A newly unearthed recording of LGBTQ+ pioneers Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera sees the pair reflect on the Stonewall riots of 1969, a crucial and era-defining moment in the struggle for LGBTQ+ rights, which saw members of the gay community rise up against homophobic police brutality.
The interview, which is believed to be the oldest known recording of Rivera and Johnson, takes place a year after the riots, when Rivera is 19 years old, and Johnson is 25. Originally a part of a show on New York radio station WBAI, the clip was recently discovered by Brian Ferree, an archival researcher for the Making Gay History podcast, who found the recording in the basement of the Lesbian Herstory Archives in Brooklyn.
The tape was labelled STAR, after the charity Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries founded by the duo in 1970 to help house and feed homeless LGBTQ+ youth.
“It reminded me of how young everyone was then,” Ferree says on this week’s episode. “I think the Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera that I’ve grown accustomed to, they were older by the time... the film that I’ve seen of them, the video that I’ve seen of them, the recordings that I’ve listened to from them, they had more time under their belt, and this, it was, it was like they were freshly arrived in New York and just letting it all out.”
The 1970 recording is now available on Making Gay History, a podcast that finds decades-old audio archives to form an oral history of the LGBTQ+ civil rights movement.
Often regarded as the instigators of the Stonewall riots (it’s widely believed that Johnson threw the first brick at police), the pair have been commemorated with a New York monument, near the original site of the uprising. Johnson has even been eternalised in Andy Warhol’s ‘Ladies and Gentleman’ series of prints.