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How The Stonewall Riots Became The Beginning Of A Queer Revolution

June is Pride Month, a time when many LGBTQ+ people around the world are looking forward to meeting new people, coming out, addressing their issues, and voicing themselves in public. India is no exception.

Mumbai hosted its Gay Pride Parade on February 3, 2018. First, it intrigued me as to why there was a pride event in February. Although it wasn’t so much of a surprise as many countries, including the UK and Hungary, do celebrate pride in February. I wanted to know what’s the story behind Mumbai’s choice. So I decided to talk to people just before Pride, to find answers.

At first, I was a bit hesitant as I was very new to all this. After a while, when I felt comfortable, made a few attempts at talking to people, but I gave up hope as the crowd grew. My quest was inconclusive. But I had made several contacts there and decided to pursue the conversation on social media. Yet again I was let down, and this paved way for me to inquire how many people actually know about the history of Pride. 

I was shocked to learn how little young people knew about Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, the founding mothers of the modern-day gay rights movement. The fact that most of them did not know about the Stonewall Inn, then, was no surprise.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

Stonewall has an interesting history. It all started in the 1950s and 1960s when homosexuality was illegal in 49 US States. Punishments varied from hefty fines to imprisonment. LGBTQ+ people were subjected to widespread homophobic prejudice, harassment by law enforcement, and discrimination.

Gay bars became havens for people with diverse sexual and gender orientation. The Stonewall Inn was a popular refuge among the LGBTQ+ community in New York City. However, the Stonewall Inn was owned by the mafia who bribed the police to stay out of their matters.

The mafia made money by selling drinks and snacks at an exorbitant price and extorting rich LGBTQ+ patrons by threatening to “out them” to their employers and families.

However, despite the mafia’s bribery, the police regularly raided LGBTQ+ bars and arrested people for solicitation of homosexual behaviour, public indecency, and for not wearing ‘gender-appropriate’ clothing.

All this changed in the early hours of June 28, 1969, when the NYPD raided the Stonewall Inn. The cops reached there and tried to arrest bartenders and patrons. Many believe that the revolution started when Marsha P. Johnson threw the first shot at the police. That’s when hundreds of LGBTQ+ people started rioting outside Stonewall. This is what is known as the Stonewall Riots; it is considered a turning point in Gay Rights history.

Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were two selfless trans women who were at the Stonewall Inn to celebrate Marsha’s birthday. They hardly had enough money to feed themselves, they had nothing to lose. So when Marsha hit back, it was heard around the world by people who were in her shoes.

Source: InSapphoWeTrust/Flickr.

On the one year anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the first Gay Pride was held by the Gay Liberation Front, the first organization to openly advocate for equal gay rights. Decades later, in June 2016, then-President Barack Obama declared Stonewall Inn and areas surrounding it, where the riots broke out, as a National Monument. If it weren’t for those rioters, we wouldn’t have Pride parades and the kind of sensitizing programmes we have now.

All this felt obsolete when I talked to people. I felt that as a community, we’ve made progress but have failed to educate our younger generations. The media also failed to show this history, sadly. 

Pop culture loves ‘the gay lifestyle’ but has failed to stand up for the community’s issues. It has failed young LGBTQ+ people by not providing them with role models to look up to. It has over-sexualized the LGBTQ+ community. In India, Bollywood is no exception, with zero to no representation, and giving queer characters roles that only hurt the community by re-enforcing gender stereotypes.

The LGBTQ+ community needs more representation. It needs proper and responsible representation in media. Our media, as well as the LGBTQ+ community, needs to sensitize the younger generation of queer people about their history and struggle. The queer rights movement is a part of our history and so it should be included in the school curriculum as well, only then there’s progress for everyone.

Happy Pride Month.

Rest in pride, Marsha.

Rest in pride, Sylvia.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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