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The Center on Colfax



"I want an attendant for my birthday" protest sign from the 1994 ADAPT protest against the American Health Care Association. October 1994.

The breadth of movements and political activism undertaken by women in the United States can at times boggle the mind. From fighting for accessible public transit to reproductive care, women have done so much to make this country a better place. And in many cases, queer women and women of color were the ones leading the charge. The women highlighted in this exhibit such as Laura Hershey, Valarie Papaya Mann, and Dr. Margaret Chung, often straddled more than one marginalized group, making their legacy even more important to highlight. It is due to the work of women such as these that there is talk of things like the possible development of an effective vaccine against HIV/AIDS, and women of color, such as Representative Pat Spearman of Nevada, reviving talk of the Equal Rights Amendment. In fact, the COVID-19 pandemic gave researchers new hope to the research of a possible vaccine for HIV/AIDS, something they have been trying to achieve for 40 years, using [m]RNA vaccines. It is through these movements, and the women who propelled them forward, that the modern women’s movement has made its foundation.

Through the push for intersectionality, the taking up of trans rights, and organizing events such as Take Back the Night walks and the Women’s March, the women’s movement has continued to encompass many other movements. Like before, there is also a split between today’s women activists. There are those who seek to be more inclusive and make it a welcoming space for all who identify as or support women, and there are those who seek to be exclusionary and more closed off from other social movements. Those in the second group would seek to exclude members of the trans community, and in some cases sex workers as a whole as well, believing that these groups either detract from the feminist cause or create opportunities for possible abusers to gain access to victims. Many of their arguments follow a similar line to those made by those who advocated against the Equal Rights Amendment.

In any case, early women’s activism has continued to inspire and drive the activism of today. Colorado saw the election of the first openly gay man, Jared Polis, to be elected the Governor of any state in the U.S. in 2018. This was almost 30 years after Tea Schook had announced her candidacy for the same office. In the 102 years since the Nineteenth Amendment became the law of the land, the ACLU reported that in the last few years alone “more than 400 anti-voter bills have been introduced in 48 states. These bills erect unnecessary barriers for people to register to vote, vote by mail, or vote in person. The result is a severely compromised democracy that doesn’t reflect the will of the people.” Even so there are those working to further voting rights. Stacey Abrams, currently a candidate for Governor in Georgia, and her organization Fair Fight, has worked to get people in the state registered to vote. The successes of those like Polis and Abrams can be almost directly linked to the work of women like Tea Schook and Dr. Margaret Chung. As it is, their legacy continues to have a long and important impact.