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This Women’s History Month, celebrate queer womxn who revolutionized nonviolence

March 25, 2019

The theme for the 2019 Women's History Month is “Visionary Women: Champions of Peace & Nonviolence.” The theme honors "women who have led efforts to end war, violence, and injustice and pioneered the use of nonviolence to change society."

Nonviolence is a personal and political practice that emphasises the revolutionary potential of refraining from using physical violence to enact political change. The LGBTQ+ community has a rich history of strategically harnessing the practice of nonviolence in order to protest for visibility, reform and acceptance.

Nonviolent action manifests itself through a vast array of forms, ranging from parades to sex-strikes (lysistratic nonaction). It falls under three broad categories of political address:

1. Noncooperation (social, economic and political): Proponents of noncooperation seek to increase tension by refusing or ‘failing’ to cooperate with an oppressive governing body. This form of civil disobedience is particularly powerful as it toys with the ideas of refusal or failure as valid and effective resistance strategies.

2. Nonviolent protest and persuasion: Proponents of nonviolent protest and persuasion seek to create lasting socio-political change by participating in symbolic protests. This form of civil disobedience utilizes the deceivingly radical - and arguably inherently queer - idea of existence as resistance.

3. Nonviolent intervention: Proponents of nonviolent intervention aim to interrupt ongoing conflict by interference; either by acting as an intermediary, or by physically position your body/ies to act as a barrier between the conflicting parties. This form of civil resistance adopts de-escalation as a political tool for resistance, intending to reduce violence and create space for possible reconciliation.

With this said, let us honour Women’s History Month this year by celebrating some of the tenacious queer womxn who revolutionized nonviolent action.

Celebrate Gloria E. Anzaldúa

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Gloria E. Anzaldúa was “a queer Chicana, mestiza, poet, writer and feminist theorist”. In her collections of poetry and essays, Anzaldúa challenges restrictive notions of identity. She was even awarded the Lambda Lesbian Small Book Press Award and the Sappho Award of Distinction (among other accolades), for exploring the experiences, frustrations and difficulties that people with marginalized identities face. In Borderlands/ La Frontera: The New Mestiza, Anzaldúa sheds light on ‘borderland’ identities - identities that often seem as though they have non-tangible borders encircling them: “women in Chicano and Latino culture, lesbians in the straight world, and Chicanos in white American society”.

Celebrate Audre Lorde

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Self-identifying “black, lesbian, mother, warrior, poet”, Audre Lorde explores the intersections of race, class, gender and sexuality in her works. Her teachings illuminate that “there's always someone asking you to underline one piece of yourself... They want to dismiss everything else…[But] only by learning to live in harmony with your contradictions can you keep it all afloat”. In her essay Use of the Erotic: The Erotic As Power, Lorde delineates the erotic as an inherently political source of power that is uniquely feminine. She describes the erotic as the nurturer of knowledge and as a driving force for change.

 

Celebrate Marsha. P Johnson
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Marsha P. Johnson is a central figure to the Gay Liberation Movement following the Stonewall Inn raid of 1969. She was a transgender activist, drag performer and prostitute, who worked to better the living conditions of LGBTQ+ homeless youth and advocated for the rights of HIV+ patients. Johnson was “black, queer, gender-nonconforming, [and] poor,” and so chose to channel her “[joie de vivre] into political action, and did it with a kind of fierceness, grace and whimsy, with a loopy, absurdist reaction to it all.”

Celebrate Sylvia Rivera

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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One of Johnson’s closest friends and colleagues was Sylvia Rivera. Together with Johnson, Rivera opened a shelter on East Second Street called STAR House (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries). Similarly to Johnson, Rivera was also committed to fighting for the rights of transgender people - especially those of intersecting identities. She was an unapologetic transgender woman, with an unyielding ethos to advocate for marginalised members of the LGBTQ+ community.

Celebrate Bessie Smith

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Bessie Smith was a highly-acclaimed jazz and blues singer of the 1920s; she was referred to as “The Empress of Blues.” Smith’s musical content was perceived as bold, considering the dominant social norms and prevailing views on homosexual relationships in the early 1900s. Smith was an unashamed bisexual - she was known to have slept with women whilst married to husband Jack Gee (with him aware of this fact), and she maintained relationships with both men and women during her life.Her music often subverted traditional notions of feminine sensuality, and even featured lyrics with overtly queer undertones. For example, the lyrics to her song “The Boy in the Boat” state:

When you see two women walking hand in hand,

Just look ‘em over and try to understand:

They’ll go to those parties

Have the lights down low

Only those parties where women can go

Kleio Kartalis is a GLAAD Campus Ambassador and a senior at New York University studying Global Liberal Studies - Politics, Rights and Development, with minors in Social and Public Policy, Philosophy and French. She currently serves as the Youth Engagement Intern at GLAAD.

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