Culturally speaking, pride + woman = pariah, but as far as we’re concerned pride is the ultimate compliment (thank you and you’re very welcome, prideful readers). To kick off our Pride month celebration, we’re paying our respects to five boundary bustin’ queer women who have taught us a thing or two about living with pride in our bodies, brains, and beliefs. Here are our leading queer ladies in no particular order:
Photo Source: Milana Burdette
Jewel Thais-Williams is an unsung hero of the AIDS crisis in Los Angeles, and a living example of what women can accomplish when we set our minds to something. In 1973, Jewel opened her now-famous gay disco, Catch One, because she wanted a business that was recession-proof. What she ended up providing was a safe space in LA for people of all backgrounds, particularly queer people of color. Even at the height of the AIDS crisis, when discrimination and fear were rampant, Jewel defended and supported her patrons, ultimately keeping Catch One’s doors open for 42 years. Because she hadn’t done enough (we kid, we kid), in 2001 she also opened The Village Health Foundation, a health care clinic for people living with HIV. Today, at 78 years old, Jewel is still hosting fundraisers and focusing her efforts on VHF (which now provides access and services for people of all backgrounds, in 4 different languages), and her legacy has finally been recognized by a recent documentary.
Marsha P. Johnson
Photo Source: Stephen J. Witty
For thirty years, Marsha “Pay It No Mind” Johnson was a major presence in the New York City queer community: a trans woman of color who was one-part cultural icon (she was a model for Andy Warhol and a drag performer in popular touring group, Hot Peaches) and one-part nurturing “mother” and leader of her fellow queer youth. She protested in the 1969 Stonewall riot that led to Pride as we know it, and the very next day co-founded activist group The Gay Liberation Front (you know, just your typical Saturday). One year later she also co-founded S.T.A.R. (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), the first organization dedicated to providing safe housing for low-income trans people of color in New York City. There’s no historical marker of the former S.T.A.R. residences in lower Manhattan, but Marsha’s legacy has been captured on film, and her work is carried on through an eponymous institute.
Photo Source: Harvey Wang
Sylvia Rivera, also a trans woman of color and co-founder of S.T.A.R., spent her entire life (literally, though) fighting for trans rights. Sylvia ran away from an unaccepting home at age 11, and by 1969, at age 17, she was on the front lines of the Stonewall riot. In the gay rights movement, Sylvia always walked the walk of inclusivity, fighting for people in the queer community – and society at large – who refused to do the same for her. She helped pass New York City’s first gay rights bill, even scaling a building to join a closed-door meeting between legislators to make sure the bill’s language protected the trans community, too. When the bill passed without that language – aka the moment most humans would feel defeat – Sylvia’s response was: “hell hath no fury like a drag queen scorned.” Her persistence is carried on today by the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, which offers legal aid and other assistance to trans and gender nonconforming people of color.
Photo Source: Robert Alexander / Getty Images
If you aren’t familiar with Audre Lorde’s prolific writing and ceaseless determination to liberate all people from oppression (the definition of #goals), buckle up. Audre was a self-proclaimed “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet” and tour de force who encouraged people to talk about and acknowledge our differences in order to understand our fundamental similarities – to which we say AMEN, and may we have some more? Her famous collection of essays and speeches, Sister Outsider, shaped the feminist movement by championing intersectionality, and Audre even documented her 14-year battle with breast cancer in her book The Cancer Journals, to inspire other women who were walking the same path. Since her passing, Audre’s community-oriented work has been continued by the initiatives of the Audre Lorde Project.
Photo Source: Music Box Films
Chavela Vargas – a Costa Rican-born Mexican singer who changed the landscape of Latin American music – was a queer woman who consistently challenged what the world expected of her. She started out as a teenager serenading people in the streets of Mexico City in the 1930s, unapologetically bucking cultural norms by dressing in men’s clothing, and singing love songs about women. Utterly devoted doesn’t even begin to describe her relationship to her music, but Chavela also lived to inspire other women (including once-upon-a-time alleged lover Frida Kahlo) to pursue their passions. She came out at age 81 in her autobiography, made her Carnegie Hall debut at age 83, and performed until her death at 93. Oh, and her music? It’s a universal language unto itself, with a reputation for bringing people to tears. Grab a tissue and embrace Chavela’s musical reminder to just be your dang self and be proud.
*~Prideful women are our teachers, leaders, and inspiration for breaking boundaries and busting body taboos. Who’s the proud woman you look up to?~*