Stonewall was a riot. This has become the de facto slogan to describe the series of early-summer 1969 demonstrations that took place in front of New York City’s Stonewall Inn, the gay bar that became a battleground for the movement that catalyzed L.G.B.T.Q. rights in this country. Indeed, this historic rebellion is the reason we celebrate Pride Month each June. But as America rages on — against an uncured pandemic as well as its aftereffects, and for justice following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others at the hands of police — that phrase, “Stonewall was a riot,” has taken on new resonance: It’s an assertion that fighting, not partying, is the root of our story. And this year, as many join in protests chanting “Black lives matter,” we are reminded that the Stonewall liberation was led by trans women of color, including Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two activists whom city officials decided last year to honor with a monument, after decades of progress being too often attributed to mostly white gay men.
One of the joys of being queer is joining a glorious, creative, sometimes contentious, constantly shifting and growing tribe: under the L.G.B.T.Q. umbrella, the individual experiences (and still-all-too-common disenfranchisements) are both specific and vast, and yet it’s our collective struggle, our efforts to disband the heterosexual patriarchy, that ultimately binds and defines us. Whether through public protest, private art-making or just daily life as an L.G.B.T.Q. person, it’s defiance against society that makes us who we are. As the critic Jesse Green wrote in an essay for T last December about the queer artists across the spectrum who are reimagining Western history, “Each new microgeneration of gay people born to straight parents in a straight world must create itself and its aesthetics from scratch.” Perhaps, like the 1980s veterans of ACT UP, they adopt brash, direct-action tactics that force the government and medical community to pay attention to the ravages of AIDS; or maybe, like today’s lesbian chefs helming restaurants or transmasculine actors breaking out in Hollywood, they’re creating opportunities for themselves and others that challenge their often retrograde industries. The fight continues. And to celebrate that this Pride Month, here are eight stories we’ve published over the past few years about artists, activists and other individuals who are on the queer front lines — and will, no doubt, inspire others to join them.