Thursday, October 18, 2007

The 1965 Dewey's Lunch Counter Sit-In

photo's Raleigh, NC sit in, Dr. Susan Stryker

The faith-based homophobes in our community continue to utter as they oppose our inevitable inclusion at the African-American family table the lie that we African-American GLBT people didn't take part in the 60's Civil Rights Movement.

Au contraire, my misguided friends.

The logistics of the 1963 March on Washington were planned by a gay man you may have heard of named Bayard Rustin. According to the late Coretta Scott King, gays and lesbians took part in many civil rights campaigns across the Deep South.

Thanks to Dr. Susan Stryker and Marc Stein's 2000 book City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia 1945-1972 ,we now have knowledge of another instance in which GLBT African-Americans stood up for their rights.

In April-May 1965 sit-ins took place at a Philadelphia diner called Dewey's Lunch Counter. The interesting twist about this protest is that it involved African-American gay and transgender people. It's probably the first documented instance of people protesting over anti-transgender discrimination.

Dewey's Lunch Counter was a popular downtown hangout spot for GLBT peeps. Citing the claim that gay customers were driving away other business, they began refusing to serve young patrons dressed in what they called 'non-conformist clothing.'

On April 25 more than 150 kids in 'non-conformist clothing' showed up at Dewey's in protest and were turned away by Dewey's management. Three teenagers (two male, one female) refused to leave after being denied service. They were arrested along with a gay activist who advised them of their legal rights, were charged and later found guilty of misdemeanor disorderly conduct.

Over the next week members of the Philadelphia GLBT community and Dewey's patrons set up an informational picket line outside the establishment decrying the treatment of the transgender youth.

On May 2 another sit in was staged. Police were called, but this time there were no arrests. Dewey's management then backed down and promised 'an immediate cessation of all indiscriminate denials of service.'

The Janus Society, the main gay and lesbian advocacy organization at the time, said this in celebration of the Dewey's events in its newsletter.

'All too often there is a tendency to be concerned with the rights of homosexuals as long as they somehow appear to be heterosexual, whatever that is. The masculine woman and the feminine man are looked down upon...but the Janus Society is concerned with the worth of the individual and the manner in which she or he comports himself. What is offensive today we have seen become the style of tomorrow, and even if what is offensive today remains offensive to some persons tomorrow, there is no reason to penalize non-conformist behaviour unless their is direct anti-social behaviour connected with it.'

As a person who has been involved for a decade in the struggle for transgender rights, it is deeply gratifying to know that African-American transgender activism isn't a new phenomenon. I'm estatic to discover another nugget of my African-American transgender history. I'm gratified to know that I'm a link in a chain that will eventually expand the 'We The People' in the constitution to include transgender ones as well.

8 comments:

Mes Deux Cents said...

Hi Monica,

That's really interesting. They were really, really brave to protest not only as African Americans but as Transpersons in 1965.

Wow, it took lot's of guts just to protest for civil rights for Black people. But for Transgender rights, I can't imagine what they faced just from the African American community.

Thanks, I always learn something reading your blog.

Monica Roberts said...

Ms Deux,
Contrary to what Bishop Harry Jackson and friends are spinning, African-Anerican GLBT peeps were front line soldiers in the 60's Civil Rights Movement at a time when THEIR rights as GLBT citizens weren't codified.

AS much as it pains these so called 'christians' to admit it, we are tied to each other by a shared heritage and culture.

Kelli b said...

Its a honor to be associated with these Americans.

transfofa said...

Hi Monica

Thanks for your commentary in my blog. I am a Portuguese Transsexual woman, as you already know, and in my blog I try to show most of the things that are happening around the world related to Transgendered people, specially with Transsexuals, of course.
It was a pleasure to find that you visit my blog, as I visit yours.
Sometimes I write things of my own, but as they are directed to people in Portugal, I only write in portuguese.
Please, feel free to leave comments anytime you like.

Truly yours,

Eduarda Santos

Jackie said...

Thank you for this info. These faith based homophobes are constantly trying to find ways to divide and turn people against us. This is so low and un-Chistlike, not that they care.
Thanks Monica.

Lisa Harney said...

I feel as if in a couple years, we'll have people describing the GLBT civil rights activism in the 60s and 70s as a half-dozen white men in business suits, sipping cocktails at a "respectable" club.

Everyone else will be edited out.

Erin said...

lisa: In a few years? :P

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