Category Archives: News

Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera

Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were pioneering activists and leading figures of the gay liberation and transgender rights movements.  Johnson and Rivera were drag queens and survival sex workers, and both lived lives impacted by the systematic poverty and racism endemic in the United States.

Johnson was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front, and is remembered as one of the most significant activists for transgender rights, although the term “transgender” wasn’t commonly used during her lifetime, and Johnson identified as a transvestite, gay and a drag queen, and used she/her pronouns.  She was on the front lines of protests against oppressive policing, including the Stonewall Uprising of 1969, and advocated tirelessly on behalf of sex workers, incarcerated people, and people with HIV/AIDS.

Rivera was a tireless champion for the rights of people of color and low-income LGBT people, calling for unity and sharing her stories, pain, and struggles to show her community they are not alone. She amplified the voices of the most vulnerable members of the gay community, and fought for the inclusion of transgender people in the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act in New York.

Together, in 1970, Rivera and Johnson founded Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR). STAR offered services and advocacy for homeless queer youth and, according to the Global Network of Sex Work Projects, was the first LGBT youth shelter in North America and the first organization in the United States led by trans women of color.

Even within the community of gay rights activists, Johnson and Rivera were often sidelined. They quarreled with gay political leaders who excluded transgender rights from their priorities, with Rivera memorably warning at one point, “Hell hath no fury like a drag queen scorned.”  They were advocates for unity, and in an interview from 1992 Johnson asks, “How many years does it take for people to see that we’re all brothers and sisters and human beings in the human race? I mean, how many years does it take for people to see that we’re all in this rat race together.”

These are just two of the countless extraordinary leaders of color from groundbreaking social movements who are all too often excluded from our national memory.  Learn more and become involved.

Sylvia Rivera Law Project https://srlp.org

Marsha P Johnson Institute https://marshap.org

 

RESIST!

Michael Stewart – USA for Africa, 1985

On September 28, 1983 Michael Jerome Stewart, a young Black artist, died after spending 13 days in a coma as a result of a brutal arrest for writing graffiti in New York City.  Only 25 years old, Michael Stewart was student at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, and well-regarded in the NYC arts scene.  Numerous artists and musicians made work in response to his horrific death in an effort to draw attention to the systemic and institutional racism endemic in our society.

Over the past week, we have witnessed a deepening of our national trauma. The unconscionable deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Sean Reed, Tony McDade, and too many others, continue and amplify a long history of racism, injustice, inequality, and violence. They come at a moment when the global pandemic is having a disproportionately devastating impact on Black and brown communities.

There are many ways to express grief and outrage in response to these injustices, making art and participating in peaceful protests can serve as powerful methods.  Confronting and taking action against systemic racial and economic injustice is the right thing to do; do it safely, and know your rights.

Visit Indivisible to learn how you can take action in defense of Black lives.

Following is information from the ACLU about your right to protest:

  1. The right to protest is a fundamental human right guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the First Amendment.
  2. If you get stopped, ask if you are free to go. If the police say yes, calmly walk away.
  3. You have the right to record. The right to protest includes the right to record, including recording police doing their jobs.
  4. The police can order people to stop interfering with legitimate police operations, but video recording from a safe distance is not interfering.
  5. If you get stopped, police cannot take or confiscate any videos or photos without a warrant.
  6. If you are videotaping, keep in mind in some states, the audio is treated differently than the images. But images and video images are always fully protected by the First Amendment.
  7. The police’s main job in a protest is to protect your right to protest and to de-escalate any threat of violence.
  8. If you get arrested, don’t say anything. Ask for a lawyer immediately. Do not sign anything and do not agree to anything without an attorney present.
  9. If you get arrested, demand your right to a local phone call. If you call a lawyer for legal advice, law enforcement is not allowed to listen.
  10. Police cannot delete data from your device under any circumstances.

Learn more about your constitutional and civil rights from the ACLU.

 

 

Larry Kramer, June 25, 1935 – May 27, 2020

Larry Kramer was a writer and activist who fought fiercely for people with H.I.V. and AIDS, first as a founding member of the Gay Men’s Health Crisis, and then through the more protest-oriented AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power, ACT UP, which he co-founded in 1987.  Though sometimes considered controversial, his passion and dedication as a public health advocate and LGBT activist was tireless and unwavering.

We urge everyone to learn about the life and work of Larry Kramer, and the ways in which we can work together to effect positive change, even in the midst of a global health crisis.

ACT UP FOR LIFE!!, 1989 Invitation to a Benefit Dance Party for ACT UP

Happy Birthday Keith!

Keith Haring would have been 62 years old today had he not succumbed to HIV/AIDS related complications in 1990.

Body Positive Cover
Photo by Kevin B. Smith

Keith was an activist as well as an artist, and frequently used his artwork to help draw attention to a variety of issues, including the call to end apartheid, nuclear-disarmament, and the HIV-AIDS epidemic.

In a statement in the magazine Flash Art in 1984, Keith wrote “I think the contemporary artist has a responsibility to humanity to continue celebrating humanity and opposing the dehumanization of our culture.”  His well-documented history of social activism shows his commitment to this belief.

Free South Africa rally
End Apartheid rally in Central Park, NYC, 1985.  Keith and friends distributing posters which he designed and printed.  Photo by Tseng Kwong Chi, 1985 © Muna Tseng Dance Projects Inc., New York
Anti-nuclear rally, Central Park, NYC, 1982. Keith and friends handing out posters which he designed and printed.  Photo by Joseph Szkodzinksi
AIDS mural Barcelona
Together We Can Stop AIDS, 1989, mural in Barcelona

The Chunk Called Poetry

April is National Poetry Month, launched by the Academy of American Poets in April 1996 to remind the public that poets have an integral role to play in our culture and that poetry matters.  Since then, it has become one of the largest literary celebrations in the world.

Keith Haring was deeply impacted by poetry, writing in his Journals in the Fall of 1979, “I have been enlightened.  I have fell into poetry and it has swallowed me up.”  You can read what Keith wrote about poetry in his Journals, which he titled, “The Chunk Called Poetry,” below.

To learn more about National Poetry Month, and how to become involved in the celebration of poetry, visit the website of the Academy of American Poets.

The Chunk Called Poetry

 

“All of this and my own life, too.”

Haring journals

“I’m trying as hard as I can to make some sense out of all this madness.  My life, my misguided love, my friends, suffering, pain, and little bursts of sanity.  It’s got to get better, I think, but it only seems to get worse.  How long can it go on?  And who am I to question it?  It’s not even a question of understanding anymore, but accepting.  I accept my fate, I accept my life.  I accept my shortcomings, I accept the struggle.  I accept my inability to understand.  I accept what I will never become and what I will never have.  I accept death and I accept life.  I have no profound realizations — it is blind acceptance and some kind of faith.   I am becoming numb to all of this, which is in a way even more frightening.  Nothing even surprises or shocks me anymore.  I am becoming very hard on the outside and even softer on the inside.  I have to get through this.  All of this and my own life, too.”

     –Keith Haring, Journals,  February 15, 1989

Keith Haring died from AIDS-related complications thirty years ago, on February 16, 1990.  Though struggling to make sense of the world he lived in, Keith continued to create until shortly before his death, using art as a way of maintaining hope.

One of the last works he created was a bronze altarpiece, cast in an edition of nine, one of which can be visited at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in New York City.

altarpiece
Keith Haring, Altar Piece, 1990

“CRACK IS WACK” Mural Restored

Keith Haring painting Crack is Wack, June 1986
Keith Haring painting Crack is Wack, June 1986

Keith Haring first painted his iconic Crack is Wack mural in June of 1986 as a response to witnessing, first-hand, the crack epidemic ravaging communities, and the ineffectual and devastating policies of the U.S. government’s War on Drugs, with its inane “Just Say No ” slogan.  While painting the mural he was arrested and fined.   Eventually, the first version of the mural was painted over, but in October of 1986, Henry Stern, the Commissioner of the New York City Parks Department, asked Keith to paint the wall again, with full permission from the Parks Department.

Keith Haring with Crack is Wack mural, October, 1986
Keith Haring with Crack is Wack mural, October, 1986 Photo by Tseng Kwong Chi , 1986 © Muna Tseng Dance Projects, Inc., New York
Keith Haring in front of south facing side Crack is Wack mural, October, 1986
Keith Haring in front of south facing side of Crack is Wack mural, October, 1986

The mural still exists as a statement about the impact of addiction, and the urgency to act in the face of suffering.

Visit the newly restored Crack is Wack mural and park at 128th Street and Second Ave.  Read the NYC Parks Department press release about this new restoration here.

Stonewall 50 and NYC Pride

Stonewall

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, which began the morning of June 28, 1969, when New York City police raided the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar on Christopher Street.  Among the working-class patrons who refused to be arrested quietly were the transgender activist Marsha P. Johnson and the gay artist Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt. The confrontation spilled out into the street in protests and violent clashes; the riots continued for days, marking a turning point in the fight for queer civil rights.

A number of  New York City institutions are hosting exhibitions about the Stonewall Uprising.  Art after Stonewall, 1969–1989, is an exhibition across two venues, the Grey Art Gallery and the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian ArtStonewall 50 at the New-York Historical Society; and Nobody Promised You Tomorrow: Art 50 Years After Stonewall at the Brooklyn Museum, to list just a few.  Learn more about the Uprising by visiting these and the many other organizations hosting exhibitions and events in NYC.

Coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Uprising, is New York City Pride Month, which culminates this weekend with the celebratory NYC Pride March this Sunday, June 30th, at Noon.  The Queer Liberation March, also on Sunday, steps off at 9:30 a.m., and seeks to be a more somber and inclusive march, casting a critical eye towards corporate pinkwashing.  To learn more about the Queer Liberation March, read its Why We March statement.  Both marches are free to attend and welcoming to all.

Happy Pride!

Happy Birthday, Keith!

Keith Haring 14 years old

Keith Haring would have been 61 years old today had he not succumbed to HIV/AIDS related complications in 1990.  He surely would have been hopeful and optimistic in light of recent findings that have led the media to proclaim the “end of AIDS is in sight.”  However, for many, access to medicine and healthcare remains a major hurdle in the fight against HIV/AIDS and other diseases.

According to the World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, “The right to health for all people means that everyone should have access to the health services they need, when and where they need them, without suffering financial hardship.  No one should get sick and die just because they are poor, or because they cannot access the health services they need.”

As we continue the fight against HIV/AIDS, it is critical that we understand that healthcare is a human right.