In the wee hours of June 28, 1969, police raided The Stonewall Inn, a gay bar located in New York City’s Greenwich Village. It was not the first, or the last, police raid targeting gay and trans people in the city, but what happened next lit the spark for the modern queer liberation movement.
For two days people fought back. Among them, on the front lines, were two trans activists, Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson, who would help turn this moment into a movement.
Throughout their lives, Rivera and Johnson were targeted and arrested many times. Rivera recalls, “I don’t know how many times my grandmother had to come and bail me out of jail. She was there. She always came, bailed me out.”
This criminalization continues to this day. As many queer and trans organizers remind us, Stonewall is now:
- High rates of poverty leave transgender people, particularly Black trans people, disproportionately targeted by unaffordable cash bail. Trans people of all races are twice as likely as cis people to live in poverty, and Black trans people are almost three times at risk.
- Employment discrimination often pushes trans people out of the traditional workforce and into other fields, such as sex work, which is highly criminalized. Without economic stability, trans people also experience housing insecurity – 1 in 5 trans people have experienced homelessness and 40% of homeless youth are LGBTQ+ – putting queer and trans people at high risk of criminalization.
- Once incarcerated, queer and trans people face a greater risk of violence and are disproportionately subject to solitary confinement. The recent high-profile death of Layleen Polanco, a 27-year-old Afro-Latina trans woman who died at Rikers Island while being held in solitary confinement for over two weeks on a $500 bail, has brought renewed attention to this crisis.
- 85% of queer and trans incarcerated people have been in solitary confinement at some point, according to a 2014 survey from Black and Pink. Queer and trans people are also six times more likely to be sexually assaulted while incarcerated than the general jail and prison population.
- Trans and gay asylum seekers are at a higher risk of violence – even once they are in the U.S. In May 2018 Roxsana Hernandez, a transgender woman who fled violence and discrimination in Honduras, died in ICE custody due to inadequate health care. Her death underscores how much trans immigrants are exposed to violence and denied equal care in detention centers.
What you can do:
- Speak up against these injustices. Share this information with others.
- Support the work of organizations like the Sylvia Rivera Law Project in New York, the LGBTQ Freedom Fund in South Florida, and the Transgender Immigrant Defense Effort in Oakland.
- Join communities like Black and Pink, a grassroots organization dedicated to supporting incarcerated LGBTQ+ and people living with HIV, through advocacy, workshops and a pen-pal program.
- Get involved in campaigns to decriminalize sex work, and support efforts to repeal laws that are used to target and harass trans people.
50 years ago today, an unstoppable movement for the rights of LGBTQ+ people and communities began. The Stonewall Riots were about more than just a single police raid: they were about ensuring that queer communities could be free to live their lives without fear of criminalization and violence. That struggle continues to this day — and it implicates all of us.
The Bail Project Team