Marsha P. Johnson fought, and perhaps even died, for gay liberation. Although we still witness and experience violence and discrimination today, we live in an America that is vastly safer for gays and lesbians because of the life she lived. Yet the very movement that idolizes her does too little for black transgender women like her.
On January 14th, 1916, when Antonio Bellavicini went to his job as a bartender at 32 Sands Street (near the Brooklyn Navy Yard), he had no way of knowing that before the evening was out, he would be caught up in New York City’s early, inchoate attempts at policing homosexuality. At that time, the Navy Yard area was renowned for its lawlessness and – to those in the know – for its gay cruising. Sands Street, in particular, was so infamous that in 1932, when Charles Demuth painted an image of a john trying to pick up two sailors there, he simply titled it “On ‘That’ Street.”
there’s a lot of queer history to be explored in these working-class communities, but it’s not as simple as finding the gay bar in Red Hook they all went to. And because these folks were poor and queer, they rarely had the opportunity to write their own histories, so I often find myself reading "against" an official source, trying to ferret out information about queer life from an arrest record, or a medical report, or an angry jeremiad written for a newspaper by a straight person.