The Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 60s, along with the counterculture of the 1960s, and the anti-Vietnam War movement made this time period in American history very contentious, as many social and political movements were active. This resulted in a large number of unlikely figureheads who paved the pathway for the future of minority groups through acts of moral courage. The bravery to stand by one’s beliefs and continue to abide by them even in the face of adversary is the basis of moral courage. Nobody displayed these characteristics more prominently than the men and women involved in the 1969 Stonewall Riots. The Stonewall Inn, at the time, was owned by the New York Mafia and frequented by gays, lesbians, and trans people. Legal discrimination and outright targeting was largely prevalent towards these groups, and during a police raid on the Stonewall Inn on a June evening in 1969, a crowd was attracted that was enticed to riot(Carter).
In this crowd was Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, a young trans woman of color who had been at the bar with a girlfriend. The Stonewall Riots were the unofficially beginning of her career in activism. The foundation of the LGBT rights movement and community has undeniable roots in Stonewall which is considered by many to be a historic turning point in the fight for LGBT rights, recognition, and equality. After nearly a week of more and more organized riots, the police conceded. Miss Major was not present for the end of the riots, for she had been taken into police custody. She later testified that she had been brutally treated and left with a broken jaw(Niazi). However, following the Stonewall Riots, two gay activist organizations began in New York, concentrating on confrontational tactics, and three newspapers were established to promote rights for gays and lesbians.
Within a few years, gay rights organizations were founded across the U.S. and the world. Today, June is celebrated as Pride month to commemorate the bravery displayed during Stonewall(Carter). Of the men, women, and genderqueer people present during Stonewall, Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, then only known as Griffin-Gracy, struck me as the most impactful.
Like many of the people involved, her activism did not stop after the riots, and it is crystal clear that she has always been conscientious, driven, and proud of who she is and what she stands for. Following the Stonewall Riots, Griffin became an advocate for prisoners rights through the 70s and 80s, directly addressing the mass incarceration of people of color, specifically trans people of color and those with lower income levels. Furthermore, she has voiced her experience and fought against unjust criminalization and police brutality(Niazi). Today, she continues this line of work through the TGI Justice Project, which “advocates for transgender women of color who have been through the prison system (Niazi) .” In the 90s she began working with the HIV/AIDS community after a move to San Francisco.
At 77 years old, Griffin continues to speak out for those without a voice. After the results of the 2016 election, she moved from the bay area to Little Rock, Arkansas, stating that the girls in the south, especially trans girls, would need her help. Miss Major Griffin-Gracy has been culturally and socially aware, fearless, headstrong, and therefore influential for nearly her entire life despite large discrimination, hatred, and adversary against her and what she stands for. I strive to achieve this level of socially awareness and activism for what I care about and believe in. Miss Major’s life and accomplishments make it obvious to me that I, a privileged, white american, have infinite opportunity to influence change, influence lives, as Griffin has influenced mine. My ability to take pride in my identity, feel comfortable with questioning, and accept those with different experiences in and with their identity, particularly involving LGBT issues and my personal identification with the LGBT community, is thanks, in part, to the work done by Miss Major. Through morally courageous action, the path for future generations of the LGBT community, my path, has been vastly improved by this phenomenal woman.Advanced morality can see that justice is universal.
People are not always treated in a fair and just manner, but Griffin has worked to bring society closer to this ideal of universal justice. As our country is so divided, and so many people are invested in the politics of being human, we can all take a page out of Miss Major’s book and strive to respect and protect each other regardless of identity. Moral courage does more than just protect the common good. It writes our history books, and paves the pathway for the future.