Heroes of Stonewall: Zazu Nova

Zazu Nova at a GLF meeting in 1970

The third name given by eyewitnesses at the Stonewall riots for the person who may have thrown the legendary “first brick” was Zazu (sometimes “Zasou“) Nova — and if I had to put money down on one of them, this is who I would pick. The sad thing is, there’s just not a ton of information about her and her name is often left out of conversations about the riots altogether.

Nova was a transvestite (in the common lingo of the day) and a sex worker on the streets of Greenwich Village in 1969. Nova had given herself the title “Queen of Sex” and was known to carry herself as though she were actually royalty. Nova was a practicing Unitarian, and was said to be quite proud of having a religious upbringing. It was rumored Nova had spent time in prison for murder — and though it’s definitely true that she’d been in prison, the why is all conjecture.

Whether or not Nova was a murderer, she was definitely a badass. One anecdote shared in the book Stonewall: The Riots That Sparked the Gay Revolution by David Carter (and coincidentally one of the only places to get information on Nova or on Jackie Hormona from their lives before the riots) relates that she and a man named Martin Boyce were about to get jumped by five men, when she pulled a heavy chain out of her purse and chased the five men away.

Now, Zazu Nova was not inside the Stonewall Inn when the police raided it. But Nova frequently worked Christopher Street, and the raid drew quite a crowd. Nova was absolutely present at the start of the riots, and absolutely had the, let’s say, gumption to react to the police abusing Stormé Delarverie. She was later seen fighting alongside Marsha P. Johnson that first night — which might explain how some witnesses believed that it was in fact Johnson who threw the brick even though she wasn’t there yet.

It’s very difficult to find much about Nova following the riots. She became involved in the Gay Liberation Front that was founded after the riots. She was also a founding member of New York Gay Youth and was involved in Street Action Transvestite Revolutionaries, the organization started by Johnson and Sylvia Rivera — though I can’t find exactly to what extent. What became of her after those organizations fizzled out, I truly cannot find.

And that’s it. That is all that I could find about someone who may be one of the greatest heroes of the modern LGBTQ+ movement.

13 thoughts on “Heroes of Stonewall: Zazu Nova

      1. Me too!

        I did find this snippet, about the picture above:

        “Zazu Nova, Gay Liberation Front meeting, New York City, c. 1970. Photo by Diana Davies, @nyplpicturecollection.

        “Diana Davies, the pioneering photographer and archivist without whom much of the imagery of the early American queer liberation movement would be lost, misidentified the subject of this photograph as Marsha P. Johnson, and it therefore has been cited for decades as an image of the legendary Ms. Johnson.

        “During interviews with queer liberation veterans for his “The Gay Liberation Youth Movement in New York: An Army of Lovers Cannot Fail,” however, Stephan Cohen correctly identified the subject as Zazu Nova, a founding member of New York City’s Gay Youth, a group that gave voice to LGBTQs between the ages of sixteen and twenty before they were allowed in other gay lib organizations.

        “Perry Brass (@perrybrass), co-editor of “Come Out” magazine, later recalled “one Gay Liberation Front dance when [Nova] jumped in like a torpedo, and once on the dance floor unhooked [her] bra and threw it into the middle of the crowd. ‘Now that’s women’s liberation!’ one of my friends said.”

        “Marsha P. Johnson and Zazu Nova were among the many pioneering trans women of color that helped found the modern gay liberation movement. As ever, @lgbt_history encourages those who are committed to honoring the pioneers of queer liberation to repost this image accompanied by a caption correctly identifying Zazu Nova. #lgbthistory #HavePrideInHistory #ZazuNova #WomensMarch”


  1. Thank you for this info on Zazu Nova I kept thinking this was a photo of a young Sylvester so I ignored it….but now I know about Zazu


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