Webster’s Dictionary defines the action of “disruption” as “causing something to be unable to continue in the normal way”.
There are so many figures throughout history who contested and pushed back against what the world told them was “normal” – and in doing so, they brought forth a new vision of what they believed normal could be, should be. For the queer community, like many other civil rights movements, the effort to change the societal narrative has been a slow and gradual fight over several decades. However, these efforts have been increasingly evident over the past several years. In 2010, the US military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy was repealed by Congress.
In 2015, the United States Supreme Court ruled that marriage equality was a Constitutional right. In 2016, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton argued that the “violence transgender Americans face – particularly transgender women of colour – is a rebuke to all of us. We have to do better.” There’s still so much work to be done, but we see the foundation that has been built by those who came before us. It was built by those who looked at what the world told them was normal, disagreed, and dared to disrupt the status quo.
Of the many people credited with a role in the 1969 Stonewall Riots, transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson was one of the loudest, although many don’t know her name. Some accounts suggest that she threw a shot glass into a mirror – the “shot glass heard round the world” – and that action caused a chain reaction. If someone had the chance to ask her what the “P” in her name stood for, she’d tell you, “Pay it no mind!”.
Marsha was one of the founders of STAR, short for Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries, a 1970s activism group that fought for trans rights and offered shelter to transgender and genderfluid teenagers, as well as homeless drag queens. Marsha’s presence in the movement challenged perceptions of gender identity, and gave validity to those who existed within all frames of the gender spectrum in the queer movement. With one shot glass, Marsha shattered the silence of a June night in Manhattan and sparked a revolution for decades to come.
Miss Major Griffin-Gracy is a trans woman activist and an outspoken proponent and advocate for transgender rights. Born in Chicago in 1940, she later moved to New York City and found solace in the Stonewall Inn. Like Johnson, she was also involved in the Stonewall Riots. In 1978, at the height of the AIDS epidemic, she was attending two funerals a week. In the 90s, she dedicated her time to working with various AIDS organisations and established resource centers that allowed more members of the queer community access to treatment. In 2003, she helped found the Transgender Gendervariant Intersex Project as Executive Director, and has been instrumental in fighting for transgender women of color who have been imprisoned. Griffin-Gracy continues to be vocally outspoken about the lack of transgender representation within the LGBTQ movement, and has been critical of trans voices being excluded from the discussion.
Punk rock is nothing if not based on the act of disruption. For Against Me! frontwoman Laura Jane Grace, she changed the rock and roll discourse by coming out as transgender in a 2012 Rolling Stone article. Already well known in the independent music circuit, Grace’s revelation sparked a national discussion about gender and identity in rock and roll. Her subsequent album, Transgender Dysphoria Blues, would become known as an iconic testament to living with and coming to terms with gender dysphoria and the transgender experience. “You want them to notice the ragged ends of your summer dress,” Grace croons. “You want them to see you like they see any other girl.”
In my time as an advocate for LGBTQ rights, I’ve learned that the bravest thing you can do is challenge how the world works. I’ve seen a lot of changes in my own lifetime, but I still see a world that lacks pivotal understanding on gender identity and sexual orientation. I know that the world can change, that “normal” can become something a little more, well, normal. Because of the people who came before me, we have a foundation, a blueprint, a map for the direction that we all can take. I look to those disruptors, those who challenged the world, and I hope to keep challenging it.
- Written by Sarah Rose. Sarah Rose is the Social Media Associate and LGBTQ Issues Advocate at Care2 and The Petition Site. Additionally, she has been an outspoken advocate for the past 10 years in both the Atlanta and Washington, D.C., queer communities. She has previously worked in marketing for various nonprofits, as well as serving as an assistant for US Congress. In her free time, she sings and plays guitar for the Atlanta-area rock and roll band Sarah and the Safe Word.
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