Major Griffin-Gracy isn't a household name even in civil rights circles, but the transgender activist more than earned the recognition, as Angela Davis suggests in the documentary profile Major! (9 p.m. Friday), one of the highlights of the Patois Film Festival, running April 14-17 at The Broad Theater.
Griffin-Gracy grew up in Chicago, was kicked out of college for wearing dresses and moved to New York City in the 1960s, where she worked in a drag revue. She was in the Stonewall Inn the night a police raid kicked off a riot leading to the beginning of the LGBT rights movement. Griffin-Gracy went on to serve time in New York's notorious Sing Sing and Attica prisons, the latter stint in the wake of the 1971 Attica riot, when she befriended one of the prison leaders, Frank "Big Black" Smith. Griffin-Gracy later moved to California and has spent decades doing outreach and advocacy for HIV and most recently transgender issues. The film tracks her unbelievable odyssey and focuses mainly on her community of transgender friends and advocates.
Across from the Stonewall Inn in Christopher Park, there are statues of two couples, two gay men and two lesbians, commemorating the start of the gay rights movement. None of the figures appears to be a person of color or poor or transgender. Griffin-Gracy, who has a building named after her, notes in the film that transgender people of color have been part of the LGBT movement from the beginning, but largely are still fighting for basic rights, particularly in terms of abuse in prisons. Griffin-Gracy's colorful and fearless personality shines through in extended, very candid interviews, and the film offers perspective on the way in which a marginalized community is being vilified in a wave of transphobic "bathroom bills" introduced recently in states including North Carolina, Georgia and Mississippi.
The Patois Film Festival also includes documentaries about Black Panther leaders in the 1960s (The Invaders), women race car drivers in the Middle East (Speed Sisters), New York sex workers (Red Umbrella Diaries) and other topics. Some filmmakers and film subjects will attend screenings. Visit www.patoisfilmfest.org for the full schedule.