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The Stonewall Riots: From Fighting Police Brutality To ‘Rainbow Washing’

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The Stonewall Riot of 1969 has been credited as the event which led to the annual Pride parades in the United States, and then other parts of the world. When law enforcement raided the Stonewall Inn, sexual and gender minorities mobilized and fought back against police brutality. However, it is also argued that the Stonewall Riot of 1969 was a success because of the events that preceded it.

There were multiple police raids that were rampant through the 1950s and 60s. Stonewall only gained attention because affluent, educated gay men continue to view it as newsworthy. Post the Stonewall uprising, a movement took shape which centered the experience of upper-middle class white gay men who sought to only reform laws rather than invoke radical activism.

The historic riot was begun by a black trans woman, Marsha Johnson, throwing a brick at the cops. But the marginalized among the queer community were left behind in the process of queer collectivizing around pride and legal reform. Decriminalization of anti-queer laws came to be seen as the ultimate victory for queer rights. As the pride agenda moved from decriminalization to equal marriage, issues of resource distribution and socio-economic reforms for transgender persons, queer persons of colour and queer immigrants got crushed under the Pride tableau.

Art by nottodaysatan on Reddit. Marsha P. Johnson, a black trans woman, stands at the forefront of the movement. She was the first to throw the brick that started the revolution. The NYPD were the main antagonists on the fateful night of June 28, 1969, when they raided the Stonewall Inn.

As gay communities across the world succeeded in decriminalizing anti-queer laws and are now enjoying equal rights and opportunities, corporate funding of Pride has now created what is called Rainbow Capitalism.  As a result, many foundations “back less controversial LGBTQ causes” and not grassroots organizing or groups. This has been going on in the West for quite some time.

This trend is fast becoming visible in case of India too. We have seen repeatedly how transgender persons and queer persons from Dalit-Bahujan-Adivasi and working class backgrounds get left behind while Pride is celebrated. During the Pride march meetings in Mumbai for instance, we had to convince people that opposing the transgender act was an issue that the Pride march had to take up.  In Delhi, when we walked the Pride march with the Jai Bhim flag, we were told off—they claimed that permission would be denied if we marched with it. Despite many attempts we were never able to get the pride organizing committee members to include the NRC as a queer issue, despite what happened in Assam, when authorities excluded 2,000 trans persons from the registry . And we have already seen how upper class gay men threw a young trans person under the bus for protesting against NRC and in support of Sharjeel Imam in the Mumbai Pride. None of the corporate who have turned their logos into rainbows have come out against the trans bill or other legislation which affect the most marginalized among the queers.

While intersectionality is a word that gets thrown around in the Pride marches, there is rarely serious engagement with it. While some say that bringing intersectionality into the Pride March would dilute the Pride agenda, some others think that putting up one speaker with multiple marginality is enough to make the Pride march intersectional. However, there is rarely any initiative to make the Pride March or the events around it include issues that affect marginalized queer populations. The focus on issues of marginalized queer persons that different Pride Marches have given range from invisiblisation of the violence and discrimination to blatant erasure of their experience.  Thus, the Pride agenda becomes the agenda of largely the upper class, upper-caste cisgender gay people and is centered around an aspiration towards respectability in the eyes of the heternormative society.

Today the “progressives” among the queers want to remind others that Stonewall was a riot. It was a result of resistance towards police brutality. The Indian celebrities are suddenly becoming sensitive to police brutality because thousands of people in the West are out on the streets protesting about #blacklivesmatter.  Several urban activists and intellectuals because police brutality has today reached the heartlands of the country. It has reached Delhi, Mumbai, and the households of the relatively upper class and upper caste people. However, for many this brutality has been a norm for ages. The Hijras on the streets were never free from it, the sex workers were never free from it. The queer people in areas where  Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) is enforced were never free from it. The Adivasi persons who have been struggling to safeguard their land, water and forest have never been free from it. The State’s most brutal force has always been upon them for decades now.

The fact remains that the Pride marches have historically been a space created for and by upper class gay men and the narratives of many others will remain outside of this narrative of Pride. The question that needs to be asked now is whether we want to put our energies to make pride more inclusive or do we want to look for other avenues to claim our narrative.

Featured Image art work by nottodaysatan/Reddit.
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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.

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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.

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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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