The latest civic recognition of transgender history and communities and decades of activism and civil rights battles for said communities last week when the city of San Francisco became the first U.S. city to recognize August as Transgender History Month.
San Francisco Mayor London Breed signed the declaration during a ceremony last Tuesday. “I am honored to join the transgender community today to declare August as Transgender History Month in San Francisco,” Breed said. “Our transgender community has a rich cultural history in this city and is so important to our diverse identity. San Francisco has been and always will be a place where everyone can seek refuge, sanctuary and safety.”
Transgender History Month joins Transgender Awareness Week and the Transgender Day of Rememberance as annual celebrations commemorating the history and legacy of trans communities, experiences and activism.
The proposal to decree August as Transgender History Month originated with Jupiter Peraza, social justice and empowerment initiatives director for the city’s Transgender District. Peraza told the San Francisco Examiner that the inspiration for her proposal is rooted in moving past singular narratives of trans existence that focus on “a sense of greif and loss.”
“(Transgender Awareness Week) is a very special week, but it’s a week that’s sort of eclipsed by a sense of grief and loss which I think does not do justice the joy and celebration and happiness we should be instilling,” said Peraza. “It’s important to let trans people know that their future is bright, they have potential, they come from lineage of revolutionaries, change-makers, trailblazers. When you remind people of that, it breaks barriers.”
Legacy of Compton’s Cafeteria Riots
Breed’s decision to recognize Transgender History Month coincides with the 55th anniversary of the 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria Riots. Commonly viewed as one of the first acts of trans rights protest, the Compton’s Cafeteria Riots remains one of the most high profile pre-Stonewall demonstrations of LGBTQ, and specifically trans, activism. Located in the city’s Tenderloin district, years-long harassment of trans denizens at the eatery by staff and the San Francisco Police came to head in August 1966 when a trans customer threw coffee in an SFPD officer’s face during an attempted arrest.
A riot ensued, with dozens of trans citizens of the city pushing back against the police presence at the cafeteria. Compton’s was picketed the following night, galvanizing trans resistance to erasure and harassment based on their identity. The area that housed Compton’s was officially renamed the Compton’s Transgender Cultural District by the San Francisco City Council in June 2017 as a means of highlighting the location’s role in trans history and activism.
Tuesday’s declaration officially recognized the Compton’s Cafeteria Riots as the first trans rights demonstration in U.S. history and Tamara Ching, a participant in the Compton’s Cafeteria Riots, was awarded a Certificate of Honor. “As we have proven, we are capable of transcending what is imposed on us, to attain lives in which we are authentically and exquisitely us,” Peraza said during Tuesday’s ceremony. “We are our own most prized possessions.”
Trans Leaders Weigh In
Other prominent local trans leaders praised the mayor’s move as well. “Transgender History Month is so iconic! I don’t think the broader public realizes how many significant contributions to history, culture, social justice, and of course, popular culture that transgender and gender non-conforming people have made,” said Transgender District co-founder and president Aria Sa’id. “On behalf of The Transgender District we are overjoyed to celebrate this incredible milestone.”
Breed also announced multiple budgetary initiatives specifically addressing the needs of LGBTQ and trans citizens, including a guaranteed income project for residents impacted financially during the Covid-19 pandemic and equity programming combatting violence and harassment toward trans individuals. Breed also announced announced the city will set aside $12 million to purchase a site for a planned “full-scale LGBTQ museum” in the city.
“San Francisco has long been a leader in fighting for trans rights and making critical investments to support our residents,” added Clair Farley, executive director of the Office of Transgender Initiatives. “This historic announcement is an important way to honor those that have paved the way for our movement and address the important work we have ahead to address the ongoing discrimination and violence facing trans and gender nonconforming communities”
“We are intelligent. We are compassionate. We are creative. We are determined,” Sister Roma of the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence added during the ceremony.