Happy Pride: Celebrate California’s Transcestors
June is Pride Month 🌈💖! This Pride we’re inviting you to celebrate and learn about our transcestors: the trailblazing humans and events that led us to where we are now in our ongoing fight towards a world in which trans people are safe and seen.
People that would be considered trans by our current understanding have always existed in North America and across the world. European colonizers violently instated their own binary gender norms on the native peoples of the Americas, and these expectations continue to be upheld today. In 1990, the term “two-spirit” was coined as an umbrella term to refer to First Nations people and Native Americans who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, queer, transgender, non-binary, or gender-fluid. However, many folks prefer to use words specific to their individual language, tribe, and experiences.
Read Pride Month 2020: Perspectives on LGBTQ Native Americans in Traditional Culture from Smithsonian Magazine to hear voices from queer Native folks from tribes across North America.
Charley Parkhurst was born in 1812 in New England and assigned female at birth. As a youth he ran away and began to live his life as a man. He traveled West to California, following the 1849 Gold Rush. Charley became one of the most respected stagecoach drivers of his time, fending off bandits while handling a coach led by 6 horses through rough terrain – one of the most difficult and dangerous jobs during the Gold Rush era.
Read Charley’s obituary from 1880 in the Daily Alta California newspaper, via the California Digital Newspaper Archive. Please note that this is historic, primary source material. The author misgenders Charley and discusses trans bodies in a way that is unacceptable by today’s standards, but was commonplace at the time.
Compton’s Cafeteria Riot
In August of 1966, a patron at Compton’s Cafeteria in the Tenderloin district – serving primarily trans women and drag queens – resisted arrest and sparked a riot. The patrons at Compton’s Cafeteria as well as in the rest of the Tenderloin had been suffering abuse, harassment, and assault at the hands of police officers and that night they defended their lives, their community, and a beloved (and rare) trans-friendly safe space together. This historic event went completely unreported and was largely unrecognized on a national level, but it ignited local activism.
Stream Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria on Kanopy for free with your library card to learn more about this historic event.
In the 1960s, Felicia Elizondo was a regular patron of Compton’s Cafeteria, which was at the time a haven for young, queer sex workers like her. Moving forward, she advocated for the rights of trans women of color and worked for several non-profit organizations in San Francisco focused on support for the HIV-positive community. She also contributed panels to the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt. In addition to her activism, she performed regularly as the drag queen Felicia Flames and served as the grand marshal of the 2015 San Francisco Pride Parade.
Read a 2007 interview with Felicia Elizondo as part of the Library of Congress Veterans History Project. Elizondo discusses her experience serving in the military prior to coming out as a trans woman.
Stop Aids Now or Else
At 7:27am on January 31, 1989, protesters stopped traffic on the Golden Gate Bridge – the first time a protest had brought all traffic to a complete stop. The protest was organized by a group called Stop AIDS Now Or Else (SANOE) in collaboration with the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power, or ACT UP. The AIDS crisis affected the queer communities of San Francisco deeply since it first appeared in 1981; in 1992 cases peaked to 2,332 in one year.
There is still no vaccine against HIV, but advancements in medication allow many folks who are HIV-positive to lead healthy lives. Additionally, the introduction of PrEP in the past decade has greatly decreased the risk of HIV transmission through prevention. Sadly, due to global injustice, sub-Saharan Africa remains most severely impacted region of the world, accounting for 2/3 of the world’s HIV cases.
Throughout her life, Connie Norman advocated for medical rights – particularly for HIV-positive patients battling AIDS, but also in the name of other marginalized communities who were being ignored by the County of Los Angeles. In 1991, she lobbied in support of AB101, which did not pass at the time but would have prohibited employers from discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation. She also hosted the first commercial radio talk show centered on gay rights in LA.
In 2021 director Dante Allencastre created a film called AIDS Diva: The Legend of Connie Norman about Norman’s life and activism.
Tamara Ching is an activist for AAPI, sex worker, HIV-positive, and transgender communities. She was an original member of the Transgender Advisors to the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, and she has also served as an advisor to the Board of Supervisors, the San Francisco Police Department, and the Department of Public Health in the fight for trans rights.
Check out this interview (available as audio and text transcript) with Tamara Ching, part of the Stanford Pride Oral History Project.
In 1994, Susan Stryker published her first academic article – also one of the first articles to be published in a peer-reviewed academic journal by an openly transgender author. Her work as a historian and filmmaker focuses on trans history, and her filmography includes Screaming Queens, a documentary about the Compton’s Cafeteria riot.
Read Transgender History, Susan Stryker’s pioneering history of transgender people in the United States after World War II, which was recently updated as a second edition.
Honey Mahogany is the current chairperson of the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee, and its first transgender chair. She co-founded the Transgender District in the Tenderloin, named after Compton’s Cafeteria and the uprising that took place there, and she served as chief of staff to San Francisco District 6 Supervisor Haney before his recent election to the State Assembly.
Listen to a 2020 KQED spotlight on Honey Mahogany in which she shares the origins of her activism and political engagement .