THE GRAN VARONES (Posts tagged queer history)

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the year was 1982.

new york began the year as one of the most dangerous cities in the united states with a record 637,451 reported felonies by the end of year into what is now known as the AIDS epidemic but before the urging of activists during a july 27 meeting a new york to adopt the term “AIDS”, much of the media, researchers and medical providers called it “GRID (gay related immune deficiency syndrome,” “the gay plague” or “gay cancer.” the city’s underground club begins emerge into the pop consciousness after the release of madonna’s debut single “everybody” becomes a club hit. however, new york’s gay clubs are still under siege by the city’s police who still routinely raid clubs. on the night of september 1982, the NYPD violently raided blues, a manhattan gay club primarily patronized by black and latino queers and trans folks. police locked the doors and beat patrons for more than an hour sending 35 club-goers to the hospital. police were never charged.

this is the new york that hector valle, a 22 year-old vibrant puerto rican gay man with a flair for style, existed in. hector was widely known throughout the community and dance clubs for his elegant and athletic style of vogue. while not formally a part of any ballroom house hector was enchanted by new york’s growing ballroom scene, and made the bold decision to start his own house – the house of extravaganza (original spelling until 1989). hector set out to recruit members from the pre-gentrified christopher street pier from the legendary queer dance utopia, paradise garage which would helped inform the xtravanganza culture. one of the first official xtravaganzas included a young puerto rican trans woman who later become an icon in her own right – angie xtravaganza.


the house of xtravaganza made their debut in 1983 and under the leadership and guidance of hector and angie, who served as house mother and father, the then not-so-experienced house quickly emerged as one of the most exciting new houses on the scene. as their popularity expanded, the xtravaganzas became a fiercely close family on and off the runway. hector’s pioneering vision was in full fruition.

in just two years, new york was rapidly becoming a different place. gentrification was beginning to change the landscape of new york’s nightlife and culture. madonna had emerged from the underground scene and was reaching pop icon status after the release of her 1984 sophomore album, “like a virgin.” And after the protest of black and latino LGBTQIA people and allies The NYPD was no longer raiding gay clubs but in the fever hystreria of AIDS panic has begun to close bathhouses. And by the end of 1985, AIDS had claimed over 5,000 people including the pioneering hector valle xtravaganza. hector was just 25 years old.

the house that hector built would continue under the leadership of angie xtravaganza until her own death in 1993 at the young of age of 28. by the late 1980’s, the house broke into the mainstream appearing in both time and american vogue magazines. the house was also prominently featured in the 1990 groundbreaking documentary film “paris is burning.” and two of the xtravaganza children, josé and luis xtravaganza rocketed to international stardom as dancers for the madonna, the singer who started her career the same year the xtravaganza was founded.

almost 40 years later, hector’s vision remains stronger than ever. the house of xtravaganza continues to be one of the most influential and iconic houses in ballroom history. one of the first houses to incorporate HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment messaging into their mission and vision, the legacy of founding father hector valle xtravaganza still shines. and for someone known for his flair, this makes perfect sense.

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About two week ago, I did the very rare thing of going live on Instagram. I asked my comrade and my good, good gurlfriend Abdul-Aliy Muhammad to join me as we discussed “How to Survive A Plague…Again.” For about an hour and a half, Abdul and I talked about what it was like to live through the AIDS epidemic as it was in the 1990s. We shared stories about bearing witness as our mothers navigate and provide support to those living and dying during a time when Black and Brown communities were left to their own devices. As a few dozen viewers watched and engaged with our Instagram chat, we shared how we were coping with the current COVID-19 pandemic and how we can honor and look to the work of poz activists of the past who created an organizing, mobilizing and survival guide for people surviving a plague. We landed on the Denver Principles.

So to continue that conversation and to honor the requests of several viewers who joined us during that chat,  here is Abdul-Aliy giving a brief history of the Denver Principles and how, 30 years later, the principles are still relevant.

The Denver Principles is a radical document, its contents fit on one page, but the words are sublime and pointed. The drafters of the principles stormed the National Lesbian and Gay Health Conference, which took place in June 1983. This conference, held in Denver, Colorado, would host the Second National AIDS Forum. At the closing presentation of the forum, Richard Berkowitz led the unrolling of a banner that read “Fighting For Our Lives” and read their declaration: We condemn attempts to label us victims” that “implies defeat” and suggests that we are helpless. “We are People With AIDS” demanding support and not a “scapegoat” to “blame” for “the epidemic or generalize about our lifestyles.” The crux of this declaration was to make clear that autonomy is still resident in our bodies, that we have the right “as full and satisfying  sexual and emotional lives as anyone else.” These words at a time when oppressive messaging told HIV positive people that they could no longer be fully seen as human because they seroconverted.

“Any revolution of the body owes its indebtedness to many enslaved people who found themselves at the behest of white supremacist structures of control, experimentation and intentional infection, such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.”

These principles changed the relationship between medical provider and patient, expertise and care were held by both the AIDS patient and doctor. It was a bold repudiation of paternalism and showed the variance between those impacted by the disease and the ever present judgment of caregivers.  Berkowitz and Michael Cullen went on to pen “How To Have Sex In An Epidemic” stating that “sex doesn’t make you sick, diseases do” and offering examples of how to contain STIs from a “closed circle of fuck buddies” to “jerk off clubs” in what became truly iconic writing. Any revolution of the body owes its indebtedness to many enslaved people who found themselves at the behest of white supremacist structures of control, experimentation and intentional infection, such as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment.

Today we face an unprecedented strain on the already inadequate and anti-black U.S. healthcare infrastructure. This problem, coupled with a president that seems to be wearing no clothes, makes for a deadly combination. The rationing of care to those who have severe symptoms, which is discriminatory, is already happening. In Alabama, POZ reports that the state’s “pandemic guidelines recommend winnowing out people with certain medical conditions” including AIDS. Black women are being told that they aren’t a priority for COVID-19 testing and then later dying of the disease. Recent data reveals that COVID-19 is killing Black people  in large numbers. 70 percent of COVID-19-related deaths in Chicago are of Black people. This is being reflected in New Orleans and Milwaukie.

This means that organizing around something that models the Denver Principles would be just as needed now as it was then. A nation in crisis will seek to allocate resources to those deemed desirable by the system. This means that communities who are already stigmatized, marginalized, and given shoddy medical care will be the most vulnerable. Elderly, immunocompromised, and houseless people will be ravaged by COVI-19 without movements organized to ensure they will receive the care they deserve. Incarcerated people are also at a higher risk for sickness due to the lack of sufficient sanitation behind bars. I think we should be demanding the following:

  1. Free and adequate healthcare that allows everyone the ability to fight for their lives.
  2. Care that isn’t rationed, withheld, or denied.
  3. The right to resuscitation and that DNRs (Do Not Resuscitate orders) aren’t universally applied.

Abdul-Aliy A. Muhammad is a poz organizer and writer from Philadelphia.

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long known as a mother, activist and defender of trans women, sex workers and undocumented LGBTQIA folks, lorena borjas dedicated her life to the liberation of those living on the margins.

lorena immigrated to the new york from veracruz, mexico in 1981 - just as the AIDS epidemic was beginning to ravage LGBTQ communities. the illusion of queer liberation that felt within reach in the late 1970’s was giving way to fierce homophobia and transphobia. these were especially dangerous times for queer and trans people. .

lorena survived systematic violence and abuse upon her arrival. in an 2018 interview with voices of new york, lorena stated “in those days, it was a real crime to be a transgender immigrant of color.”

fueled by her own experiences of injustice, lorena embarked on her path of activism in 1995 when she organized the first march for trans women in new york city. this then led her to develop support systems for trans women living with HIV, sex workers, and LGBTQIA people who were experiencing anti-immigrant violence.

in 2012, lorena cofounded the lorena borjas community fund. the volunteer-based project provided financial and legal aid to LGBTQIA immigrants. two weeks ago, lorena organized and set-up an emergency community fund for transgender people financially impacted by the covid-19 pandemic. the fund has since raised close to $18,000.

sadly, lorena borjas died from complications of covid-19 on monday march 30, 2020. her loss and the collective grief felt by those all over the country is monumental. today we are grieving and raging. today and forever, we honor and celebrate her memory and all that she so generously gave to the world.

rest well, miss lorena.

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people living AIDS formed coalitions for each other years before then US present ronald reagan publicly acknowledged AIDS. people living with AIDS mobilized to feed, house, nurse, care and fight for themselves and each other. they became their own researchers, lobbyists and drug smugglers. and this was done before the advent of the internet and social media. people with living AIDS created the template of how to survive a plague as governments willfully fail us.

one of the people who was in the thick of AIDS advocacy from the mid-1980’s until his death in 1990, was queer activist, author and queer historian, vito russo.

vito’s activism was threaded throughout his entire existence. always an out and proud gay man, vito’s activism began immediately after the stonewall riots when he joined the then emerging gay activists alliance. he would later independently organize camp-film festivals examining the representation of gay and lesbians in film. his 1981 book “the celluloid closet” was a culmination of this work.

as one of the first out-gay men to create and host a cable access show in 1983, vito’s commitment to challenging the lgbtq representation in medio led his to co-found GLAAD.

after being diagnosed with AIDS in 1985, vito became an active member of ACT-UP, one of the most influential and effective organizing groups in history. during a 1988 an ACT-UP demonstration in front of the new york state capitol in albany, vito delivered a passionate speech entitled “why we fight” (full speech) that till this day still resonates. especially now as we all are now surviving a plague.

“why we fight” is a reminder of who we are and all the power we posses as people. it is also a call to action to continue to organize and survive with each other – every step of the way. it is also a promise of hope that this plague will end and we will win.

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it has been almost 20 years since the death of singer and prolific songwriter, kenny greene. sadly, his death was shrouded in hiv stigma and biphobia. .

kenny greene was the dynamic mastermind behind 90’s r&b trio INTRO. born in detroit, michigan, kenny, was inspired to put a trio together after meeting two other singers while serving in the army. after being discovered by dj eddie f in 1990, INTRO began to groom their sound.

kenny wrote and composed most of their 1993 self-titled debut album. the lead single “come inside” cracked the r&b top 10 and peaked at #33 on the hot 100.

with their blend of sultry melodies, new jack swing and early neo-soul sound, INTRO became one of the hottest r&b groups of the mid 1990’s. kenny’s voice so impressed stevie wonder that kenny was given blessing by stevie himself to cover “ribbon in the sky.” mr. wonder himself even appears in the video.

kenny teamed up with dave “jam” hall to create “love no limit” from mary j. blige’s iconic debut album “what’s the 411.” kenny’s songwriting skills were so celebrated that he was awarded the 1993 ASCAP songwriter of the year.

through-out the 90’s, kenny continued to write for other artists, including 98 degrees, tyrese, will smith, and cam'ron.

in a 2001 interview with the now defunct sister2sister magazine, kenny courageously disclosed that he was bisexual and he was battling complications brought on by HIV. he shared the pressures brought on by societal expectations that he present as both heterosexual and the alpha-male. while many privately applauded him for using his story to raise awareness, many publicly condemned him.

on oct. 1, 2001, kenny greene died in NYC. he was just 32 yrs old. 9/11 attacks, kenny’s death received little media coverage. and outlets that did cover his death, framed his death around the how bisexual men or men on the “DL” were a danger to women.

kenny’s wake was arranged by close friends. his family did not attend. kenny was honored by the US army and is buried at calverton national cemetery on long island.

kenny greene is not a household name although many households are probably jammin’ to his songs. he honor his life and legacy.

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last week social media was abuzz with the “reports” that corona, the beer that i drink when i have too many long islands, was experiencing a financial hit because of the onset of the covid-19 (coronavirus). i wouldn’t be surprised if there was a small segment of the US population who were afraid of drinking corona because the fear around d covid-19, however, sales for the beer brand are actually up 5%. but if sale were down, it would not the be the first time a brand suffered because their name was the same of a pandemic.

ayds, pronounced exactly like AIDS, was a popular appetite suppressant in the 1970’s and early 1980’s. unfortunately, the products name, purpose and marketing strategy proved to be their undoing as the AIDS pandemic grew.

not only was ayds and AIDS phonetically identical, they were both associated with weight loss. however, while the diet supplement was used voluntary weight loss, the massive weight loss experienced by people with living with or dying from complications of AIDS, was associated with sickness, death and quite frankly, punishment. and with hiv stigma and hysteria at its peak, marketing the diet supplement was impossible.

by 1988, 20,786 people had died of AIDS complications. With the country at large beginning to come to grips with the sobering reality of the epidemic, sales for ayds declined. the product would be entirely removed from the market by 1988.

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a few days ago, i logged into this very account and saw that a mutual posted a meme that read, “900 people get coronavirus and the whole world wants to wear a surgical mask. 30 million people have AIDS but still nobody wants to wear a condom.” at first, i thought, is this a hot take that is so hot that even my poz ass doesn’t get? but after a minute or so, i’m like, “nah. this is stigmatizing trash.” sadly, i wasn’t surprised.

social media and even a substantial amount of the press coverage about the coronavirus has been anti-asian and xenophobic as fuck! hell, it was also even been a called a “hoax” by tr*mp. of course, none of this is surprising because AIDS history has taught me that people in power and those who write about that power, have at one point willfully minimized, disregarded and laugh about AIDS and the growing deaths of gay men.

in an october 15, 1982 white house press briefing, as the aids epidemic was growing already claiming 853 lives, journalist rev. lester kinsolving asks deputy press secretary larry speakes if then president reagan has any knowledge of aids - then referred to as “the gay plague.” this was the first public question about aids posed to the reagan administration. the question is met with laughter and disregard by both the deputy press secretary and reporters.

by 1984 the aids epidemic later became one of the most devastating pandemics in human history. all during the first term of reagan’s presidency. he was re-elected in an historic landslide victory. this was two years after a member of his administration laughed about AIDS. reagan himself would not utter the word “AIDS” in a speech until 1987. by then more than 20,000 americans had died of AIDS.

history repeats itself over and over.

so my question is are you laughing and making jokes about coronavirus? are you intentionally or unintentionally reinforcing stigma? are you just straight up being anti-asian? are you letting those in your family and intimate circles do these things? this kind of interrogating and examination is critical because what history tells us it that stigma and hate spread faster and kills more than most viruses

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pioneering and creating history is never easy. it is often only celebrated when revisited decades later and/or in remembrance of someone we lost. as a community, we sometimes struggle to give all of the roses to the icons who exist in plain site. that will not happen on this holy and joyous day! because today, we celebrate the 70th birthday of the The High Priestess of Love, The Queen of the Shameless Plug, The Empress of Pride, The Goddess of DC, The iconic, the legendary, rayceen pendarvis!

you may be wondering why so many titles and monikers - well when you have been part of the development of the historic house of pendarvis, an aids activist and community leader amplifying black queer art in washington, d.c. for almost four decades- and of yeah, when you are as loving and fabulous as rayceen, you are introduced in only the most iconic ways!


born and raised in the nation’s capital, rayceen was one of the founding members of the dc chapter of the house of pendarvis which became a place of solace and refuge for black trans and queer young people during the height of the aids epidemic.

long before “influencer” became a word in our everyday lexicon, people were drawn to and inspired by rayceen’s spirit and energy. in 1991, rayceen was invited to host the inaugural dc black pride. the event in now one of the largest black prides in the country.

rayceen, with the love and support of iconic mother avis pendarvis, became one of dc’s most sought after commentator, moderator, host and emcee. expertise that rayceen continues to leverage to create space and opportunities for black & brown trans & queer artists in dc.


rayceen pendarvis has received numerous honors, among them being recognized as a captial pride hero in 2016 and being a finalist in the mayor’s arts awards for excellence in the humanities in 2017. rayceen is the host of the monthly live event “the ask rayceen show,” where audiences are provided live performances, art and opportunities to network and build community.

today, we celebrate rayceen pendarvis and express our deep gratitude for the work, love and joy rayceen has so generously provided generations of black queer& trans people in washington, d.c. and beyond.

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on august 19, 1989 - 30 freakin’ years ago - madonna’s “cherish” made its debut on billboard’s hot 100. released as the third single from her “like a prayer” album, the doo-wop motown inspired “cherish” eventually peaked at #2 and that was due in part to the the sultry black and white music video.

herb ritts was already an established and much sought-out photographer by the material girl asked him to direct cherish. the mostly self-taught photographer was initially reluctant telling madonna, “but i’m a still photographer. i don’t know anything about film.” madonna, who even at that time had taken huge risks in reinvention replied, “well you have a few weeks to learn.” and that he did. herb conceptualized the video that gave madonna a softer edged helping her score one of her biggest hits on the adult contemporary chart. 

after the success of the “cherish” video, the photographer quickly became one of the prolific music video directors. here are five of my favorite herb ritts directed music videos. 


“Because Janet is known for her instinctive talent for dance, as well as being an all around entertainer, Janet and I decided to try something innovative on the video. The video is a departure from her elaborate dance production routines and focuses, instead, on her alone, She is fresh, sensual, womanly and vulnerable as she reveals herself to the camera. We wanted to show this intimate and more personal side of Janet” - Herb Ritts

“love will never do” was the record-breaking seventh single from Janet’s magnum opus “Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation: 1814.” the single reached the top of the hot 100 and it’s accompanying music video won for best female video  was nominated for best choreography and best art direction at the 1991 MTV video music awards.


in 1995 toni braxton was prepping for the release of her sophomore effort, “secrets,” when “let it flow” began to take off at both r&b and pop radio. featured on the “waiting to exhale” soundtrack, “flow” was released as a double a-side single along with “you’re making high,” the lead single from her sophomore effort. the beautiful ice and serene themed video was not given a wide-release as the label prioritized the visual for “high.” the video was later featured on her video collection, “from toni, with love.”


filmed entirely in black and white in puerto rico, this ritts directed music video is similar to his work on chris isaak’s video for the 1991 #1 hit “wicked games.” released as the third official single from her 1997 “butterfly” album, the “my all” video features scenes of the illusive chanteuse floating in the sea while laying in a shell. ritts was inspired by the sand botticelli’s painting “birth of venus.”


“telling stories” was a departure from ritts’ previous work. filmed on the same bus that the 1994 sandra bullock and keanu reeves blockbuster film “speed” was filmed on, the video plays on the song’s lyric, “the truth is in the space between.” released as the lead single from the album of the same title, the “stories” features tracy as the storyteller on a bus as the stories of each passenger is slowly revealed. 


upon it’s premiere on MTV’s afternoon teen countdown video show TRL on march 2, 2000, this music video raised eye-brows instantly. clad in cut-off jean shorts and a bikini baring her mid-drift, during a time when the media was creepily obsessed with whether or not she was still a virgin, the video featured the then teen pop-queen cuddling with a shirtless model. rumors swirled that justin timberlake, whom she was dating at the time, was jealous of the chemistry britney shared with the video’s co-star.

britney asked ritts to direct this video stating that she was inspired by his work on janet’s “love will never do (without you)” music video. 


herb ritts, whom was HIV positive, died on December 26, 2002 due to complications from pneumonia, just one month after his last music video, skakira’s “underneath your clothes,” was released. herb ritts was 50 years old. 

before his untimely death, ritts was a charter member on the board of directors for the elton John AIDS foundation. he was also contributed to many charitable HIV organizations, among them amfAR, the elizabeth taylor AIDS foundation, project angel food, and many more. 

today we celebrate his life, his art and his legacy.

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on june 8, 2016, after making national news for the pervasive anti-blackness in the gayborhood, philadelphia unveiled their new official pride flag. what made this pride flag notable was that it included black and brown stripes. while it was...

on june 8, 2016, after making national news for the pervasive anti-blackness in the gayborhood, philadelphia unveiled their new official pride flag. what made this pride flag notable was that it included black and brown stripes. while it was celebrated by many, it also pissed off many gays who said it was a publicity stunt and that the flag was ruined because it the additional stripes made it about race. ha!

in the two years since, the same gays who hated the flag are now the same ones waving it. mainly because the narrative about the reasons why the flag was created had been so watered down or frankly, just forgotten. .

here is a quick history.

in 2015, gran varones along with the black & brown cooperative, philly for real justice, act up philadelphia, journalist ernest owens and countless others began to sound the alarm on the anti-blackness and violence of gay club owners and lgbtq non-profit leadership. city officials discounted accused us of being the “problem” by “creating division” in the gayborhood.

spearheaded by the BBWC, we supported the successful campaign to get both the director of the office of lgbtq affairs and the ceo of the largest lgbtq organization in the state to resign. because of the campaign and strategic organizing and direct actions, the city created policies that would hold lgbtq businesses and organizations accountable for their anti-blackness. all of this was made possible but the same black and brown queer & trans folks who sacrificed their bodies, social capital and employment to demand accountability.

it was this radical resistance and organizing that inspired philadelphia to adopt the #MoreColorMorePride flag. yes, the flag serves as a reminder of black and brown LGBTQ+ community members but it is also a reminder of black and brown queers and trans resistance. this flag was a product of shifting an entire city to address its anti-blackness.

without the courageous work of the mentioned groups, sharron cook, christian axavier lovehall and many others,  this new pride flag would not be possible. may this be remembered 50 years from now.

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on this #MemorialDay, i am reminded of the 1988 “why we fight” speech given by queer rights and AIDS activist vito russo (july 11, 1946 – november 7, 1990) at ACT UP rallies.

may these selections serve as a reminder to those of us who were drafted into this war - we are not and we were never alone in our rage.

“Living with AIDS is like living through a war which is happening only for those people who happen to be in the trenches. Every time a shell explodes, you look around and you discover that you’ve lost more of your friends, but nobody else notices. It isn’t happening to them. They’re walking the streets as though we weren’t living through some sort of nightmare. And only you can hear the screams of the people who are dying and their cries for help. No one else seems to be noticing.

And it’s worse than a war, because during a war people are united in a shared experience. This war has not united us, it’s divided us. It’s separated those of us with AIDS and those of us who fight for people with AIDS from the rest of the population.

Someday, the AIDS crisis will be over. Remember that. And when that day comes — when that day has come and gone, there’ll be people alive on this earth — gay people and straight people, men and women, black and white, who will hear the story that once there was a terrible disease in this country and all over the world, and that a brave group of people stood up and fought and, in some cases, gave their lives, so that other people might live and be free.

And then after we kick the shit out of this disease, we are all gonna be alive to kick the shit out of this system so that this never happens again.”

Rest in power, Vito. You and millions of others would still be here had it not been for this government’s willful neglect and failure.

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may 21 will mark the 40th anniversary of the white night riots that took place in san francisco in 1979 after dan white was sentenced to just 8 years in prison for the murder of mayor george moscone and supervisor harvey milk.

by the turn of the 1970’s, the castro district of san francisco had become a queer & trans utopia that provided a sense of sexual freedom, liberation, and self-realization. however, both local and national anti-gay legislation & sentiments were threatening that paradise.


in 1977, miss america runner-up & florida citrus orange juice “queen” lead a successful “save our children” campaign to overturn a dade county ordinance prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation. that win launched a nat’l movement against the lgbtq community.


in 1978, harvey milk, the first out gay man to be elected to public office in CA, helped to get a non-discrimination ordinance signed in to SF law & was integral in mobilizing lgbtq folks and allies to shut down a statewide bill to ban gay teachers.

former cop dan white, who was elected to the SF board of supervisors the same time as harvey, was the only board member to vote against the non-discrimination bill. embarrassed and angered that his own bills failed, white resigned from his position on november 10, 1978.


in the following weeks, white reconsidered his decision and asked to be reappointed to his position. after being told during a radio interview that another person would be appointed to the board in his place, dan white set out to punish those he felt had humiliated him.

on the morning of november 27, 1978, dan white snuck into city hall through a side window & with a loaded 38 caliber smith & wesson,  and traveled to city hall. walked into the office of mayor george moscone, an ally of harvey’s & shot him 4 times, 2 shots to the head.

as dan white rushed through the hall searching harvey milk, he stop to reload his gun. when he found harvey down the hall, white shot harvey 5 times, two times in the head. the murders shocked an already devastated city who that just beginning to process the jonestown massacre.

in may of 1979, white was tried for 2 counts of 1st degree murder. however, the mostly older white & working class jury delivered a guilty verdict of voluntary manslaughter w/ sentence of just 8 yrs. for gay community, this was further proof that the justice system was anti-gay.


thousands marched to city hall to protest the verdict. some held signs that read, “pity for the privilege, death penalty for the poor” and “white(s) get away with murder.” as the crowd grew, the pain and disappointment quickly turned into collective rage.

outnumbered by the gays, cops retreated as the gays rioted at city hall breaking windows. when things subsided, folks headed back to the castro district. in retaliation, police descended onto the castro and invaded a gay bar later that night.


police violently struck gay patrons. still filled with complete fury and disdain of the police state and justice system, the gays fought back and set police cars on fire. by the end of the night, dozens of police cars were set ablaze and 20 people were arrested.

the white night riots are an important chapter in queer history. on the night of may 21, 1979, the san francisco gays challenged the police state and defended themselves from police violence. they set the city on fire.


the following san francisco pride, marchers held signs that read “lesbians against police violence” & “end police violence.” cops were seen as a threat to queer liberation. later that year, in november of 1979, close to 100,000 people marched in support gay rights in DC.


the white night riots signaled a continued a trans & queer revolution that was ignited during the stonewall uprising 10 years earlier. pride marches were political and even more so just two years later when the aids epidemic began its assault on the queer community

sadly, in many ways, the aids epidemic truncated the revolution that we were on the brink of by stealing the lives of those who knew our liberation could never be realized under the police state.



this pride season, may we all remember that the first pride was a riot. every culture shift for our basic human rights have been because of riots and direct actions. this year, honor black and brown trans women who rioted for us. remember the white night rioters by banning police

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blessed are those who mother the children the world left alone to mind themselves. blessed are the queens who build a queendom for these children to survive and thrive. pepper labeija was both mother and queen and on this #mothersday weekend, we speak her name.

born on november 5, 1948 in the bronx, new york, pepper became the mother of the house of labeija (pronounced la-BAY-zha) in the 1982 after the founding mother, crystal labeija died.

under pepper’s leadership, the house continued to pave the way both drag and ballroom culture. the family structure that has long been the foundation of black and brown ballroom houses was created by the house of labeija and pepper played an integral part of this.

pepper and the house of labeija rose to mainstream prominence when they were featured in the 1990 documentary film, “paris is burning.”

pepper spent most of her life providing refuge for black and brown trans and queer young people during and after the height of the aids and crack epidemic. like many of the house mothers of her time, pepper helped to cultivate a space where black queer and trans people could live out their fantasies and those fantasies included a universe without homophobia, transphobia and racism.

on may 14, 2003, mother pepper labeija became an elder when she died of a heart attack at the age of 54.


in a new york times tribute printed on may 26, 2003, douglas martin wrote, “pepper was the last of the four great queens of modern harlem balls; angie xtravaganza, dorian corey and avis pendavis all died in recent years. these four exuded a sort of wild expressionism that might make las vegas girls seem tame.”

happy mother’s day, pepper! thank you for all of the new earths you helped to create when ours was burning down.

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born on september 7, 1957, in columbia, ohio, jermaine, who was already a budding entertainer, got his first taste of fame when became a soul dancer after his family moved to chicago in 1972. jermaine became a local celebrity and when the show relocated to los angeles, jermaine, along with friend, jody watley followed.

by 1979, jody was scoring hits as part of the r&b group, shalamar. jermaine joined the group on tour as a background dancer and singer.


a chance meeting with boy george of culture club in 1983, not only resulted in jermaine providing backing vocals on the group’s top 10 hit, “miss me blind”, but the group financed jermaine’s demo that eventually landed him a deal with arista records

his debut single, the cheeky, “the word is out”, was released in 1984 and became a hit on the club circuit. it wasn’t until two years later with the release of his sophomore album, “frantic romantic”, that jermaine scored his biggest hit.

released in 1986, “we don’t have to take our clothes off” was touted by some as an “abstinence only” theme during a time when the country’s panic around hiv dominated prevention messaging. the song became a worldwide hit reaching top 5 in the united states, uk, germany and canada.

the follow-up single “jody” was inspired by his friend jody watley. while not a major cross-over hit, it did land at #9 on the dance chart in late 1986.

jermaine was able to bounce back in 1988, when “say it again", (still one of my fave pop songs of all time), peaked at #27 on the hot 100 and top 10 around the world. it was his last major hit before fading from the music scene in 1991.

on march 17, 1997, jermaine died of complications caused by HIV. he was just 39 years old. his burial site was left without a tombstone (it didn’t even have a grave marker) for over 17 years. jermaine finally received tombstone in 2014 after it was anonymously paid for by a fan.

jermaine, we remember you.

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the telling of our history can sometimes confine people to one of two categories: those who made history and those who were a part of history. often times, it is the former that is celebrated and amplified. it is because of this that we have to...

the telling of our history can sometimes confine people to one of two categories: those who made history and those who were a part of history. often times, it is the former that is celebrated and amplified. it is because of this that we have to search for any kind of proof that self-identified femme queens like jesse torres existed.

the story of jesse will not be found in a text book or on a wikipedia page. her story is found through the telling our other people’s story.

jesse torres, was featured in the 1996 bailey walsh documentary, “mirror mirror.” most of her scenes, which unfortunately are few, are of her speaking on the mic during drag shows while holding her purse.

to tell jesse’s story, i have to tell you about one of new york’s most popular trans and queer clubs, sally’s hideaway.


located on west 43rd street between 7th & 8th avenue, sally’s hideaway was frequented by trans women, sex workers, ballroom kids and all those that enjoyed a great drag show or pageant. owned by sally maggio, who befriended jesse years earlier, managed the club. jesse worked the door. many who remember jesse, recall her catch phrase being, “pay me back later.” she said this to anyone who couldn’t pay the door charge to sally’s. it was also her way of giving people time to turn a trick to the money to her back.

while the drag shows and balls (fun fact: the paris is burning ball featured in the 1990 documentary of the same name was filmed at sally’s) were the draw for many patrons, it was jesse’s welcoming spirit kept people coming back.

in 1992, sally’s hideaway was damaged by a fire. it would re-open just a few doors down as sally’s II, although most folks affectionately just called it “sally’s.” at this location, along with angie xtravaganza and dorian corey, jesse hosted a drag show.


by the mid-1990′s, sally’s would experience several blows that would eventually impact the club’s sustainability. the first blow was the death of club owner sally in october of 1993. jesse, who by this time was sally’s business partner, became the full time manager. the second blow was mayor giuliani’s aggressive “revitalization” of time square. the city forced many businesses and night clubs to shut down. sally’s was one of the last to go in 1997.

the last blow that would seal sally’s fate was the tragic and unexpected death of jesse in 1996.

there is very little proof in the digital world that sally’s and jesse existed. their stories continue to be treasured by those who not only called sally’s home but by those who survived the peak of the 90’s aids epidemic.

depending on how you read this dedication, jesse is either a person who created history or was a part of history. but by sharing a part of jesse’s story and speaking her name - we know that she did both. jesse created history that many are go grateful to have been a part of. 

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