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Marsha P. Johnson (Left) and Sylvia Rivera (Right), Gay Pride Parade, New York City, 1973 Photo by Leonard Fink, Courtesy LGBT Community Center National History Archive
Equality

Honoring Trailblazers Who Paved the Way for the LGBTQ Movement

Two revolutionary LGBTQ rights activists — Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rae Rivera — were transgender pioneers that galvanized many behind the movement.

Thank you to Billy Lewis, Global President and Courtney Culver, Global Co-Vice President AMER of Outforce for contributing to this post.  

During June, we celebrate Pride Month around the world to honor LGBTQ history and their community. This year is notable with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, also known as the Stonewall Uprising — widely considered the genesis of the modern LGBTQ rights movement.

The Stonewall riots began in the early hours of June 28, 1969, when police raided the Stonewall Inn Bar and targeted LGBTQ patrons. At the time, there were few spaces for LGBTQ people to meet and congregate without persecution and harassment, so places like the Stonewall Inn were few and far between. It is said that these riots began when a patron “threw the first brick” at a police officer in response to the unjust raid. In the 1950s and 1960s, homosexuality was illegal in many states across the US. So, in New York, where the riots occurred, gay or gender non-conforming people frequently faced the possibility of arrest.  

Two revolutionary LGBTQ rights activists, who were often under-recognized and key figures during this time — Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rae Rivera — were transgender pioneers that galvanized many behind the movement.

Graphic of Marsha P. Johnson quote: “As long as gay people don’t have their rights all across America, there’s no reason for celebration,” said Marsha P. Johnson
“As long as gay people don’t have their rights all across America, there’s no reason for
celebration,” said Marsha P. Johnson
Graphic of Sylvia Rivera quote: "We have to be visible. We should not be ashamed of who we are."
"We have to be visible. We should not be ashamed of who we are.
We have to show the world that we’re numerous.
There are many of us out there,” said Sylvia Rivera

These inspirational transgender women of color were not accepted by their own community at first. The early gay and lesbian movement rallied behind the leadership of white cisgender men and women, leaving trans and gay people of color as outliers.

Still, they persisted and protested, leading the fight for transgender rights and inspiring countless along the way. Johnson and Rivera led rallies and mobilized their community, evangelizing the message of equality for all. They strived to educate others on the intersectionality between gay rights, transgender rights, and racial equality rights as one fight.

Sylvia Rivera fearlessly fought for transgender rights and knew no bounds. During a New York City Council meeting where a gay rights bill was being debated, she tried to climb into a window (in a dress and heels no less) to participate. She later went on to be known as the “The Rosa Parks of the Modern Transgender Movement.”

Sylvia Rivera ACT-Up 1994 march in Union Square Park, NYC
Sylvia Rivera leads the ACT-UP march
past New York's Union Square Park on June 26, 1994. Source: Shutterstock

Johnson and Rivera were viewed as matriarchs to the countless homeless gay youth during the 1970s in New York and founded the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) which advocated for their rights. Earlier this year, New York City officials announced they will commemorate Johnson and Rivera’s brave leadership with a public monument in connection with the 50th anniversary of Stonewall. To learn more about the history of the Stonewall Riots, watch the documentary below:

Stonewall Forever — A Documentary about the Past, Present, and Future of Pride

As we attend Pride celebrations around the world, let’s take a moment to remember the lasting impact from these unsung heroes of the LGBTQ movement.

At Salesforce we are committed to Equality — as part of this, we empower 12 Employee Resource Groups, employee-led communities that drive change in our workplaces and societies. Outforce is our Employee Resource Group or Equality Group as we call them, for allies in the diversity of sexual orientation and gender identity.

Salesforce employees participating in the 2018 Pride parade in San Francisco
Salesforce employees participating in the 2018 Pride parade in San Francisco

While progress has been made for LGBTQ rights, there is still much work to be done. There are 28 states without any explicit statewide laws that protect people from discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations. Outforce strives to promote an open and inclusive culture that empowers employees to bring their whole, authentic selves to work every day.

Belonging is a feeling of being wanted and safe in a community even if they’re full of people that are completely different from you.” Salesforce Employee | 2018 Pride Parade

Learn more about our journey and how to champion Equality in business: Salesforce.com/Equality.

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