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.