When Yvonne Ritter was 18, she celebrated her birthday at the Stonewall Inn on the night of the riots. Ritter, who is transgender, was arrested and thrown into a police van.
She was terrified that her parents would find out who she really was.
“Yvonne was and is a revered trailblazer,” said Dr Barbara Warren, senior director of LGBT programs and policies at the Office for Diversity and Inclusion at Mount Sinai Health.
Ritter’s friend Scott Morrow says there was a time when there was real physical violence between law enforcement and LGBT people for the right to be themselves.
On June 28, 1969, the gay rights movement was born and the night Ritter, shown in a photo from the time with long hair down the front, turned 18.
She would go on to become a nurse, AIDS activist and medical reformer who saved hundreds of lives – but first that night she had to be released from custody.
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“Please let me go,” Ritter said. “My mom and dad will kill me if I get caught in this outfit.”
It worked and she was let go. In a very different way, she was going to free the others.
“I have stood up for a lot of trans people,” Ritter said. “Some younger, some older than me. I said, ‘Girl, don’t worry, no one can hit us.'”
Morrow said Ritter was a second mother to him.
“I am adopted as a child,” he said. “I lost a lot. My parents adopted me when I was 12, suffered a lot of abuse when I was a child.”
Dr Warren explains everything Ritter has done – and she has been helped.
“It wasn’t easy,” Warren said. “Remember too, she was LatinX and biracial.”
AIDS was killing people all over the world.
“Others went in full PPE, but it only went into it and held people’s hands as they died,” Warren said. “She has helped people across the country a lot, always with grace and always with humor.”
Next week, June 28, the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, Ritter will celebrate her 70th birthday, continuing to reach out to young people just like the young one she was that night.
“Just be yourself,” Ritter said. “You don’t have to play people games for who you are.”
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