By Diamond Raymond, Program Assistant
Today is “National Honor Our LGBT Elders Day,” a day first inaugurated by the LGBT Health Resource Center of Chase Brexton Health Care in Baltimore. Today we recognize the many LGBT elders who blazed the trail toward equity and justice and acknowledge that “the gains made in recent years towards LGBT equality sit squarely on the backs of those whose struggles and victories, extraordinary courage, and every day authenticity pioneered the path toward freedom.” If/When/How celebrates LGBT Elders Day by uplifting a few folks who have made incredible contributions to the LGBT movement and community.
Miss Major Giffin-Gacy, better known as Miss Major, is a “black, formerly incarcerated, transgender elder” who has served the trans and gender variant community for over forty years. In all her years of service, Miss Major has been a fierce activist and advocate, participating in some the most historically significant moments for the LGBT movement, including the Stonewall Uprising of 1969. Though now retiring from her position as Executive Director at the Transgender GenderVariant Intersex Justice Project (TGI Justice Project), Miss Major has vowed to never quit the fight: “And I want to assure you that while I’m stepping down as Executive Director, my mouth is not stepping down and I will continue to bitch and let people know what my community is going through. It’s difficult living in your truth, but what better way to survive? It’s important that we survive; we’ve got to come out on top.” You can learn more about Miss Major through her documentary, Major!
Evelyn Mantilla is one of the first openly bisexual American politicians. During her time in the Connecticut House of Representatives, from 1997 to 2007, Mantilla was one of few acting officials who were openly bisexual and a person of color. During her re-election campaign, after coming out at a Pride event, Mantilla ran a formidable campaign of integrity against a candidate who unabashedly used personal attacks and inappropriate literature, including statements such as “she rubbed her sexuality on our faces,” “she married a white woman who even took her name,’” and “she wants to teach anal sex and lesbian love in our schools.” Nevertheless, Mantilla persisted and won that election with 88% of the vote. We applaud her tenacity and fearlessness!
In addition to being a fierce feminist who has served as Executive Director of MS. Magazine, Helen Zia, the daughter of Chinese immigrants, is an award-winning journalist and scholar who has written books and articles covering Asian American communities and social and political movements for decades. While her books and essays alone have contributed significantly to the discourse on racism, sexism, and homophobia, in 1997, Zia herself “testified before the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights on the racial impact of the news media.” Zia is also a Fulbright scholar, one of the founders of American Citizens for Justice (a group formed after Vincent Chin, a 27-year-old Asian American man, died as the result of racially motivated violence), and an honorary recipient of a Doctor of Laws degree from the Law School of the City University of New York for “bringing important matters of law and civil rights into public view.”
In April 2009, Urvashi Vaid rightfully made it into OUT Magazine’s 50 most influential men and women in America. In the 25 years that Vaid has been an activist and advocate in the LGBT movement, she has fought for civil rights and justice in “legal, advocacy, philanthropic, and grass roots organizations.” Among her many accolades, Vaid founded the Boston Lesbian/Gay Political Alliance at Northeastern University School of Law, served as Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, and has been Executive Director of the Arcus Foundation. Today Vaid is CEO of The Vaid Group LLC, “a social innovation firm that works with global and domestic organizations to advance equity, justice, and inclusion.”
These folks are just a few of the many LGBT elders who deserve to be celebrated today. Join us in honoring them and all the others with your activism, advocacy, and quest for an un-sanitized history of the struggle for justice. As we lift up those who paved the way with their fortitude and endurance, we must celebrate and thank them for their resistance!