The First Drag Queen Was a Slave and Powerful Queer Activist

The forthcoming book by Channing Gerard Joseph tells the story of William Dorsey Swann, America’s first drag queen and queer activist.

When we think of the beginning of queer activism in the United States, Stonewall comes to mind. The Stonewall riots (also referred to as the Stonewall uprising or the Stonewall rebellion) were a series of spontaneous, violent demonstrations by members of the LGBTQ community against a police raid that began in the early morning hours of June 28, 1969, at the Stonewall Inn in the Greenwich Village neighborhood of Manhattan, New York City.

But according to research begun over 15 years ago, a historical researcher, journalist, former drag queen and professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, Channing Gerard Joseph says queer activism began a century before Stonewall.

Joseph’s research at Columbia University led him to articles published in The Washington Post in 1888, detailing a police raid on a “Negro Dive” where Black men were dressed as women.

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