Now Reading
The 4 heroes of the Stonewall riots you didn’t learn about in history class

The 4 heroes of the Stonewall riots you didn’t learn about in history class

Marsha P Johnson was a pioneer on the Stonewall riots

Marsha P Johnson

Marsha ‘Pay It No Mind’ Johnson

Marsha was the one who ‘really started it’ on the night of the riots, according to witnesses in David Carter’s Stonewall biography.

She went to the Stonewall Inn that night for her 25th birthday, and as a stalwart of the bar, was a focus of much of the celebrations. Like many trans women at the time, she performed as a drag queen.

During the riots, Marsha was observed dropping a heavy weight onto a police car – a powerful moment in the initial resistance.

Following the protests, Marsha took a pioneering role in the movement. She demonstrated on Wall Street in the 1980s against the extreme prices of AIDS drugs and was a mother figure to many LGBTI youths to come her way. She died in 1992 at 48 under mysterious circumstances, with her body found floating in the Hudson River. The case remains unsolved.

Stormé DeLarverie

Stormé Delarverie

Stormé was a butch lesbian whose scuffle with the police raiders was one of the defining moments of the rebellion.

A drag king, singer, bouncer and bodyguard, she was rumored to have thrown the first punch.

It is unknown whether Stormé was the one woman who fought her way out of a police wagon, but all accounts agree that she was one of several butch lesbians who fought back against the police.

Following the protests, she was given the moniker of ‘guardian of the lesbians’ and the ‘Rosa Parks of the LGBTI community’.

In her 2014 New York Times obituary, it said: ‘Tall, androgynous and armed…She literally walked the streets of downtown Manhattan like a gay superhero. … She was not to be messed with by any stretch of the imagination.’

Tammy Novak

Tammy Novak was one of many queer patrons

Tammy was an 18-year-old trans woman who, like Stormé and Marsha, was one of the first people to fight back.

She had lived with mob owner Fat Tony so was one of the few allowed to enter the bar in full women’s clothing. The bar was mostly made of a third white, third black and a third Hispanic with only a few trans women and drag queens allowed in, according to David Carter’s Stonewall biography.

Arrested and put in the paddy wagon for drag queens, Tammy escaped during the confusion.

According to researchers, it is unknown what happened to her after 1969.

Sylvia Rivera


Sylvia was a 17-year-old Puerto Rican drag queen and trans activist on the night of the riot, persuaded by Tammy to attend.

According to one biography, she was in the crowd that gathered outside of the bar. She is believed to have yelled: ‘It’s the revolution!’

She is cited with being one of the first bystanders to throw a bottle.

Sylvia was a founding member of both the Gay Liberation Front and Gay Activists Alliance, as well as co-founding the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries with her close friend Marsha P. Johnson. She dedicated her life to helping homeless young drag queens and trans women.

Other players included Allyson Allante, who was just 14 when she was arrested, as well as Diane Kearney, Zazu Nova, Miss Peaches and more.

But why is it important to remember them?

Danny Garvin, who was also a part of the riots, told NPR that before Stonewall, ‘we never realized how connected we were as a community’.

He said: ‘It didn’t make a difference if you were a drag queen, or if you were a leather queen, or if you were just a young kid, or if you were an older person over 30, we were all fighting for a right… to get back into the bar, to be able to dance, not be oppressed.’