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Leading Our Community Every Step of the Way: Women’s History Month 2020

2020 marks the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment granting women the right to vote.  Though through a clearer lens of history, we now see how women of color were prevented from participating in those voting rights until 1965 due to the racial inequalities of the Suffragette Movement and discriminatory state voter laws.  But this year there is a renewed effort to finally pass the Equal Rights Amendment for all women; and trust and believe women, especially women of color, will decide this Presidential election.

Women have always made the difference, whether they’ve gotten their credit or not.  This is undeniably true in our Community.  We barely know our own history and what little we do take the time to know rarely reflects the contributions of the women who have made LGBTQ people as individuals and as a Community what they are today.

Here are but a few of the courageous, heroic, smart, tenacious, yet often sadly forgotten women who have led our Community.

Barbara Gittings (1932- 2007) Called “The Mother of the Gay Rights Movement,” Barbara Gittings was a lesbian/gay activist more than a decade before the Stonewall Uprising. In the mid 1960’s she participated in demonstrations in Washington DC against the government’s ban on employing gays.  She was instrumental in getting homosexuality removed as mental illness by the APA in 1973, and getting the American Library Association’s inclusion of positive books and literature about homosexuals.

“What do we owe Barbara? Everything.”

– Matt Foreman, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force

Learn more about Barbara Gittings HERE

Stormé DeLarverie (1920 -2014) Known as “The Rosa Parks of the Gay Community,” Stormé DeLarverie is one of the many people credited with starting the Stonewall Uprising on June 28, 1969.  She was also a famed drag king entertainer who MC’d at the Apollo Theater and Radio City Music Hall.  She remained an activist throughout her life and worked and as a bouncer becoming known as “the guardian of the Village” protecting her “baby girls.”

 “She literally walked the streets of downtown Manhattan like a gay superhero. … She was not to be messed with by any stretch of the imagination.” – DeLarverie’s obituary in The New York Times

Learn more about Stormé HERE

Sylvia Rivera (1951 -2002) Considered one of the pivotal figures who ensured the “T” in LGBTQ, Sylvia Rivera was a Latina transgender woman whose participation in the Stonewall Uprising  was only the beginning of her activism as she went on to co-found the Gay Liberation Front.   Most notably, Sylvia founded the first transgender political organization STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries) with fellow friend and activist, Marsha P. Johnson.  She fought tirelessly for the rights and inclusion of transgender people in legislation and in their own Community.

Sylvia Rivera is the only transgender person, male or female, included in the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian.

Learn more about Sylvia Rivera HERE

Bella Abzug (1920 – 1998) Known as “Battling Bella,” Bella Abzug was straight, Jewish woman elected to the House of Representatives in 1970 who became a “Gay Ally” decades before it was even a thing.  Most widely known for her leadership of the women’s movement and the ERA, Bella was a pioneer of Federal Gay Rights.  Representing the Lower East Side of Manhattan and Greenwich Village, she embraced her LGBT constituency, even campaigning inside the Continental Baths.  In 1974 she introduced into Congress the first Gay civil rights bill, the “Equality Act” which would have banned discrimination based on sexual orientation.  It failed to pass but succeeded in getting Gay rights into the national conversation.

“I’ve spent a lifetime in challenge. There’s no way in which you can create any meaningful change unless you do that.”  –  Bella Abzug

Margarethe Cammermeyer (b. 1942) Grethe Cammermeyer, RN, PhD, Colonel, USAR, ret. From her website, “In 1989, having served in the military for 25 years, Colonel Cammermeyer disclosed that she was a lesbian during a Top Secret Security Investigation.  She was ultimately discharged in 1991, filed suit and was reinstated in 1994 when her discharge was ruled unconstitutional. She retired in 1997, after 31 years of service… Colonel Cammermeyer worked for 17 years to repeal the 1993 Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell law.  On December 22, 2010, surrounded by hundreds of advocates for repeal, Grethe led the Pledge of Allegiance at President Obama’s signing the repeal of DADT.”

Grethe Cammermeyer’s story started hitting the press as I was coming up/coming out as a gay man and its impact on my life cannot be overstated.  At a moment when she was faced with the choice to lie or tell the truth, even though it would blow up every part of her life, everything she had worked for, she told the truth about who she was.  She showed me that’s what it meant to live honestly and proudly as a Gay man. 

But more than that, I watched her stand up to injustice and inequality and fight for her rights as an American and for the rights of every LGBT American.  She taught me that we are not to be second-class citizens in our own country.

In writing and researching this post, I discovered her website and that Grethe Cammermeyer is still as inspiring today as she was 25 years ago.  Read her posts about LTC. Vindman and Social Justice and you’ll see why. 

Thank you for your service to America and our Community, Col. Cammermeyer.

With deepest respect and admiration,

Lawrence Pfeil, Jr.

In honor of the women who have contributed their talents to theOUTfront, we’ve reposted the links to their inspired articles below.

Removing the Mask
St Vincent’s Hospital epicenter of New York City’s AIDS epidemic: Remembered
What It’s Like to Be Transgender in This City


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