­der­stood there was a time and place for right­eous re­bel­lion, and in 1960s New York City, as a trans woman of color whose mere pre­sen­ta­tion as the op­po­site sex was con­sid­ered un­law­ful, she played by the rules when in­ter­act­ing with po­lice at Stonewall.

“If we were in fe­male at­tire we would have to have three ar­ti­cles of men’s cloth­ing on un­der­neath or we could go to jail for im­per­son­ation and fraud,” she says. “When they ar­rested us they didn’t send us to jail, they sent us to Belle­vue (men­tal) Hos­pi­tal be­cause they thought we were crazy.”

The chal­lenges faced by Grif­fin-Gracy and other trans women dur­ing this era were not con­fined to the po­lice. Ac­cord­ing to her, gay men also gave trans women a dif­fi­cult time.

“Go­ing to the Vil­lage was hard, es­pe­cially as a black woman. There may have been one or two black gay guys down there who also gave you a hard time. You know, they don’t feel like we should ex­ist un­less we are on our knees.”

Grif­fin-Gracy has been fight­ing for her place in the world as an un­apolo­getic black trans woman and Stonewall vet­eran for decades. In her view, this makes the dis­mis­sive crit­i­cism by Kramer and Em­merich, who in re­cent in­ter­views ad­mit­ted to in­ject­ing his iden­tity as a white gay man into the fore­front of his film, even more in­cen­di­ary.

“You’re not gonna kill me off with this bull­shit or bury me in a moun­tain of lies and garbage that didn’t hap­pen. It’s sup­posed to be about the truth,” she says. But when have these peo­ple ever told the truth? They’ve al­ways made it com­fort­able for them. Re­spect what I’ve gone through to get here.”

Grif­fin-Gracy doesn’t an­tic­i­pate re­tract­ing any of her crit­i­cism of the new Stonewall film in the event that it turns out to be his­tor­i­cally ac­cu­rate and in­clu­sive.

“How on earth can it be in­clu­sive with su­per white boy jump­ing down and sav­ing the day? And if Mar­sha and Sylvia are in it, they must be a shadow on a back wall. Oh please! I’m not that gullible.”

Miss Ma­jor Grif­fin-Gracy (Photo via Face­book)

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