'She Built NYC' Initiative Honors Two 'Women' Born as Biological Males


The “She Built NYC” award was designed to shine a light on women who had made major contributions to the United States’ most populous city. Seven women are being honored. Two of them were born as men.

Feminist victory? You be the judge.

As the New York Post reported in 2018, the initiative was spearheaded by Chirlane McCray, wife of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio. Given that statues in the city are 90 percent dedicated to men, she wanted a little more balance.

“Finding monuments that honor women should not be a scavenger hunt,” McCray said as she announced the initiative last June in Bryant Park.

“The number of women, both known and unknown to history, worthy of recognition in New York City and New York City’s public spaces is endless — which makes their exclusion so egregious and our campaign to honor them so urgent.”

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In the same article, Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen stressed the disparity.

“In Central Park, there are 22 monuments to men and one — to Alice in Wonderland,” she said.

“Not even a real woman, you know? Give me a break. Enough is enough!”

So, officials asked the people of New York City to submit their ideas for statues that would help balance this out. Of those names supported by the citizenry, seven were selected to actually be honored.

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The choices were pretty standard fourth-wave feminist fare. Curiously missing, though, was the top vote-getter — Mother Frances Cabrini, the Catholic patron saint of immigrants.

You probably know at least a few of the recipients.

Shirley Chisholm was the first African-American woman elected to Congress and also the first black candidate to run for a major-party presidential nomination. She was the representative for New York’s 12th Congressional District from 1969 to 1983 and ran in the Democratic presidential primary in 1972.

Billie Holiday is a jazz legend who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and has received several posthumous Grammys.

The rest are somewhat less well-known.

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“Elizabeth Jennings Graham challenged racial segregation well before the Civil Rights Movement when, on July 16, 1854, she boarded a streetcar that prohibited black passengers and refused to leave until forcibly removed by the police,” the She Built NYC website reads.

“Graham later won $225 in damages after successfully suing the Third Avenue Railroad Company, the conductor, and the streetcar driver. Her landmark case was the first step toward ending transit segregation in the City. Graham’s monument will be erected next to Grand Central Terminal.”

Dr. Helen Rodriguez Trías, meanwhile, “was a pioneer in pediatrics and public health who was dedicated to issues related to reproductive rights and HIV/AIDS care and prevention.”

She was the head of the New York State Department of Health’s AIDS Institute and the first Latina president of the American Public Health Association.

Katherine Walker, meanwhile, is credited with saving the lives of 50 people as the head of the Robbins Reef Lighthouse at the end of the 19th Century and first decades of the 20th. She helped guide “countless vessels to safety through Kill Van Kull, the channel between Staten Island and Bayonne, NJ.”

Fittingly, her monument will be at the Staten Island Ferry Landing.

So there are five women who were born as women.

Two, meanwhile, were born as men. Both Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera were individuals who played roles in the 1969 Stonewall Riots — considered a watershed moment in the gay rights movement — and helped found STAR (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries), an organization that helped homeless youth.

The two will get a joint monument in Greenwich Village, the New York neighborhood where the Stonewall Riots happened.

Lost in the controversy over Mother Cabrini is the fact that this was a selection process that was almost entirely done for political reasons, not specifically to honor women.

In some cases, that’s fine. I have no issue with Elizabeth Jennings Graham or Billie Holiday getting a statue; both were identifiably liberal and both are deserving of statues.

In fact, you don’t really get to the point where there’s a serious problem until you realize this is trying to define who a woman is as opposed to honoring women.

Marsha P. Johnson (birth name in 1945: Malcolm Michaels, Jr.) and Sylvia Rivera (birth name in 1951: Ray Rivera) could have received statues totally separate from the “She Built NYC” awards program. They didn’t.

While saying it publicly might not be politically incorrect, I’m sure more than a few women — even liberal women — were thinking about Deputy Mayor Glen’s quote about Alice in Wonderland.

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C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014.
C. Douglas Golden is a writer who splits his time between the United States and Southeast Asia. Specializing in political commentary and world affairs, he's written for Conservative Tribune and The Western Journal since 2014. Aside from politics, he enjoys spending time with his wife, literature (especially British comic novels and modern Japanese lit), indie rock, coffee, Formula One and football (of both American and world varieties).
Morristown, New Jersey
Catholic University of America
Languages Spoken
English, Spanish
Topics of Expertise
American Politics, World Politics, Culture