Central figures of the gay rights movement in the 1960s, Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, are to have a monument dedicated to them in New York City.
The two iconic figures were at the forefront of the uprising against homophobic and transphobic abuse, which came to a head during the Stonewall riots of 1969, a crucial and era-defining moment in the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights.
The monument marks the 50th anniversary of the riots led by the two trans activists of colour – tipped to be built in Ruth Wittenberg Triangle in Greenwich Village near the original site of the uprising – and is due to be one of the first monuments of its kind commemorating transgender people.
New York’s first lady, Chirlane McCray, was full of praise for the plans telling The New York Times: “The LGBTQ+ movement was portrayed very much as a white, gay male movement… this monument counters that trend of whitewashing the history.”
Self-described “street queen” Marsha P. Johnson and drag queen Sylvia Rivera were on the frontlines of the 1969 riots at Stonewall Inn, a haven for the LGBTQ+ community in a society where they faced regular discrimination. Police descended on the bar on the grounds of carrying out alcohol and licensing checks, but the excessive police force was met with resistance from the patrons.
It’s part of queer legend that Rivera, who began living in New York on her own as a child prostitute when she was just 11, threw the first bottle. In a 1995 interview she says: “Marsha was the first friend I made on 42nd Street… she was 17. Marsha plugged in the light for me.” Officials hope that the monument dedicated to the pair will be finished by 2021, and the search for an artist to commission has begun.