top answer: Running head: THE WEEK LEARNING SUMMARY 1 THE WEEK LEARNING SUMMARY 3 We finish the course this

  

Running head: THE WEEK LEARNING SUMMARY

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THE WEEK LEARNING SUMMARY 3

We finish the course this week with an examination of what we all can do to help support the rights of all people, particularly those who may be disadvantaged because of the diversity group to which they belong. The resources this week focus on activism and allyship, which are differing but interrelated ways of supporting others.

Please respond to the following bullet points, using at least two of this week’s resources to back up your ideas:

· Identify at least three steps that you can take to be a better ally to people in oppressed groups. Based on what you read this week, why do you anticipate that each of these be effective?

· Several of the resources focus on activism and what still needs to be done to ensure equity for diverse populations. Choose one of the examples given. What are some concrete improvements for this group that have been made through activism? What are some improvements that still need to be made?

BEHS 220 Week 8 Required Resources

Axner, M. (2020). Section 5. Learning to be an Ally for People from Diverse Groups and Backgrounds. Community Tool Box at the University of Kansashttps://ctb.ku.edu/en/table-of-contents/culture/cultural-competence/be-an-ally/main

Garza, A., Cullors, P., & Tometi, O. (2016). An interview with the founders of Black Lives Matter [Video]. TEDWomen 2016. https://www.ted.com/talks/alicia_garza_patrisse_cullors_and_opal_tometi_an_interview_with_the_founders_of_black_lives_matter

Heumann, J. (2016, October). Our fight for disability rights—and why we’re not done yet [Video]. TEDxMidAtlantic. https://www.ted.com/talks/judith_heumann_our_fight_for_disability_rights_and_why_we_re_not_done_yet

Nepveux, D.M. (2015). Chapter 6: Activism. In Keywords for Disability Studies, edited by R. Adams, B. Reiss, & D. Serlin. Pp. 21-25. http://ezproxy.umgc.edu/login?url=https://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=e025xna&AN=992496&site=eds-live&scope=site&profile=edsebook&ebv=EB&ppid=pp_21

Richen, Y. (2014, March). What the gay rights movement learned from the civil rights movement [Video]. TED2014 Conference. https://www.ted.com/talks/yoruba_richen_what_the_gay_rights_movement_learned_from_the_civil_rights_movement

C H A P T E R 4

Direct Action, Collective
Histories, and Collective
Activism: What a Riot!
All of us were working for so many movements at that time. Everyone was involved
with the women’s movement, the peace movement, the Civil Rights movement. We
were all radicals. I believe that’s what brought it around.
SYLVIA RIVERA*

Key Questions

1. Does rioting work?

2. Does protest work?

3. What kind of person would you expect to lead a political and social movement?

4. How do intersecting identities work in the context of riots and protests?

5. How did the split between L, G, B, and T come about?

6. How do we honor all histories of activism without privileging one group over

another?

Chapter Overview

This chapter looks at political activism in the United States during the turbu-
lent and politically charged 1950s and 1960s. The story of transgender activism,
political movements, and coalition building is very much the story of intersect-
ing identities and intersecting oppressions. In many cases, the beginnings of the
legal reforms that support LGBTQ+ people in the United States today were brought
about by trans people of color who lived at the poverty level or who were home-
less. This convergence of being gender nonconforming or a gender outlaw, being

Haefele-Thomas, Ardel, Introduction to Transgender Studies
dx.doi.org/10.17312/harringtonparkpress/2019.01.itts.004
© 2019 by Harrington Park Press

* Sylvia Rivera’s interview, “I’m Glad I Was in the Stonewall Riot,” in Leslie Feinberg, Trans Liberation: Beyond

Pink or Blue (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998), 107.

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AN: 2010690 ; Ardel Haefele-Thomas, Thatcher Combs.; Introduction to Transgender Studies
Account: s4264928.main.edsebook

W H A T A R I O T ! 1 3 1

a person of color, and being someone who did not have financial security moti-
vated and gave strength to these early activists. But this chapter does not solely
focus on individuals who were part of historic activism; it also underscores the
importance of collective histories and collective activism.

This chapter is not just about recovering lost heroes or arguing which exact
person was responsible for a certain action. Rather, it is about the collective
conditions and collective disruptions that helped shape activism. At the same
time, it is also crucial to understand the ways that the LGBTQ+ community
winds up becoming split, often in such a way that bisexual people are left out
of conversations and transgender people are left out of important legislation,
such as employment nondiscrimination protection. Infighting within the
LGBTQ+ rights movement weakens us all; however, almost all civil rights and
human rights movements have become divided. In minority histories, there is
often an idea that there isn’t enough pie to go around. This sort of thinking further
silences marginalized people.

In looking at various forms of political action, from protests and riots to picket
lines, you will also be examining how various groups of sexual and gender out-
laws approached their need for recognition and rights. In many cases, another
binary is set up: people who worked within existing political systems and people
who fought for liberation outside existing political systems. Some questions to
keep in mind as you read this chapter: Can a person be radical and still work with-
in the system? Can those who work outside the system still bring about systemic
change? These were critical questions not only for the LGBTQ+ rights move-
ment of the 1950s and 1960s but also for other social and political movements
like the Civil Rights movement, the women’s rights movement, the United Farm-
workers’ movement, the American Indian Movement, and the peace movement.

Ultimately, this chapter asks you to think more expansively about history
and to understand that there is room for multiple histories. History is a living
thing. As such, it is ever-expansive and can be empowering if we truly let it be
all-inclusive.

Introduction: A Need for Collective Histories

Have you read or heard former President Barack Obama’s second inaugural
address, which he gave on January 21, 2013? If not, here is a portion of what he
said that evening: “We, the people, declare today that the most evident of truths
— that all of us are created equal — is the star that guides us still; just as it
guided our forebears through Seneca Falls, and Selma, and Stonewall.”1 With
this reference to Stonewall, President Obama’s speech marked a specific his-

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1 3 2 I N T R O D U C T I O N T O T R A N S G E N D E R S T U D I E S

toric moment for the LGBTQ+ community. No sitting president in U.S. history
had ever made a direct reference to the LGBTQ+ rights movement and struggle.
Certainly, no sitting president before President Obama did so in a positive light
and in the context of two other major historic moments in U.S. history.

Do you already know what happened at the three places President Obama
mentioned in his speech: Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall? Aside from the
nice use of alliteration (each of the places begins with the same consonant, “s”),
they also mark three specific sites, in order of occurrence, where major battles
for social justice took place.

On July 19 and 20, 1848, over two hundred women and forty men gathered at a
convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in support of women’s suffrage (women’s
right to vote). The two women who organized the event, Elizabeth Cady Stanton
and Lucretia Mott, were also abolitionists (people against slavery). One of the
men in attendance was Frederick Douglass, a former slave, an activist, and a
writer in the abolition movement. Like many others who attended the conven-
tion, Douglass understood the connections between the abolition movement
and the women’s suffrage movement. The result of the Seneca Falls Convention
(figure 4.1) was “The Declaration of Sentiments and Grievances” modeled on the
Declaration of Independence. The writing made the convention’s purpose crys-
tal clear: “We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are
created equal.”2

On March 7, 1965, a group of civil rights workers, which included people of
many ethnicities and walks of life (including several religious leaders), were
marching from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama, to secure voting rights for Afri-
can Americans in the Jim Crow South (figure 4.2). A group of state troopers and
other white county leaders physically attacked and beat them on the Edmund
Pettus Bridge in Selma. Although many of the marchers were left bleeding and
unconscious, on March 9 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. led another group back to
the bridge in protest.3 By March 25, and bolstered by military police and thou-
sands of supporters, the marchers made it to the Alabama state capitol, where
they delivered their petition to Governor George Wallace, who did not support
the movement. By August 6 of that year, however, President Lyndon Baines John-
son signed the Voting Rights Act into law.4

On June 28, 1969, in the very early hours of the morning, the police carried out
a routine raid on the Stonewall Inn, a dive bar in Greenwich Village, New York City,
that was often patronized by gay men, lesbians, bisexuals, and drag queens (the
word transgender was not in common use yet).5 This was not a wealthy neighbor-
hood, and the clientele of the Stonewall Inn (figure 4.3) reflected the neighbor-
hood’s racial, ethnic, gender, and socioeconomic diversity. Because the Stonewall

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F I G U R E 4 . 1 “Seneca Falls,” by Cameron Rains. The gathering at Seneca

Falls, New York, in 1848 was the first women’s rights convention in the

United States. Although the former slave, abolitionist, activist, and prolific

writer Frederick Douglass was an honored guest who underscored the

similarities between women’s suffrage and abolition, a group of African

American women was banned from attending.

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F I G U R E 4 . 2 “Selma,” by Cameron Rains. In March 1965 John Lewis and

Hosea Williams organized a march from Selma, Alabama, to Montgomery,

Alabama, as part of a Civil Rights protest. When the group of marchers

reached the Edmund Pettus Bridge, they were met by white law enforce-

ment officers, who beat them with clubs and attempted to drive them

back with tear gas. This incident was one of many critical moments in

the Civil Rights struggle.

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F I G U R E 4 . 3 “Stonewall,” by Cameron Rains. Like Seneca Falls and

Selma before it, the uprising at the Stonewall Inn in New York in 1969 is

seen as the critical moment that sparked the “gay liberation” movement.

If you look closely at the illustration, you can see that the other protests

covered in this chapter are also depicted. What stories can be told by

focusing on single historical moments like Stonewall? And what other

stories get lost when we focus on just one event?

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1 3 6 I N T R O D U C T I O N T O T R A N S G E N D E R S T U D I E S

Inn had a reputation as a bar that would serve homosexuals, drag queens, and
trans people (remember that these categories were not separated at the time
and that the word trans was not a category for anyone yet), it was a relatively
safe space for a variety of people who might not otherwise gather in the same
social settings. The mere fact that the police and the public saw them as sexual
and/or gender outlaws ensured that the inn’s clientele, on any given night, was
likely to be varied. The police raid itself was nothing new because in 1969 it was
still illegal for any place, including bars, to allow more than three “known homo-
sexuals” to gather together at one time. What was different was that in the early
hours of this particular Sunday morning, the patrons of the Stonewall Inn
refused to be bullied by the police. Their acts of resistance sparked a week of
unrest in the streets of Greenwich Village. To this day, we mark the events of that
night as the beginning of the LGBTQ+ rights movement in the United States.

President Obama was right to call out Seneca Falls, Selma, and Stonewall to
help him exemplify moments in history when everyday people in the United
States stood up to oppressive governmental and legal systems and said, “Enough
is enough!” In specifying these three locations, however, President Obama inad-
vertently underscored the cultural myth that one exact historic moment defines
a movement. But history is fluid; history is alive. The Seneca Falls Convention
was an extremely important stop on the long road to women’s suffrage in the
United States; but how many other discussions, meetings, and acts of resis-
tance among various women and men had already taken place before Seneca
Falls? (Certainly, there were many.) The march from Selma to Montgomery for
racial equality and voting rights was monumental. But how many other acts of
resistance in the wake of beatings and lynchings had already taken place across
the United States before Selma? (Again, there were many.) The Stonewall Rebel-
lion may have broken open the closet doors to usher in the modern LGBTQ+
rights movement; however, on how many other days and nights did LGBTQ+
people stand up in both small and large ways against police brutality? Trans
people of color were often at the forefront of these actions, but both main-
stream culture and gay and lesbian culture often paint these momentous and
courageous acts of defiance as white and cisgender. Doing so further marginal-
izes LGBTQ+ people of color, particularly trans people of color.

Go back to the beginning of this chapter and look at Sylvia Rivera’s quote.
Like so many other people, she was involved in numerous other political move-
ments during the 1950s and 1960s. Rivera’s point is that these movements,
although given separate names, were related — especially for some of the most
marginalized people in our society.

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S E X U A L O R I E N T A T I O N 1 3 7

Would You Like a Protest with Your Coffee?

When you think of the “all-American” diner or the “always open” doughnut
shop, the first things that come to your mind are probably not police raids, riots,
and protests. Chances are, you have a favorite late-night place to study or meet
up with friends. Why is it your favorite place? The answer could be as simple as
“It’s the only place open late” or “It’s the cheapest place in town.” Whether your
favorite spot is a student-run café on your campus, a quirky little espresso bar
around the corner, or the local diner, imagine yourself there with a group of
friends unwinding after a long day.

Now, imagine police officers suddenly coming into the café. They have their
batons in hand and demand that you all stand, go over to the corner, pull up
your skirt or pull down your pants, and show them that you are wearing under-
garments that are gender appropriate. You may wonder what the phrase “gen-
der appropriate” even means. Let’s say that the police decide your clothes are
not gender appropriate. They have a van waiting outside. They arrest you and
shove you into the van with a bunch of other people whom they deemed as not
wearing “gender appropriate” clothing.

The three protests you will read about in this section have several things in
common. First, they all happened in neighborhoods located in the impoverished
part of an urban center. In the two West Coast cities, the neighborhoods had nick-
names that exemplified the stereotype that they were poor and “dangerous.” In
Los Angeles, the neighborhood was Skid Row, which to this day in American slang
denotes a dirty and unfavorable place. In San Francisco, the neighborhood was
the Tenderloin; a tenderloin is a cut of beef. There is a lot of speculation about
exactly how the neighborhood got this name. Many speculate that the Tenderloin
was an area where vice cops took bribes to “not see” crimes (and because they got
rich by doing this, they were able to afford tenderloin for dinner instead of ground
beef). Another theory is that Tenderloin refers to a neighborhood known for sex
work (prostitution) and that the “tender loin” referred to the flesh trade. In Phila-
delphia, the neighborhood was downtown at 13th and 17th Streets near Ritten-
house Square. In the case of Philadelphia, the neighborhood itself did not have a
negative nickname, but the café on 13th Street in downtown Philadelphia was
called “fag Dewey’s” not only by people within the LGBTQ+ community who
frequented the café but also by the police.

In each of these places, the café or shop where the protest or riot erupted
was a twenty-four-hour spot that, because of its location, served a diverse group
of people especially at night. For example, it was not at all uncommon for police

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1 3 8 I N T R O D U C T I O N T O T R A N S G E N D E R S T U D I E S

officers, sex workers, and people leaving bars after closing time to all wind up in
the same café at the same time.

These neighborhoods also shared socioeconomic characteristics. After World
War II and the decade following (the 1950s), the middle class in the United States
(more specifically, heterosexual, cisgender, white, middle-class people) no longer
wanted to live in urban centers. Anyone who could afford to leave downtown
areas for the suburbs did so, and the collective result is known as white flight.
(Even blue-collar communities that were situated closer to downtown areas were
still not located in the urban centers, and they were still recognized as what we
would call “neighborhoods.”) So, how did white flight affect the city centers?

By the late 1950s, the majority of people living in the downtown areas of
major U.S. cities were some of the country’s poorest people: specifically, people
of color (particularly African American and Latinx, the gender-neutral form for
Latino/a); recent immigrants; and white gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender
people. Certainly, some LGBTQ+ people (particularly white but also some peo-
ple of color) who were in the closet lived outside the urban centers, but if they
wanted to find other people like themselves, they needed to go into the city, to
the “wrong side of the tracks,” to find the bars and clubs where they were at
least marginally welcome. Police often raided these bars because it was illegal
for two men or two women to dance together, and it was also illegal for some-
one to wear more than three pieces of “wrong gender” clothing.

The third, and possibly the most important, thing that these urban enclaves
had in common was their population of people whose intersecting identities
were part of the reason they were relegated to these areas. As noted earlier,
these areas were extremely diverse. For example, a young and poor transgender
African American person might have found a place like the Tenderloin or Skid
Row to be the only relatively safe space to live. It might have been the only com-
munity where the person could find a landlord to rent to them. And it might
very well have been the only place where that person could also find a commu-
nity. Suburbs were the home of homogeneous, mostly white, populations. Even
the more affluent neighborhoods or working-class neighborhoods with people
of color were still focused on heterosexual nuclear families. Thus, people of
color, the poor, the homeless, recent immigrants, and those who were either “out”
as LGBTQ+ or who went out seeking other LGBTQ+ people wound up in the
same places. Many of the poor people of color were also gay, lesbian, bisexual,
and/or transgender and might even have been homeless because their families
of origin had rejected them and kicked them out of the house — in many cases,
when these people were teenagers.

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W H A T A R I O T ! 1 3 9

It is also critical to remember that, at this time in the United States, several
anti-cross-dressing or anti-masquerading laws were on the books. If you were not
wearing the “correct” gender clothing, the police could arrest you. Note that the
word masquerade carries the assumption that the person is being deceptive. In
most states, being gay, lesbian, or bisexual was illegal. (These laws were known
as sodomy laws, and definitions varied from state to state.)6 As far as the police
were concerned, there really was no differentiation between sexual orientation
and gender identity. Often, people who would define themselves as trans today
historically called themselves queens, transvestites, cross-dressers, or butches. This
is not to say that all people who identify as queens or butches are trans, but it
is important to remember that queens and butches were read not only as homo-
sexual, but also as gender outlaws. We can make the argument that butches and
queens trouble the gender binary.

Homosexual acts were a sex crime in the same way that being a sex worker
was a sex crime. And many people who were LGBTQ+ also did sex work. These
areas of urban neglect were home to rich and complex layers of diversity, and
the people who inhabited and frequented these areas often did not have much
to lose socially. Many of them, like the pioneer Sylvia Rivera, had been kicked
out of their homes of origin at a young age. (Queer and trans youth still make
up a disproportionate number of homeless youth in the United States today,
and many of those youth are people of color.) The inhabitants of Skid Row, Rit-
tenhouse Square, the Tenderloin, and Greenwich Village had little more than
their dignity, which ultimately enabled and empowered them.

May 1959: The Little Doughnut Shop That Could!

Cooper’s Donuts symbolized a sanctuary for not just the gay population of Los Angeles,
but also for the overlooked transgender population. Their presence brought irrational
prejudice, violence, and judgement, but Cooper’s allowed them a space to take part in
conversations and be who they were without the fear of scrutiny. The gathering and
joint effort of LGBTQ+ people on the night of the riot is representative of the family
that Cooper’s created.*

Not long after it opened in Los Angeles’s Skid Row (a poor, predominantly Latinx
area), Cooper’s Donuts became the site of one of the first-known LGBTQ+ upris-
ings in the United States. During the day, the little downtown doughnut and
coffee shop was popular with the Los Angeles Police Department. At night, not

* Cooper’s Donuts, http://cdonuts1959.weebly.com/paper.html (accessed 2 March 2016).

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1 4 0 I N T R O D U C T I O N T O T R A N S G E N D E R S T U D I E S

only were the “graveyard shift” police officers customers at Cooper’s, but from
all historical accounts, it appears that this shop was also very welcoming to
drag queens and other gender nonconforming customers.7

Interestingly, Cooper’s sat between two gay bars: Harold’s and the Waldorf, nei-
ther of which allowed drags (another name for queens, cross-dressers, and
trans people) access because they were afraid that the LAPD would target and
harass bar patrons even more than they already did if the bars allowed gender
outlaws inside. There was an idea that if everyone came to the bar wearing gender-
appropriate clothing, then the police might not raid as often. (At the time, Los
Angeles had strict anti-cross-dressing and anti-masquerading laws.) So if trans
people were denied access to the gay bars, then the bars might not fall under
police scrutiny. In reality, the police merely waited outside the bars and then
followed male couples and arrested them under the anti-sodomy laws.

Although there was some racial segregation at the gay bars, generally speak-
ing, the lines of exclusion fell more on the “gender-appropriate” dress spectrum.
In fact, in Los Angeles as early as 1951, a group known as Knights of the Clock
was formed to help support interracial gay couples who faced racist and
homophobic discrimination in housing and other services.8

By all accounts, though, Cooper’s was a friendly place for many people who
had nowhere else safe to go in the middle of the night: sex workers, hustlers,
trans people, drag queens, butch lesbians — and most of the people in these
categories were people of color. Then, one evening in May 1959, the police
entered the shop and demanded that everyone show their identification. It
should also be noted here that the LAPD in 1959 was white, presumed to be
heterosexual, and cisgender male. If the sex on the customer’s I.D. did not
match their gender presentation, they were arrested. The group arrested that
night were predominantly people of color, and all were wearing enough “wrong
clothing” to be hauled out to the police cruiser.

One of those arrested was the now-famous Chicano author John Rechy, who
wrote about the event in his classic 1963 novel, City of Night.9 Once out at the
patrol car, the group resisted. The other patrons of Cooper’s, who had watched
the arrests with anger and horror but resignation because they were used to
such harassment, became empowered when the arrestees at the patrol car
began to resist. Bolstered by the shift in energy, they ran out of Cooper’s and
started throwing doughnuts, cups of coffee, and garbage at the officers. The
police dumped the people they had arrested onto the pavement and fled the
scene, only to return with reinforcements.

The police went to get more help, but the people at Cooper’s also wound up with

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W H A T A R I O T ! 1 4 1

reinforcements: people started streaming out of Harold’s and the Waldorf, and they
tried to overturn the police vehicle. According to one account, a couple of the drag
queens enlivened everyone’s mood as they danced around the police car. The
riot ended when Main Street was closed to clean up the mess the next day.10

The incident at Cooper’s Donuts may seem to be a small blip on the radar, but
it is a representative moment in L.A.’s history of clashes between white, male,
heteronormative uniformed authorities and minority groups violating the anti-
masquerading laws, which the police enforced very broadly. The decade before
the riot at Cooper’s, over a ten-day period in June 1943, the Los Angeles neigh-
borhoods of Chinatown, Chavez Ravine, East Los Angeles, and Watts (all neighbor-
hoods and communities that were predominantly immigrant, Asian American,
Mexican American, and/or African American) were swarmed by white military
men who came from bases around Los Angeles, San Diego, and Las Vegas and
were joined by other white civilians. These squads of servicemen and civilians
broke into private homes, dragged people off public transit, and bombarded
businesses to physically assault people because of their clothing. This ten-day
period in L.A.’s history is now known as the Zoot Suit Riots.11

Zoot suits were a fashion in the 1940s. A zoot suit was basically a nice man’s
suit that was made overly large and baggy. Although young people of all ethnic-
ities and races wore this style, Mexican Americans, in particular, were targeted
by the white authorities because the clothes were seen as “un-American,” not “gen-
der normative” (because they exaggerated a gender “norm”), and a violation of
anti-masquerading laws. During the Zoot Suit Riots, the servicemen hauled the
youths out into the street, forced them onto the ground, shaved their heads,
ripped their clothing off, and beat them up. The servicemen were making a violent
statement that the “Zoot Suiters” were not wearing the “appropriate” clothing.

In one instance, the police arrested a group of three Mexican American
women for what we could call a double anti-masquerading law violation: not
only were the women wearing zoot suits, but instead of wearing the women’s
version of the suit that included a skirt, these women were wearing pants,
which was viewed as masculine and as an act of cross-dressing rebellion.12

Although she was too young to have been a part of the Zoot Suit Riots, Nancy
Valverde, a butch Chicanx barber in East Los Angeles, was repeatedly arrested
throughout the 1950s by LAPD on these same anti-masquerading laws: “When I
was about seventeen, I got picked up for masquerading . . . [by the police]. I said,
‘What the heck is that?’” Nancy always wore trousers and loose button-down
shirts. Although her outfit was not exactly the same as a zoot suit, the similarity
was there. One of her arrests led to a three-month imprisonment.

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April 1965: The Quaker City’s Collaborative Sit-In

This Dewey’s was near to the bars on 13th, Camac, and Chancellor Streets and it
was open all night. It was the perfect hangout after the bars and the after hours
clubs closed. Widely known as the “fag” Dewey’s, it was noisily packed late into the
night with a whole spectrum of drag queens, hustlers, dykes, leather men and Philly
cops looking for a cup of coffee, a cross section of life on 13th Street.*

Like Cooper’s Donuts on Skid Row in Los Angeles, the all-night counter service
restaurant Dewey’s Famous on 13th Street in Philadelphia was a bustling and
welcoming place for people from all walks of life. Although the writer uses the
derogatory term “fag,” it is clear from the above quote that the term is being used
by someone from within the LGBTQ+ community. “Fag” Dewey’s was probably
the nickname given to the coffee shop by people from that community. Note
that the author describes this location as a “perfect hangout” and points out that
a very diverse group of people felt comfortable there, including police officers.

Philadelphia has been deeply influenced by Quaker philosophy, which, in its
broadest ideals, embraces pacifism and focuses on making decisions through
discussion and consent rather than hierarchy. Along with the Quakers, Philadel-
phia, also known as “The City of Brotherly Love,” was home to over half a million
African Americans by 1965. It was also home to over 60,000 Puerto Ricans and
a growing Jewish community. So it stands to reason that the clientele at Dewey’s
was ethnically diverse. Like L.A.’s Skid Row, inner-city Philadelphia was home to
a predominantly poor population.13

According to various accounts, the managers of other Dewey’s Famous loca-
tions all knew that the 13th Street Dewey’s was welcoming to all people; how-
ever, they did not want their other lunch counters to be quite so accommodating.
When the Dewey’s Famous only a few blocks away on 17th Street near Ritten-
house Square also started to attract a large homosexual clientele (remember
that homosexual was the general term used for all gender and sexual minorities),
the management told the wait staff to refuse service to anyone who looked
homosexual or who was wearing gender-nonconforming clothing — in other
words, anyone who looked as though they were transgressing the gender binary.14

According to one newspaper account at that time, some of the people work-
ing at the 17th Street Dewey’s got carried away with the management’s request
and began refusing service to all sorts of people. In this instance, instead of a

* Bob Skiba, “Dewey’s Famous,” Philadelphia Gayborhood Guru, https://thegayborhoodguru.wordpress.com

/2013/01/28/deweys-famous/ (accessed 29 February 2016).

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W H A T A R I O T ! 1 4 3

riot’s erupting, the Janus Society (one of Philadelphia’s early gay-rights groups)
stood outside Dewey’s handing out information about why a lunch counter
sit-in was planned for the following week.

True to their word, the following week, 150 people from the various commu-
nities in that area of Philadelphia — people of different ethnicities, sexual orien-
tations, and gender identities — came into Dewey’s Famous cross-dressed, or
wearing “gender inappropriate” clothing, and sat in until the police arrived.
Almost everyone left peacefully, but a small number of people were arrested and
then released. “The concept of a sit-in was really tied to the 1960s black civil-
rights protests that were going on and with the era of civil disobedience,” says
Bob Skiba, archivist at the William Way LGBT Community Center in Philadelphia.
“There were so many demonstrations around the city [Philadelphia], for racial
equality and against the Vietnam War.”15

The Dewey’s sit-in was a success on two fronts. First, employees at Dewey’s
Famous locations throughout Philadelphia started serving everyone who came
in regardless of their gender expression. Second, and perhaps more important,
the sit-in at Dewey’s underscores what happens when many parts of a commu-
nity come together to make change. Imagine that: in 1965, 150 people regard-
less of their identity chose to wear “gender inappropriate” clothing and have a
sit-in at a twenty-four-hour diner. They may not have been aware of it at the time,
but their actions were the latest in a long line of historical social-justice-ori-
ented protests carried out by everyday people against oppressive systems in the
seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries.

The African American trans activist, scholar, and blogger Monica Roberts
writes the following about the importance of the Dewey’s protests: “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 [sic] 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.”16

A little more than five years after Monica Roberts wrote this on her blog,
TransGriot, in 2007, President Obama echoed her sentiment when he referred to
Stonewall. In response to Monica Roberts’s blog, however, some commenters
claimed that it was specifically white cisgender gay men and lesbians who car-
ried out the sit-in at Dewey’s Famous in 1965, even though other historians,
such as Mark Stein and Susan Stryker, have persuasively argued that the crowd
was gender and racially diverse.17

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1 4 4 I N T R O D U C T I O N T O T R A N S G E N D E R S T U D I E S

There are some interesting questions that this disagreement over the history
of the sit-in at Dewey’s raises: Who gets to record history? Why are some parts
of history saved while other parts fall to the wayside? What is at stake when peo-
ple are denied a history? Why would people who are already marginalized want
to silence other members of their community?

August 1966: The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot —
“All the Sugar Shakers Went through the Windows! ”18

Despite its relatively small size, San Francisco is a bustling international city. Its
forty-seven square miles encompass immigrants from all over the world. By the
1960s, it had one of the largest Chinatowns in the West. As a port city, San Fran-
cisco had a reputation for being a little more “loose” than other major American
cities. In 1967 San Francisco was home to the “Summer of Love” as over 100,000
hippies, flower children, and other people protesting against “the establish-
ment” descended on the city. A year earlier, however, in 1966, San Francisco was
the site of yet another riot involving gender transgression.

The summer after the peaceful sit-in at Dewey’s Famous in Philadelphia,
another uprising against police harassment occurred in the Tenderloin neigh-
borhood in San Francisco, a neighborhood very similar to Skid Row in Los Angeles.
Gene Compton’s Cafeteria, a twenty-four-hour diner on the corner of Turk and
Taylor Streets, was a safe space for many people in San Francisco, especially the
large number of trans women and queer street youths, many of whom had
been kicked out of their homes of origin because they were LGBTQ+. As Felicia
Flame, a Vietnam navy combat veteran, AIDS activist and survivor, and trans
resident in the Tenderloin in 1966 says: “It was just one of those ordinary nights
when all of the girls would come to Compton’s to drink coffee or just hang
around to see what the night would bring. Every night at around two or three,
we [“the girls,” that is, trans women] would gather around to make sure we had
made it through the night.”19

For Felicia Flame, her trans sisters, and many LGBTQ+ street youths, Comp-
ton’s was a beacon in the night. The café offered a bright, clean, and safe place
for people who often had nowhere else to go to stay warm, dry, and protected.
Here patrons could get a cup of coffee, some toast, and an egg for under two
dollars.20 Just as the night at Cooper’s Donuts had seven years earlier, the night
of the Compton’s riot started like so many others. The police officers from the
vice squad decided to enter the diner and require anyone who looked like they
were violating the anti-masquerading laws to show identification. But on this
night in August 1966, Compton’s erupted in violence when the patrons fought

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W H A T A R I O T ! 1 4 5

back against the police. Grabbing cups of coffee, saucers, purses, shoes, and any-
thing else they could get their hands on, they chased the police out of Compton’s.
Then the group from the café and other LGBTQ+ street youths outside Compton’s
turned over a police car and set it on fire.

Interestingly, the newspapers did not report on the incident in detail. In fact,
as the historian and filmmaker Susan Stryker explains in the beginning of her
documentary film about the riot, Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s, the inci-
dent would have remained hidden from history if Stryker had not come across
an archived program for San Francisco’s first Pride Parade in 1972 at the San
Francisco GLBT Historical Society. Both the riots at Compton’s and at Stonewall
were commemorated in this program. Until Stryker’s 2006 documentary, how-
ever, Compton’s had been all but forgotten by the larger LGBTQ+ community.

The underlying history of Compton’s offers another layer of complexity in
that one of the police officers, Elliott Blackstone, supported the trans community
that gathered at the coffee shop. Throughout his police career, he worked on a
task force that tried to help unite the beat cops in the Tenderloin with the trans
community they served. As Stryker notes in an interview, “He was a visionary . . .
ahead of his time.”21 Although Blackstone often humbly claimed that he was just
doing his job, it is clear that he took looking after the transgender community to
heart. He conducted police sensitivity training, and he helped raise money for
hormones for trans people through his church group. Many other police officers
shunned Blackstone because of his openness to the LGBTQ+ community.

These three “coffee shop” protests — two violent and one peaceful — show a
progression in the ways that protests were carried out. They also show a progres-
sion of support from other people in the community who had some power.

June 1969: One Police Raid Too Many at the Stonewall Inn

A heterogeneous street crowd started the resistance at Stonewall,
not a particular person.
�SUSAN STRYKER*

Over-emphasis on that single event distorts our history and renders as lesser
other acts of equal — and even greater — courage, when circumstances of the time
of occurrence are considered.
JOHN RECHY†

* Susan Stryker, quoted in Ernesto Londoño, “Who Threw the First Brick at Stonewall?” New York Times,

26 August 2015, https://takingnote.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/26/who-threw-the-first-brick-at-stone

wall/?_r=0 (accessed 15 July 2017).
† John Rechy, talk given at Adelante Gay Pride Gala, 24 June 2006, www.johnrechy.com/so_adel.htm

(accessed 2 March 2016).

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1 4 6 I N T R O D U C T I O N T O T R A N S G E N D E R S T U D I E S

On June 28, 1969, the last Sunday of the month, the Stonewall Inn, a bar in
Greenwich Village, was being patronized by the usual people: young gay male
hustlers, drag queens, and other people from the neighborhood. It was an eth-
nically diverse crowd, as usual. The Stonewall was a grungy bar where people
could get a drink, listen to music, and get off the street for a while. It was also
probably a place where sex workers met their clients. On this particular Sunday
evening, the New York police raided the bar. Such raids were not uncommon.
The police entered with their clubs and demanded that all the people in drag
begin to strip off their clothes so that the officers could count how many pieces
of gender inappropriate clothing they were wearing. The police certainly did not
expect the ensuing riot.

Nobody is sure who threw the first cocktail or the first shoe, but we do know
that the fighting began in the bar and then erupted out on the streets of Green-
wich Village. We also know that other people, many of whom were LGBTQ+,
rushed out into the streets from surrounding bars in the neighborhood to help
the rioters beat the police back. The Stonewall Rebellion differed from the L.A.
and San Francisco riots in that the protest continued on and off for over a week
and garnered attention across the United States and the world. As Miss Major
Griffin-Gracy, a Stonewall veteran and African American trans woman and activ-
ist for incarcerated trans people, states, “There is no ‘what it was and why it
happened.’ It was just the right time and the right place because when they
came to get us out of there [the Stonewall Inn], nobody moved.”22

Cooper’s Donuts, Dewey’s Famous, Compton’s Cafeteria, and Stonewall all
took place within the United States; however, the ramifications were global. To
this day, most LGBTQ+ communities around the world from the most open
and progressive to the most necessarily closeted and oppressed point to the
Stonewall Rebellion, specifically, as the moment that the closet doors blew
open. Ultimately, all these events were brought about by groups of marginal-
ized people who had nothing to lose by standing up for their rights. Sylvia
Rivera says:

I’m glad I was in the Stonewall riot. I remember when someone threw a
Molotov cocktail, I thought: “My god, the revolution is here. The revolution
is finally here!” I always believed that we would have to fight back. I just
knew that we would fight back. I just didn’t know it would be that night. I am
proud of myself as being there that night. If I had lost that moment, I would
have been kind of hurt because that’s when I saw the world change for me
and my people. Of course, we still got a long way ahead of us.23

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W H A T A R I O T ! 1 4 7

The Split between LGB and T in the United States

Think back to the Cooper’s Donuts riot in 1959. What made Cooper’s a special
place? If you recall, the little doughnut shop was welcoming to everyone.
Although Skid Row was a pretty rough area of Los Angeles, many of the estab-
lishments that were safe spaces for some people were not safe spaces for other
people. Although Cooper’s Donuts was located between two gay bars, even those
bars discriminated against gender outlaws.

Does this discrimination mean that the gay people in those bars did not like
drag queens, cross-dressers, or gender-nonconforming people? There are prob-
ably as many answers to this question as there were people in the bars. Ulti-
mately, it was not the bars’ patrons, but rather the bars’ owners and hired
bouncers, who decided who could enter.

Why would one marginalized group further marginalize another group
within their own larger community? We need to remember that being gay in 1959
Los Angeles was illegal. We also need to remember that the LAPD was becoming
more and more vigilant against “homosexuals” and other “deviants,” and that
one of the easiest ways to target gay people was to focus on those who did not
wear “gender normative” clothing — that is, people violating the anti-masquer-
ading laws. It is most likely that the clientele at Harold’s and the Waldorf (peo-
ple who were also vulnerable to being beaten and arrested by the police, having
their names printed in the newspaper, and then finding themselves fired from
their jobs and evicted from their apartments) were acting out of fear. The two
bars wanted people to dress in “gender normative” clothing so they would not
attract police attention. It is also important to remember, however, that when
the ethnically and gender-diverse riot broke out at Cooper’s, the gay people
came running out of Harold’s and the Waldorf to help with the riot.

Each of the three riots and the one sit-in that we’ve explored started with
people being either arrested for or banned from a place becauseof their gender
expression. And yet, many of the books and essays written about these protests
have categorized them as “gay.” Thankfully, many researchers and writers are
attempting to paint a more detailed picture of the people who had the courage
to stand up and say “No more!”

This is not to say that groups like the Mattachine Society and the Daughters
of Bilitis, both homophile movement groups that took to the sidewalks in “gen-
der appropriate” clothing to protest federal laws that discriminated against
homosexuals, were not courageous and were not fighting oppression. (The word

homophile was used by these earlier groups as a positive and politically for-

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1 4 8 I N T R O D U C T I O N T O T R A N S G E N D E R S T U D I E S

ward-thinking term for homosexuals. After the Stonewall Rebellion, the word
fell into disuse.) They were courageous in fighting oppression. Their methods
were different, however, and their early ideas about how to carry out pickets and
protests made their work inaccessible to many people who did not conform to
rigid gender binary stereotypes of masculine and feminine. Gay and bisexual
men who were seen as “too feminine” and lesbians and bisexual women who
were seen as “too masculine” were often asked not to participate.24

Were there any rules about who could and could not participate in the Coo-
per’s Donuts, Dewey’s Famous, Compton’s Cafeteria, and Stonewall events? The
answer is no. One of the reasons that these protests were so inclusive was their
spur-of-the-moment nature. It’s a protest, and anyone and everyone is invited!
Other types of protests, such as those by various homophile groups, not only
were well planned-out in advance, but also had strict rules about who could
participate. If you go online and study the photographs from these organized
protests, you will see that the participants are wearing “gender appropriate”
clothing, and the majority are white. Given the fact that these organized protests
were conducted by people wearing either suits and ties or dresses, and that they
were visible to everyone passing by, you can probably begin to make assump-
tions about their socioeconomic status. They wore nice clothes, and they had
some kind of job or financial security that enabled them to be out in the middle
of the day protesting. In other words, there was some kind of privilege at work.

One of the founders of Daughters of Bilitis, the lesbian activist Barbara Git-
tings, discusses the issue of “choosing visibility” in the film Out of the Past. She
says that she always stopped to think about being so out. For her it was a calcu-
lated risk, but one she knew she had to take. Gittings understood her privileged
financial situation and knew that she could be out without enduring the same
consequences as many of her counterparts. Gittings was also aware that she
represented hundreds of other people like herself who could not be out. (On
another note, we can thank Barbara Gittings as a tireless advocate; she was one
of the people who worked to get homosexuality removed from the DSM, which
it was, in 1973. As you recall from Chapter 3, however, the DSM still considers
some trans people to suffer from a psychological disorder.)

The LGBTQ+ rights movement has depended on both types of protest and advo-
cacy: people working within the system and people working outside the system.
Both forms of political activism are critical. The LGBTQ+ movement gets into
trouble, and we begin to see damaging splits between LGB and T, when trans peo-
ple are denigrated, ignored, and erased by people who are cisgender lesbian, gay,
or bisexual. From all accounts, several of the people rioting at Stonewall were

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W H A T A R I O T ! 1 4 9

gender-nonconforming people of color like Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson (both
of whom are on the cover of this book), and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy. As we’ve
seen, however, Stonewall has often been regarded as a “gay” rebellion. The histo-
rian Jessi Gan observes: “Though the iconography of Stonewall enabled mid-
dle-class white gays and lesbians to view themselves as resistant and transgressive,
Stonewall narratives, in depicting agents of the riots as ‘gay,’ elided the central
role of poor gender-variant people of color in that night’s acts of resistance against
New York City police.”25 Gan’s comment underscores the split among cis gays,
lesbians, bi people (although, arguably, cis and trans bisexuals are often left out
of the conversations), and trans people of all sexual orientations.

Shortly after the Stonewall Rebellion, Sylvia Rivera and her soul mate, the
African American trans revolutionary Marsha P. Johnson, and other trans peo-
ple were often purposefully excluded from the newly forming gay political
groups. By 1973, when New York City’s Pride March included speeches from
people in the community, Rivera was nearly forced off the stage by gay men and
lesbians heckling her. The irony was painful: one of the revolutionaries whose
actions on the night of the Stonewall Rebellion had made the 1973 Pride March
possible was nearly dragged off the stage!26 In response to the heckling, Rivera
commented: “I am not even in the back of the bus. My community is being
pulled by a rope around our neck by the bumper of the damn bus. . . . Gay liber-
ation but transgender nothing!”27 Similarly, Miss Major noted: “I feel like we’ve
been pushed to the outside and then prevented from looking in. It’s the stares,
the non-inclusion over decision-making, exclusion from events that would
build this movement.”28

Both Rivera and Johnson spent their adult lives working to help homeless
LGBTQ+ youths in New York have a safe place to stay, even though Sylvia and
Marsha were often homeless themselves. In many ways, the plight of people
like Sylvia Rivera and Marsha P. Johnson highlights the devastation that the
ruptures within the LGBTQ+ community can cause.

SONDA and ENDA: Everyone Needs a Seat on the Bus

These ruptures have been evident in various struggles at the city, state, and
national levels as LGBTQ+ rights groups have attempted to codify nondiscrimi-
nation policies into law. Various local, state, and federal bills have been pro-
posed to make sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression
protected categories, like race and religion. Some cis gay and lesbian advocates
have argued, however, that gender identity and gender expression should be

removed from the bills so that they have a better chance of becoming law.

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1 5 0 I N T R O D U C T I O N T O T R A N S G E N D E R S T U D I E S

In the early 2000s, the Sexual Orientation Non-Discrimination Act (SONDA)
was heading to the New York State capitol in Albany for a historic vote by the
state senate. Many people within the LGBTQ+ community, however, felt that the
bill did not go far enough because it left “gender identity” and “gender expression”
out of the language. Thus, if the bill were to pass, it would not protect transgen-
der people. To understand the irony of the situation, consider that Sylvia Rivera
would be protected on the basis of her sexual orientation but not on the basis of
her gender identity as a trans woman. The New York group trying to get the bill
passed, Pride Agenda, refused to amend it to include gender identity and expres-
sion. In fact, Pride Agenda raised millions of dollars from within the LGBTQ+
community in an attempt to get the bill passed.

Quite literally on her deathbed in the hospital, Sylvia Rivera gathered local
New York City politicians to plead with them to change the bill. Rivera was still
struggling with an issue that she had faced within the LGBTQ+ community
since 1969 (for thirty-three years).29 One of the people who came to her hospital
bed that day was the Reverend Elder Pat Bumgardner of the Metropolitan Com-
munity Church in New York City. Bumgardner is the founder of the Sylvia Rivera
Memorial Food Pantry and Sylvia’s Place, which is a safe house for LGBTQ+
street youths. In a discussion leading up to the vote for SONDA, Rev. Bumgard-
ner discussed her support of a fully inclusive SONDA: “She [Sylvia Rivera] came
to me one day and asked me if I understood what I was doing in terms of calling
for an all-inclusive SONDA, if I knew what that meant. And I said that I did. It
meant that I wouldn’t leave her behind.”30 SONDA passed, but a trans-inclusive
version of SONDA did not.

The Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) is a piece of proposed leg-
islation that would prohibit discrimination in hiring or employment on the
basis of sexual orientation. In 2007 Barney Frank, an out gay congressman from
Massachusetts, originally proposed a fully inclusive ENDA, one that covered
both sexual orientation and gender identity. The stakes for ENDA were high
because this bill was at the federal level, much like the 1964 Civil Rights Act,
which made discrimination in housing and employment based on race illegal in
all fifty states, regardless of state laws that permitted discrimination on the
basis of race. Fearing that the bill would not pass with transgender inclusion,
the sponsors dropped gender identity from the bill. This was Barney Frank’s
argument that reflects his change of stance: “To take the position that if we are
now able to enact legislation that will protect millions of Americans now and in
the future from discrimination based on sexual orientation, we should decline
to do so because we are not able to include transgender people as well is to fly

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W H A T A R I O T ! 1 5 1

in the face of every successful strategy ever used in expanding antidiscrimina-
tion laws. Even from the standpoint of ultimately including transgender people,
it makes far more sense to go forward in a partial way if that is all we can do.”31

With this controversial stand, Barney Frank and Elizabeth Birch (who was at
that time executive director of the Human Rights Commission [HRC] and who
was also against trans inclusion) faced immediate criticism not only from the
trans community, but also from Tammy Baldwin, an out lesbian congress-
woman, and many LGBTQ+ nonprofits like the National Center for Lesbian Rights
(NCLR). It is critical to note here that the LGBTQ+ community in this case did
not directly split along the lines of L, G, B, and T. Rather, several cis gay, lesbian,
and bisexual allies denounced Frank and the HRC for their actions, pointing out
that gender discrimination is ultimately at the root of discrimination that is
based on sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression.

ENDA still has not passed; but after 2007 Barney Frank reintroduced all-
inclusive ENDA bills.

New Zealand’s Example: Georgina Beyer

Georgina Beyer, who is Maori and a trans woman, became the world’s first-
known trans person to be elected to a major government office. She was elected
to the New Zealand Parliament in 1999.

How did Beyer make her way to Parliament? Having worked within the sys-
tem in New Zealand — not an easy feat given the long and violent imperial
silencing of Maori people in that country — Beyer became the Labour Party’s
candidate for the conservative Wairarapa electorate. Everyone was stunned
when she won. On her first day on the Parliament floor, she said in her introduc-
tory speech: “I am the first transsexual in New Zealand to be standing in this
House of Parliament. This is a first not only in New Zealand, ladies and gentle-
men, but also in the world. This is an historic moment. We need to acknowledge
that this country of ours leads the way in so many aspects. We have led the way
for women getting the vote. We have led the way in the past, and I hope we will
do so again in the future in social policy and certainly in human rights.”32 In this
same speech, Beyer discussed the need for marginalized communities to stand
up for one another and to work together.

During her eight-year tenure in New Zealand’s Parliament, Beyer used her
position to introduce and advocate for some of the most radical social justice
laws in the world. She dedicated her time in Parliament to passing fully inclu-
sive LGBTQ+ laws and progressive laws to help sex workers. As a former sex
worker herself, she had an inside understanding of the legal protections that

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1 5 2 I N T R O D U C T I O N T O T R A N S G E N D E R S T U D I E S

sex workers need. She received a surprising amount of respect and support
from her fellow members of Parliament.

If you think about the saying “No one is free when others are oppressed,” you
will see that it applies to our discussion of the splits in the LGB and T commu-
nities. History is filled with examples of the ways that transgender people (espe-
cially transgender people of color) have been left out of human rights
conversations. We must remember, however, the people who have refused to get
on the bus if everyone could not ride: the Reverend Elder Pat Bumgardner, Con-
gresswoman Tammy Baldwin, Parliamentarian Georgina Beyer, and the thou-
sands of LGBTQ+ people who cried out against the noninclusive SONDA and the
noninclusive ENDA.

Pioneers and activists like Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, Marsha P. Johnson, and
Sylvia Rivera have all been a large part of why LGBTQ+ rights and LGBTQ+
issues have been in the news since 1969. Without a combination of Miss Major,
Sylvia Rivera, Marsha P. Johnson, the trans women at Compton’s, homeless trans
street youths, our unidentified sit-in participants at Dewey’s, and our fierce dough-
nut throwers at Cooper’s, President Obama would not have had Stonewall to add
to Seneca Falls and Selma.

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W H A T A R I O T ! 1 5 3

PAULINA ANGEL

Becoming an Activist

Paulina Angel is a trans woman of color from the Coachella Valley in Southern California.

She is an LGBTQ+ rights activist and songwriter-musician. She serves as the executive

director of Trans* Community Project, board member of Palm Springs Pride, and a vol-

unteer member for both the Human Rights Campaign and Trans Student Educational

Resources.

Coming Out in the Desert

I was born in a town called Indio, which is located within the Coachella Valley,
about thirty minutes south of Palm Springs. When I was growing up, Palm
Springs wasn’t the gay mecca that we know today. Even as it became an LGBT
destination, it was totally behind the times. Indio was also light years from
being a progressive town; it was a city that was made up of a vast majority of
Hispanics with old-fashioned ideals. In layman’s terms: it wasn’t the best place
to live if you were different.

Coming out in the desert, you had little to no resources as an LGBTQ person.
Our valley was stuck for the longest time to ideals from the mid-1980s. The “T”
in LGBTQ barely existed, and the “Q” was basically a derogatory term that every-
one — including myself — had an aversion to. Palm Springs is an area where
people — including many wealthy, white gay men — came to retire. The city is
removed from any activism, so I understand why the San Francisco activist Cleve
Jones chose to live here for a moment.

When I originally came out as gay, I didn’t know what transgender was, or if
there was such a term. It wasn’t until I started attending an LGBT youth drop-in
center where I was told, “Oh, honey, you are not gay, you’re transgender.” I was
always attracted to women and was never was really interested in guys (unless
you include Darren Hayes of Savage Garden). When I came out as transgender,
I thought I had to like men since I was becoming a woman, so I was stuck with
this ideology until I made the journey to San Francisco. As I was starting to
learn a lot about different parts of our community, especially as we got into the
subdivisions of both trans and queer, I found that I actually identify as lesbian
and as queer.

WRITINGS FROM THE COMMUNITY

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Activism

It was never my intention to become an activist or to be a leader. I always meant to
be like Paul McCartney, not Harvey Milk. It was my ideology that activists and lead-
ers were special people, and I never thought of myself as anybody extraordinary.

When you grow up in a place like the Coachella Valley, where dreams usually
die, it doesn’t give you much room to try to accomplish special things. A few peo-
ple from Indio made their marks elsewhere, but never stuck around. For me,
advocacy was something that happened by pure accident, and it began during
my first year in college. I was attending College of the Desert in Palm Desert as a
music major. I was recording my first album at the time, and I knew that I needed
voice lessons because I couldn’t sing that well. Shortly after being fired from
Walmart, I enrolled in voice classes during the fall of 2006. My initial plans were
to go for one semester, perfect my vocals, and then find a proper job. One day, I
saw a couple of students making posters for Club Rush, the Gay-Straight Alliance
(GSA) group. I asked them about their group and they encouraged me to join, so
I figured, why not?

I decided to extend my time at the college to be more involved with the GSA.
As the only transgender student, I felt it was my responsibility to be involved. It
was around this time that I discovered certain flaws in my college when it came
to transgender students. There was one incident when my professor divided the
class by gender: girls on the left and boys on the right. I knew where I wanted to
go, but I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to. The girls called me to join them, so I did.
My professor asked me what I was doing. Before I could say anything, some of
the girls told him, “She can be with us.” I hadn’t transitioned yet, but the class
had an understanding about me, so the professor allowed me to join the girls.
The beautiful thing about the students is that they all got it — they all didn’t
need any explanation, they just knew. From that point on, I decided to help my
college become more trans-friendly, so I stuck around and accepted the nomi-
nation to become the president of our GSA.

Within the next two years, I met with Board of Trustees members, the diver-
sity campus group, and organized events that raised awareness about transgen-
der issues and promoted LGBTQ visibility. At this time, I was given the name
“the Harvey Milk of the College of the Desert.” My work led me to become the
first trans person elected to the student body organization of my college in an
External Affairs position. I was then invited to participate in the Student Senate
for California Community Colleges (SSCCC) in Sacramento.

While I was president of the GSA, I attended a student general assembly
hosted by the SSCCC in Los Angeles in 2008. The event taught me how to have
political power in education. I attended a few workshops, learned how to com-
pose resolutions, and got a feel of how other campuses in California dealt with

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W H A T A R I O T ! 1 5 5

LGBTQ student issues. After being elected External Affairs Officer in mid-2009,
I attended the general assembly in San Francisco. I presented the first-ever stu-
dent resolution dealing with gender identity equality. I spent the weekend lob-
bying for student leaders to support and vote on the resolution. I also hosted a
special-interest meeting about my resolution and another resolution that got
left over from the previous general assembly. Without serious opposition, both
resolutions passed by a landslide.

After the general assembly, I became the first trans person elected to serve
as a senator for the SSCCC. I served two terms; the first term I worked as a
regional senator representing both Riverside and San Bernardino County. I was
assigned an at-large position during my second term, which made me one of
ten senators representing all 112 California community colleges in Sacramento.
During my two terms, I worked feverishly on student bills as well as equity and
diversity issues. I presented and facilitated workshops on how to advocate for
LGBTQ equality on campus and passed a resolution for community colleges to
recognize Harvey Milk Day. I’ve also co-authored a recommendation to Governor
Jerry Brown to pass Senate Bill 48: FAIR Education Act.

One of my fellow senators called me an “activist” around this time. We were
having a discussion about people who had overcome adversity and pursued
opportunities that people in their situation wouldn’t normally be able to. My
friend Shawn said that there is one person who comes to mind that truly defines
this term, and that person was me. It was true: I was a lower middle-class His-
panic trans woman and a survivor of child abuse. Somehow, despite every
obstacle that was thrown at me, I found a way to do great work for the commu-
nity and became an activist.

I briefly relocated to San Francisco to continue my studies in 2012. Sadly,
because of personal hardship, I had to drop out of college and take a semiretire-
ment from my work. When I returned to the desert, I thought my work as an
activist was done. I went back to my music, completed two albums, and continued
to write songs.

In 2014 I met a dynamic trans woman activist. She had recently moved to
the desert after living in Seattle for years. I had no intention of becoming an
activist again. I thought activism was behind me, and I was focused on finding
a way to get back to San Francisco to continue my education. The trans woman
activist told me that I could make a difference for our community in the desert.
I had never been involved in the Palm Springs community before and was terri-
fied of the idea. I’ve always said that the Palm Springs LGBTQ community was
behind the times and was basically stuck in 1985. I wasn’t sure if I was the person
to bring it up to speed, but we did it.

I’m currently executive director of the Trans* Community Project, which has
allowed me to help bring visibility to trans and queer issues by putting to the

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1 5 6 I N T R O D U C T I O N T O T R A N S G E N D E R S T U D I E S

test everything I’ve learned as a student leader and a brief resident of San Fran-
cisco. I’m also a member of the Palm Springs Steering Committee for the Human
Rights Campaign, which allowed me to really help the organization do more
work for the trans community alongside members of other steering committees
across America. I’m the first-ever trans person to join the Greater Palm Springs
Pride Board of Directors, and possibly the youngest person as well. Since 2014
I’ve helped our community become more progressive and current on LGBT
issues through educational events and town hall rallies. My work led me to be
awarded the Spirit of Stonewall Emerging Leaders award at last year’s Pride
celebration. I’m also a volunteer member for both Equality California and Trans
Students Educational Resources. I love the work I do.

Intersectionalities

As a woman of color, it had taken me years to fully embrace my Hispanic heri-
tage. When you live in a town like Indio, you didn’t really feel that out of place.
It wasn’t till I started to get involved in things in Palm Springs and Sacramento
that I started to realize the difference. In Palm Springs, the majority of the trans
community is white, and many have privilege because a lot have either had the
surgeries or have money that has allowed them to pass. I don’t have such priv-
ileges, so when I’m around them I feel out of place, although a few of them have
accepted me into their circle of friends. However, most of the time I feel I have
to work harder to prove that I belong in their community.

JESUS CORONADO

Coming Out as a Trans Man

I am a Mexican trans man, going to school for the first time since the third grade in my

thirties, finishing community college, and getting ready to transfer to UC Berkeley. I have

overcome many challenges thanks to my resourcefulness, strong work ethic, and will to

fight and live. Making a difference is important to me. I want to work against the oppres-

sion that I have lived through as a trans person of color and an immigrant. In my jour-

ney I hope to inspire trans youth and find a way to support them in their journey.

When I first arrived in the U.S. from Guadalajara, Mexico, I learned that there
were many parts of the LGBT community. For example: butch, stud, femme, gay,
and transgender. When I was in Mexico, the only thing I knew was that I liked
girls. My best friend and his partner introduced me and my girlfriend to the
queer community and everything it had to offer. It was the first time someone
gave me a label: they told me I was a “stud.” The only thing I knew about being
a “stud” was that they look and act like guys, so I agreed.

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W H A T A R I O T ! 1 5 7

As time went on, I became depressed. My depression just kept getting worse,
my seven-year relationship ended, and I was a mess. No doctor, medicine, girl-
friend, or friend could have helped me at the time.

Then one of my best friends told us that he was transitioning. I was confused
because I had seen what happens to other folks who transition. Many people in
the queer community no longer saw those who transitioned as a part of the
community — they became “straight.”

After my friend’s announcement, I decided to speak with my doctor and coun-
selor and tell them what I had been experiencing throughout my life — I am a
trans man. My doctor and I began to consider options, and, after three years, she
finally agreed to help me transition. She wanted to help sooner, but we had to get
my depression under control, just enough to deal with the testosterone.

The next step was coming out to my friends and family. I didn’t have to come
out when I had been perceived as a “stud.” My family and friends knew that I
was “gay” before I knew myself. I knew the coming-out process would take time,
but I just didn’t expect the consequences. I never realized that giving myself
permission to be me would bring with it so much loss.

I had something important to tell my friends, and my heart raced every time
I got ready to speak. Each time, I would hear again all the bad things they had
to say about trans people, and so I waited. The longer I waited to speak, the
angrier and more resentful I became. When I finally told them that I am a trans
man and I wanted to transition, there was a weird silence in the room. Some-
how, after I saw their faces, I allowed myself to be convinced to go back into the
closet. We talked about how bad being transgender was and how it supposedly
had ruined our other friend’s life. I admitted to them that maybe I was wrong.
Maybe because I feared what was about to happen.

My anger built and built, until it finally exploded on my “best friend’s” birth-
day. Our friendship ended. After that I moved out of his house.

My friends were the people who had promised to love me and be there for
me no matter what. But after I decided to come out as a trans man, I received
no support from them, including many friends in the queer community. For
trans folks, it can be difficult because we have often felt rejected by both the
queer and straight community — at least until recently. When I came out, I lost
almost every friend around me. Not only because of my transition, but also
because of the depression and anger that had built up in me.

Not long after I moved out, I finally began my transition, which I had planned
with my doctor a year before. For me, the transition was the greatest thing
that’s ever happened. I’m finally happy and present in the world that I tried to
leave so many times. I don’t regret my coming out as trans and losing friends,
but I regret not realizing who my true friends were sooner.

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1 5 8 I N T R O D U C T I O N T O T R A N S G E N D E R S T U D I E S

Key Concepts

drags ( p. 140 )

ENDA ( p. 150 )

homophile ( p. 147 )

Selma ( p. 132 )

Seneca Falls ( p. 132 )

sodomy laws ( p. 139 )

SONDA ( p. 150 )

Stonewall Inn ( p. 132 )

Activities, Discussion Questions, and Observations

1. Both Paulina and Jesus discuss various ways that they have struggled as out-
siders within different communities. Look at both their stories and discuss
the ways that they have dealt with being outsiders. If you could ask either of
them a question, what would that question be?

2. Like many political and social movements in the United States in the 1960s,
the modern LGBTQ+ movement and, more specifically, early involvement by
transgender activists came about through riots. Think of other riots in the
United States in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Who was rioting
and why? What are some of the advantages to rioting? What are some of the
disadvantages?

3. For this assignment, you will need to view two different Stonewall films: the
1995 film entitled Stonewall and the 2015 film also entitled. Both films are
docudramas, which means that they are fictional documentaries. Conduct a
bit of background research on the directors of the two films and then, after
you have viewed them both, compare the films. How did they choose to tell
the story of the Stonewall Rebellion in New York City in the summer of 1969?

4. Research the history of anti-masquerading or anti-cross-dressing laws in two
states of your choice. When did the laws go into effect? Why? When were the
laws abolished?

5. Think of everything you know about the Civil Rights movement in the United
States. At what moment do you think the movement started? Was it when
people like Harriet Tubman ferried enslaved people to safety via the Under-
ground Railroad? Was it when the former slave and abolitionist Frederick

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W H A T A R I O T ! 1 5 9

Douglass was invited to speak at the Seneca Falls women’s rights convention,
where he drew parallels between the plight of slaves and the plight of white
women? Did you choose that moment in 1955 when Rosa Parks refused to
give up her bus seat? Or did you choose Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous “I
Have a Dream” speech given at the 1963 March on Washington? If you chose
any of these moments (or others not mentioned here), you are correct. The
important point is that when we think about history, it is often easier to put
it into the context of one exact historic moment. Pick another human rights
movement or social justice movement in the United States or in another
country. When do you think the movement began? Then research and trace
the history of that movement.

6. What is at stake in trying to claim any one place or any one moment as a
starting point for a history? How can we help these histories all work together
rather than continue fighting over who started what? Isn’t the end result, or
where we are now and where we are going, equally important?

7. In social and political movements, there is often tension between people who
want to work within the existing power structures and systems, and people
who want nothing to do with that system and would rather start over. What
are the advantages and disadvantages of each approach? Which are you
more comfortable with and why?

8. In the following section, “Film and Television of Interest,” three items in the
list focus on the life of the trans activist Marsha P. Johnson: one film from
2012 entitled Pay It No Mind, one film from 2016 entitled The Death and Life of
Marsha P. Johnson, and one film from 2018 entitled Happy Birthday, Marsha!

Watch two or three of these films and focus on comparisons between them.
If you conduct some research, you will find that there has been controversy,
in particular between the filmmakers of the 2016 and 2017 films. The contro-
versy centers on the idea that trans people should be at the forefront of tell-
ing trans stories and on accusations of a trans filmmaker’s long, hard work in
the archives being usurped by a cis filmmaker. How does each film approach
the subject matter of Marsha P. Johnson, her life, and her love for and work
with Sylvia Rivera? What are the differences in the ways that their stories are
told? Can you tell what is at stake for each filmmaker? Which film is your
favorite? Why? And why might it be important to have several different
explorations of the same topic?

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Film and Television of Interest

After Stonewall (1999, U.S., 88 minutes)
This documentary looks at the LGBTQ+ rights movement in the thirty years between
1969 and 1999. Several leaders in the LGBTQ+ community are interviewed.

Before Stonewall (1984, U.S., 87 minutes)
This documentary looks at early LGBTQ+ rights leaders in the years leading up to the Stone-
wall Rebellion. Of particular note, the film interviews Barbara Gittings from the Daughters
of Bilitis and Harry Hay from the Mattachine Society. The main focus of the film is on the
early homophile movement. Transgender people are, more or less, left out of the film.

Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin (2003, U.S., 83 minutes)
This documentary film explores the lifelong activism of Bayard Rustin, an African Amer-
ican, Quaker, pacifist, and gay activist. Rustin is one of the unsung heroes of the 1960s
Civil Rights movement. He almost singlehandedly organized the historic 1963 March on
Washington at which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech.

Coming Out in the 1950s (2011, U.S., 15 minutes)
Phil Siegel’s first documentary in a series of four explores the lives of people who came
out as gay, lesbian, bisexual, and/or transgender in the 1950s. The sexual orientation
and/or gender identity of most of the people interviewed in the film was illegal when
they first came out of the closet.

Coming Out in the 1960s (2013, U.S., 26 minutes)
This second documentary by Phil Siegel explores the changing times from the 1950s into
the 1960s as different people are interviewed about coming out of the closet during the
decade of the Civil Rights movement, women’s movement, the peace movement, the
United Farmworkers’ movement, and the beginning of the LGBTQ+ rights movement.

The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson (2016, U.S., 105 minutes)
David France’s documentary film uses rare archival footage and interviews to explore
the tragic death of Marsha P. Johnson and the ways that the New York City police quickly
ruled her death a suicide. People within the trans community, in particular, know that
the police viewed Marsha P. Johnson as just another trans woman of color. This docu-
mentary follows Victoria Cruz, a social justice advocate and trans woman, as she goes all
over the city trying to seek justice for Marsha’s murder.

Envisioning Justice (2013, U.S., 32 minutes)
Pauline Park is a Korean-born trans woman who was adopted by white parents in the
United States. This short documentary features Park talking about coming out as trans

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W H A T A R I O T ! 1 6 1

and her activist work in New York. Pauline Park has worked on the same issues of trans
equality that Sylvia Rivera worked on. Pauline Park continues the fight for trans rights.

Georgie Girl (2001, New Zealand, 69 minutes)
Georgina Beyer, who is Maori and lives in New Zealand, became the first openly trans-
gender elected member of Parliament in the world. This award-winning documentary
follows her life and her groundbreaking work in politics as an advocate for equity and
access for all people.

Happy Birthday, Marsha! (2018, U.S., 14 minutes)
This film was researched, written, and directed by queer and trans artists and historians
Reina Gossett and Sasha Wortzel. This short drama uses archival footage as well as dra-
matization to explore the lives of and love between Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera.

Hope along the Wind: The Life of Harry Hay (2002, U.S., 57 minutes)
This biopic and documentary focuses on the life of Harry Hay, the founder of the Mattachine
Society, a gay men’s group that promoted gay rights beginning in the 1950s.

The Lavender Scare (2016, U.S., 88 minutes)
In 1953 President Eisenhower signed an executive order that banned gay and lesbian
people from working in the federal government. This documentary looks at the time in
the 1950s when being gay or lesbian was equated with being communist; not only was
there a red scare in the United States, but there was also a lavender scare. This film also
helps show the ways that early movements working within the system, such as the
Daughters of Bilitis and the Mattachine Society, first started to form in response to these
federal mandates.

Major! (2015, U.S., 95 minutes)
This multiple award–winning documentary focuses on the life and continued pioneering
work of Miss Major Griffin-Gracy. The film includes outstanding archival footage and
interviews with Miss Major and her support network. Of particular note is her work with
TGI Justice, a nonprofit organization that advocates for trans people in prison.

No Secret Anymore: The Times of Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon (2003, U.S., 57 minutes)
Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, lifetime partners, were also two of the founding members of
the Daughters of Bilitis. They worked both within and outside systems of power and
focused on lesbian rights.

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1 6 2 I N T R O D U C T I O N T O T R A N S G E N D E R S T U D I E S

On These Shoulders We Stand (2010, U.S., 75 minutes)
Glenne McElhinney’s documentary looks at LGBTQ+ elders in Los Angeles. Of special
note is the interview with Nancy Valverde, which examines the intersections of racial,
gender, and sexual orientation oppression in Los Angeles in the 1950s.

Pay It No Mind — The Life and Times of Marsha P. Johnson (2012, U.S., 54 minutes)
This documentary looks at the life of Marsha P. Johnson and the joy she brought to the
community in Greenwich Village — especially the LGBTQ+ community — in New York
City. The film discusses her love relationship with Sylvia Rivera, who was also one of the
pioneers of the LGBTQ+ rights movement and a Stonewall Rebellion veteran.

Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s (2005, U.S., 57 minutes)
Victor Silverman and Susan Stryker directed this documentary, which brought the 1966
Compton’s Cafeteria riots out of silence. Using archival footage and oral histories from
trans women who lived in the Tenderloin during the 1960s, the film gives the viewer a
full picture of the events that led up to the night of the riots.

S.T.A.R. (2016, U.S., 30 minutes)

The trans filmmaker Rhys Ernst has a series of short film documentaries entitled We’ve
Been Around that explore historic trans figures who are mostly unknown. In this docu-
mentary, Ernst explores Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera and the founding of Street
Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (S.T.A.R.).

Stonewall (1995, U.S., 99 minutes)
The Stonewall Rebellion is reimagined in this fictionalization of the events leading up to
and taking place at the Stonewall Inn on the last Sunday in June 1969. The film looks at
a diverse group of characters and includes people across the LGBTQ+ spectrum, includ-
ing LGBTQ+ people of color. Part drama and part musical, the film also includes a group
of African American and Latinx drag queens who serve as the Greek chorus in the back-
ground of the film.

Stonewall (2015, U.K., 129 minutes)
In this fictionalization of the night of the Stonewall Rebellion, the filmmaker Roland
Emmerich envisions Stonewall as a predominantly white and cisgender gay riot. This film
faced controversy and a picket in the United States.

Stonewall Uprising (2011, television, U.S., 80 minutes)
This documentary made for public television in the United States uses archival footage
to examine the Stonewall Rebellion. The film has interesting interviews with veterans of
the riots as well as an interview with a police officer who was on duty the night the riots
broke out.

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W H A T A R I O T ! 1 6 3

Sylvia Rivera Trans Movement Founder (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ybnH0H
B0lqc, 2011, U.S., 25 minutes)
This YouTube video has some stunning interviews with Sylvia Rivera. From her being
booed off the stage at the liberation march in the 1970s to her discussing the death of
her beloved Marsha P. Johnson, this video is full of raw footage. Most notably, Rivera takes
the filmmaker into her cardboard house in an abandoned and garbage-strewn area near
the Hudson River. Rivera discusses her struggle with addiction and her desire and work
to help other homeless people.

Umbrella (2017, U.S., 15 minutes)
From the trans director Rhys Ernst comes this powerful documentary that focuses on
trans political activism and the desire to create change at the beginning of the Trump
administration.

U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Georgia

sodomy laws by a 5 – 4 vote. It took seven-

teen years for these laws to finally fall in

2003. Bowers v. Hardwick 478 U.S. 186

(1986), https://supreme.justia.com/cases/

federal /us/478/186/case.html; Lawrence

v. Texas (2003), https://www.supreme

court.gov/oral_arguments/argument_

transcripts /2002/02-102.pdf (both

accessed 15 July 2017).

7. Cooper’s Donuts, http://cdonuts1959

.weebly.com/paper.html (accessed 2

March 2016).

8. Tom De Simone, Teresa Wang, Melissa

Lopez, Diem Tran, Andy Sacher, Kersu

Dalal, and Justin Emerick, Lavender Los

Angeles: Roots of Equality (Charleston, S.C.:

Arcadia Publishing, 2011), 86.

9. John Rechy identifies specifically as Chi-

cano. Because this term refers to a specific

person, it is respectful to use the term he

uses. When speaking in a general sense,

though, Chicanx works like Latinx to be

inclusive of all gender identities of people

who identify as Chicanx and/or Latinx.

N O T E S

1. White House, Office of the Press Secretary,

“Inaugural Address by President Barack

Obama,” 21 January 2013, https://obama

whitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office

/2013/01/21/inaugural-address-president

-barack-obama (accessed 14 July 2017).

2. Declaration of Independence, 4 July 1776,

www.ushistory.org/Declaration/document

/(accessed 14 July 2017).

3. John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, with illus-

trations by Nate Powell, March: Book One

(Marietta, Ga.: Top Shelf Productions, 2013).

This is the first in a trilogy on the Civil

Rights movement by Senator John Lewis.

4. Voting Rights Act, https://www.ourdocu

ments.gov/doc.php?flash=true&doc=100&

page=transcript (accessed 19 June 2018).

5. David Carter, Stonewall (New York: St.

Martin’s Press, 2004), 290.

6. In 2003 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the

case of Lawrence et al. v. Texas. The ruling

overturned all the remaining sodomy laws

in the United States. Before this ruling, in

1986, in the case of Bowers v. Hardwick, the

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1 6 4 I N T R O D U C T I O N T O T R A N S G E N D E R S T U D I E S

17. Marc Stein, City of Sisterly and Brotherly

Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945–

1972 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press,

2000); Stryker, Transgender History.

18. Susan Stryker and Victor Silverman,

Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s

(film), Frameline, 2005.

19. Ibid.

20. Ibid.

21. Stryker is quoted in Wyatt Buchanan, “Pride

Parade Salute for an Unlikely Ally/Police

Officer Who Reached Out in 1960s to Be

Grand Marshal,” SFGate, 23 June 2006,

www.sfgate .com/bayarea/article/SAN-

FRANCISCO-Pride-parade-salute-for

-an-2532708.php (accessed 18 April 2016).

22. Miss Major Griffin-Gracy, interview by

Andrea Jenkins for the Transgender Oral

History Project, Tretter Collection, Univer-

sity of Minnesota, https://www.youtube

.com/watch?v=O8gKdAOQyyI (accessed

16 March 2016).

23. “I’m Glad I Was in the Stonewall Riot,”

interview with Sylvia Rivera, in Street

Transvestite Action Revolutionaries: Survival,

Revolt, and Queer Antagonist Struggle (N.p.:

Untorelli Press, n.d.), 14, https://untorelli

press.noblogs.org/files/2011/12/STAR.pdf

(accessed 16 April 2016).

24. Teresa Theophano, “Daughters of Bilitis,”

glbtq encyclopedia, www.glbtqarchive.com/

ssh/daughters_bilitis_S.pdf; and Craig

Kaczorowski, “The Mattachine Society,”

glbtq encyclopedia, www.glbtqarchive.com/

ssh/mattachine_society_S.pdf (both

accessed 15 July 2017).

25. Jessi Gan, “‘Still at the Back of the Bus’:

Sylvia Rivera’s Struggle,” in The Transgen-

der Studies Reader 2, ed. Susan Stryker and

Aren Z. Aizura (New York: Routledge,

2013), 292.

10. De Simone et al., Lavender Los Angeles, 99.

See also Susan Stryker, Transgender His-

tory: The Roots of Today’s Revolution, rev.

ed.(Berkeley: Seal Press, 2017), 80 – 84;

“Cooper’s Donuts,” http://cdonuts1959

.weebly.com/paper.html; and Eric Bright-

well, “The Cooper Do-nuts Uprising,”

Amoeblog, 17 June 2013, www.amoeba

.com/blog/2013/06/eric-s-blog/the-cooper-

do-nuts-uprising-lgbt-heritage-month

.html (accessed 3 February 2016).

11. Catherine S. Ramírez, The Woman in the

Zoot Suit: Gender, Nationalism, and the Cul-

tural Politics of Memory (Durham: Duke

University Press, 2009), ix – x.

12. Ibid., 75 – 76.

13. James Wolfinger, “African American Migra-

tion,” Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia,

philadelphiaencyclopedia.org/archive/

african-american-migration/; “Virtual Jew-

ish World, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania,”

www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw

/philadelphia.html#7; “Latino Philadelphia

at a Glance,” Historical Society of Penn-

sylvania, hsp.org/sites/default/files/leg

acy_files/migrated/latinophiladelphiaata

glance.pdf (all accessed 4 April 2016).

14. Bob Skiba, “Dewey’s Famous,” Philadelphia

Gayborhood Guru, https://thegayborhood

guru.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/deweys

-famous/ (accessed 29 February 2016).

15. Bob Skiba, quoted in Jen Colletta, “Fifty

Years Pass since Seminal Dewey’s Sit-Ins,”

Philadelphia Gay News, 23 April 2015, www

.epgn.com/news/local/8754-fifty-years-

pass-since-seminal-dewey-s-sit-ins

(accessed March 2016).

16. Monica Roberts, “The 1965 Dewey’s Lunch

Counter Sit-In,” TransGriot,18 October

2007, http://transgriot.blogspot.

com/2007/10/1965-deweys-lunch-counter-

sit-it.html (accessed 21 February 2016).

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W H A T A R I O T ! 1 6 5

26. Randolfe Wicker, Sylvia Rivera Trans Movement

Founder, https://www.youtube.com/

watch?v=ybnH0HB0lqc (accessed 15 July

2017). This information is also available in

David France’s The Death and Life of Marsha P.

Johnson (film), Frameline, 2017.

27. Sylvia Rivera, Speech to the Latino Gay Men of

New York, June 2001, Centro Journal 19.1 (2007):

120.

28. Jessica Stern, “This Is What Pride Looks Like:

Miss Major and the Violence, Poverty, and

Incarceration of Low-Income Transgender

Women,” S&F Online 10.1–2 (2011–2012), http://

sfonline.barnard.edu/a-new-queer-agenda /

this-is-what-pride-looks-like-miss-major

-and-the-violence-poverty-and-incarcera-

tion-of-low-income-transgender-women /2/

(accessed 3 February 2016).

29. Wicker, Sylvia Rivera Trans Movement Founder.

30. Rev. Elder Pat Bumgardner, interview on

Sylvia Rivera and SONDA, ibid.

31. John Aravosis, “Barney on ENDA Transgender

Controversy. And, He’s Right,” Americablog,

28 September 2007, http://america

blog.com/2007/09/barney-on-enda-trans

gender-controversy-and-hes-right.html

(accessed 16 April 2016).

32. Georgina Beyer speaking to the New Zealand

Parliament on her first day. Annie Goldson

and Peter Wells, Georgie Girl (film), Women

Make Movies, 2001.

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Beyer, Georgina. “Assume Nothing—Georgina Beyer.” https://www.youtube.com/watch
?v=fdC5F1EFLQo. Accessed 4 April 2018.

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Out in 1960s to Be Grand Marshal.” SFGate, 23 June 2006. www.sfgate.com/
bayarea/article/SAN-FRANCISCO-Pride-parade-salute-for-an-2532708.php.
Accessed 18 April 2016.

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Bumgardner, Rev. Elder Pat. Interview on Sylvia Rivera and SONDA. In Randolfe Wicker,
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Carter, David. Stonewall. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2004.
Casey, Forest. “How Los Angeles Created Skid Row.” Daily Beast, 8 March 2015. https://

www.thedailybeast.com/how-los-angeles-created-skid-row. Accessed 5 April 2018.
Colletta, Jen. “Fifty Years Pass since Seminal Dewey’s Sit-Ins.” Philadelphia Gay News, 23

April 2015. www.epgn.com/news/local/8754-fifty-years-pass-since-seminal-dewey-
s-sit-ins. Accessed March 2016.

Cooper’s Donuts. http://cdonuts1959.weebly.com/paper.html. Accessed 2 March 2016.
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July 2017.
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Justin Emerick. Lavender Los Angeles: Roots of Equality. Charleston, S.C.: Arcadia
Publishing, 2011.

Dewan, Shaila K. “On Eve of Vote, Gay Rights Bill Is Besieged from Within.” New York Times,
16 December 2002. www.nytimes.com/2002/12/16/nyregion/on-eve-of-vote-gay-
rights-bill-is-besieged-from-within.html?pagewanted=all. Accessed 16 April 2016.

Faderman, Lillian, and Stuart Timmons. Gay L.A.: A History of Sexual Outlaws, Power Politics,
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Feinberg, Leslie. Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue. Boston: Beacon Press, 1998.
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Reader 2, edited by Susan Stryker and Aren Z. Aizura, 291 – 301. New York: Rout-
ledge, 2013.

Goldson, Annie, and Peter Wells. Georgie Girl. Film. Women Make Movies, 2001.
Kaczorowski, Craig. “The Mattachine Society.” glbtq encyclopedia. www.glbtqarchive.com/

ssh/mattachine_society_S.pdf. Accessed 15 July 2017.
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default/files/legacy_files/migrated/latinophiladelphiaataglance.pdf. Accessed 4
April 2016.

Lawrence et al. v. Texas. United States Supreme Court. https://www.supremecourt.gov/
oral_arguments/argument_transcripts/2002/02-102.pdf. Accessed 15 July 2017.

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Lewis, John, and Andrew Aydin, with illustrations by Nate Powell. March: Book One. Mari-
etta, Ga.: Top Shelf Productions, 2013.

Londoño, Ernesto. “Who Threw the First Brick at Stonewall?” New York Times, 26 August
2015. https://takingnote.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/08/26/who-threw-the-first-brick
-at-stonewall/?_r=0. Accessed 15 July 2017.

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Major Griffin-Gracy, Miss. Interview by Andrea Jenkins for the Transgender Oral History
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McElhinney, Glenne. On These Shoulders We Stand. Part of Impact Stories: An Oral History
Project Gathering Stories from the California LGBT Community. Film. 2010.

Moffitt, Evan. “10 Years before Stonewall, There Was the Cooper’s Donuts Riot.” Out Maga-
zine, 31 May 2015. https://www.out.com/today-gay-history/2015/5/31/today-gay-
history-10-years-stonewall-there-was-coopers-donuts-riot. Accessed 3 February 2016.

Ramírez, Catherine S. The Woman in the Zoot Suit: Gender, Nationalism, and the Cultural Poli-
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Rivera, Sylvia. Speech to the Latino Gay Men of New York, June 2001. Centro Journal 19.1
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Griot, 27 November 2009. http://transgriot.blogspot.com/2009/11/georgina-bey
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———. “Miss Major Talks Stonewall.” TransGriot, 11 July 2015. http://transgriot.blogspot
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———. “The 1965 Dewey’s Lunch Counter Sit-In.” TransGriot. 18 October 2007. http://
transgriot.blogspot.com/2007/10/1965-deweys-lunch-counter-sit-it.html.
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Skiba, Bob. “Dewey’s Famous.” Philadelphia Gayborhood Guru. https://thegayborhood
guru.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/deweys-famous/. Accessed 29 February 2016.

Steen, Jeff. “Liberation vs. Assimilation: Can the LGBT Community Achieve Both Equality
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.com/trending/liberation-vs-assimilation-can-the-lgbt-community-achieve
-both-equality-and-cultural-identity/. Accessed 5 April 2018.

Stein, Marc. City of Sisterly and Brotherly Loves: Lesbian and Gay Philadelphia, 1945 – 1972.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.

Stern, Jessica. “This Is What Pride Looks Like: Miss Major and the Violence, Poverty, and
Incarceration of Low-Income Transgender Women.” S&F Online 10.1 – 2 (2011 –
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like-miss-major-and-the-violence-poverty-and-incarceration-of-low-income-
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ley: Seal Press, 2017.

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Stryker, Susan, and Victor Silverman. Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s. Film.
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?v=ybnH0HB0lqc. Accessed 15 July 2017.

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5

line between “normal” and “abnormal” has broad

consequences for everyone. Accordingly, we hope that

the volume will help crystallize debates and problems

internal to disability studies, as well as establish their

importance to many other areas of inquiry across the

disciplines. And we hope that, as with Bauman’s proj-

ect, the structure we have created together will inspire

others not only to build new structures but also to think

more creatively and more inclusively about the people

who will interact with them.

Editors’ note: In the time since we first drafted this

introduction, the field of disability studies suffered two

great losses with the deaths of Adrienne Asch in Novem-

ber 2013 and Tobin Siebers in January 2015. Their work

left its mark on so many of the ideas expressed in this

volume. If we imagine disability studies as a collabora-

tive design, its structure was immeasurably enhanced

by the wisdom, courage, and insight of Adrienne and

Tobin. We hope that our future work in the field will be

a tribute to their legacies, and we dedicate this volume

to their memory.

1
Disability
Rachel Adams, Benjamin Reiss, and David Serlin

In the 2009 documentar y film Monica and David,

Monica, a woman with Down syndrome, is asked to

define the word “handicap.” She responds, “When

someone is in a wheelchair,” adding that the term may

also apply to people who cannot hear or walk. “It’s a

sickness,” she concludes. When presented with the

same question, her husband, David (who also has Down

syndrome), says he does not have a handicap. Asked

if he has Down syndrome, he answers, “Sometimes.”

In this brief exchange, Monica and David exemplify

the challenges of defining disability as a coherent

condition or category of identity. Yet David’s assertion

that “sometimes” he has Down syndrome suggests that

he understands a central tenet of disability studies: that

disability is produced as much by environmental and

social factors as it is by bodily conditions. While Down

syndrome may prevent David from driving a car or

managing his own finances, for example, his genetic

condition is not a defining feature of his home and

family life.

These insights by Monica and David remind us that

the meanings we attribute to disability are shifting, elu-

sive, and sometimes contradictory. Disability encom-

passes a broad range of bodily, cognitive, and sensory

differences and capacities. It is more fluid than most

other forms of identity in that it can potentially hap-

pen to anyone at any time, giving rise to the insiders’

acronym for the nondisabled, TAB (for temporarily able-

bodied). As David suggests, disability can be situational;

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AN: 992496 ; Rachel Adams, Benjamin Reiss, David Serlin.; Keywords for Disability Studies
Account: s4264928.main.edsebook

d i s a b i l i t y r a c h e l a d a m s , b e n j a m i n r e i s s , a n d d a v i d s e r l i n6

it can also wax and wane within any particular body.

Disability brings together people who may not agree on

a common definition or on how the category applies

to themselves and others. Yet those same definitional

challenges are precisely what make disability such a rich

concept for scholars, activists, and artists. Because “dis-

ability” is this volume’s organizing term, it is important

that we explore how it became attached to such diverse

experiences and meanings, and produced such a wide

range of social, political, and personal consequences.

The word “disability” has been part of the English

language since at least the sixteenth century. Accord-

ing to the Oxford English Dictionary, the current sense

of “a physical or mental condition that limits a per-

son’s movements, senses, or activities [or] the fact or

state of having such a condition” was first used in

1547. But the term also covered a broad range of “in-

abilities” or “incapacities” that included inability to

pay a debt or to worship God with a full heart, while

some conditions currently treated as disabilities were

not regarded as such. Some—like autism or chronic

fatigue syndrome—had not been discovered (or in-

vented, depending on one’s perspective); others, like

chronic pain or various disfigurements, were simply

considered inevitable facts of life.

For much of its historical r un, “disability” has

brushed up against words like “infirmity” and “afflic-

tion,” both of which held connotations usually ascribed

to disability today, as well as phenomena like poverty,

ugliness, weakness, sickness, or simply subjection to an

unfortunate experience (Baynton 2011). Disability also

shared ground with the early modern term “monstros-

ity” and the classical-era term “deformity”—the former

having supernatural overtones and the latter represent-

ing a falling away from godliness into a particular kind

of moral and physical ugliness (see Helen Deutsch’s

entry on “Deformity” in this volume). By contrast, the

word “cripple,” which derives from the idea of one who

creeps, represented an attempt to characterize various

physical impairments that impeded mobility. Similarly,

“invalid” was an early medical shading of a broad range

of infirmities resulting from injury or illness.

It was in the nineteenth century that disability be-

came firmly linked, through the discourses of statistics,

medicine, and law, to words such as “deviance,” “abnor-

mality,” and “disorder.” Lennard Davis (1995) argues

that during this time the modern conception of disabil-

ity emerged as a by-product of the concept of normalcy.

Earlier human bodies were measured against idealized

and often spiritual standards of perfection and ability

that no earthly individual could match. With the devel-

opment of statistical science and the bell curve, human

ability came to be understood as a continuum, with dis-

ability and disabled people occupying the extreme and

inferior end of the spectrum.

During the late nineteenth and early twentieth

centuries, protecting the normal from the abnormal

became a broad medical and social imperative under-

taken in the name of progress. Vocabulary terms as-

sociated with disability reflect these shifts. Just as the

eugenics movement attempted to rid the world of many

disabilities through sterilization and segregation, dis-

ability terminology emphasized backwardness, atavism,

and interruption: people with disabilities were said to

be “slow,” “retarded,” or in a state of “arrested develop-

ment.” Hereditary explanations stressed the degenerate

threat disability posed to the white race. People with

intellectual disabilities (classified under the broad term

“feebleminded”), in particular, were said both to exem-

plify the debilitating effects of modernity and to repre-

sent instances of exceptional regression (Valente 2013).

At a time when the industrialized world prized speed

and efficiency, the temporal lag associated with disabil-

ity amounted to being “handicapped in the race for life.”

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d i s a b i l i t y r a c h e l a d a m s , b e n j a m i n r e i s s , a n d d a v i d s e r l i n 7

Many of these terms remain as residual signifiers for

disability in contemporary society. As Douglas Baynton

argues, by the early twentieth century, one had only to

say “handicapped” to indicate disability, while in France

the primary translation for disabled remains handicappé

(Baynton 2011; Stiker 1999). On a global scale, however,

“disability” has now become the preferred term. It be-

gan its ascent in the United States during the Civil War,

when “disability” measured one’s capacity to serve in

the armed forces or one’s right to compensation from

injuries incurred in military service. As the welfare state

developed in the twentieth century, the term came to

incorporate chronic illnesses and conditions of impair-

ment that impeded one’s ability to work (Linker 2013,

503–505). But paradoxically, as “disability” has muscled

out older competitors, it has also grown more ambigu-

ous and unstable in its meanings. This is because as the

term has expanded to include new categories of expe-

rience and perception as well as phenomena once la-

beled by other terms, those meanings have simultane-

ously been challenged by scholars and activists (Kudlick

2003).

Although now someone with a visual impairment

may recognize “disability” as the structure that links

her to a wheelchair user or a person labeled as autistic,

it thickens our sense of such alliances to study how

people in earlier times understood—or, alternately, did

not understand—their connections to each other. The

historical record provides glimmers of cross-disability

awareness but also of obstacles to finding common

ground or shared values. A 1641 law in colonial Massa-

chusetts, for instance, provided exemptions from pub-

lic service for settlers who could claim “greatness of age,

defect in mind, failing of senses, or impotency of Limbs”

(Nielsen 2012, 21). Such unfitness for work ultimately

led to organized systems of charity—and, by the nine-

teenth century, institutional quarantining and attempts

at medical “correction” for people with a wide range of

impairments.

Paradoxically, such quarantining sometimes pro-

moted social cohesiveness within and even across differ-

ent types of institutions. In nineteenth-century asylums

and other specialized “total institutions,” blind and deaf

people, people defined as mentally ill or deficient, and

other disabled people often came into contact with

large numbers of other members of their group for

the first time. Thomas Gallaudet, the cofounder of the

American Asylum for the Deaf, characterized the typi-

cal student at his school as “among his countrymen, for

[they] use his native language.” Occasionally, this fel-

low feeling extended across categories of impairment.

A patient-run literary journal published in a public

nineteenth-century asylum for the insane, for example,

records a visit by students from a school for the blind;

another article in the journal speculates on the in-

creased susceptibility of blind and deaf people to men-

tal illness, showing an appreciation for the shared social

vulnerability of all of these groups. Such institutional

dispatches suggest a flickering awareness of institution-

alization as the grounds for identifying a common set

of experiences. Such connections were the grounds

for political activism. Early American deaf-rights activ-

ist John Jacobus Flournoy, for instance, was one of the

first to use the word “disability” in relation to deafness

among a range of physical and mental differences when

he wrote in 1855: “The old cry about the incapacity of

men’s minds from physical disabilities, I think it were

time, now in this intelligent age, to explode!” (Krentz

2007, 155).

As with segregation, colonialism, and apartheid,

shared experiences of social separation and political

disenfranchisement ultimately galvanized many people

with disabilities and their supporters toward a common

purpose. However, before the 1960s, politicized protests

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d i s a b i l i t y r a c h e l a d a m s , b e n j a m i n r e i s s , a n d d a v i d s e r l i n8

against the oppressive features of institutionalization

and discrimination were scattered and generally did not

speak for broad categories of disability. For instance, in

the United States during the 1930s, when the League of

the Physically Handicapped decried the Works Progress

Administration’s policy of failing to employ people with

physical disabilities, it did not include people with men-

tal or developmental disabilities in its list of those who

had suffered discrimination (Nielsen 2012, 132). And

when the league approached leaders of the Deaf com-

munity to make common cause, they were rebuffed on

the grounds that the Deaf were not disabled or unem-

ployable (Burch 2002, 126). (Today, the Deaf commu-

nity tends to regard deafness as a culture; whether it is

also a “disability” is a contentious point.)

In this volume, the entry by Denise Nepveux on “Ac-

tivism” tells how isolated protest movements cohered

into the broad disability rights movement, which, by

the late 1960s, was agitating for inclusion and access

on many fronts, and which strengthened the sense of

disability as a positive identity category rather than

a stigmatized designation of inferiority or lack. Po-

litical organizing within the incipient disability rights

movements of the 1960s and 1970s attempted to shift

“disability” from an exclusively medical concern to a

broadly social one, an effort that eventually won impor-

tant battles. Major legislation and policy initiatives in

the United States and worldwide reflect this shift, with

profound implications for governments, businesses,

and citizens—disabled and nondisabled alike. For exam-

ple, the first two definitional prongs of the Americans

with Disabilities Act (ADA; 1990; amended 2008) locate

the meanings of disability within the body: “A physical

or mental impairment that substantially limits one or

more major life activities of such individual; a record

of such an impairment.” These definitions are surpris-

ingly similar to the long-standing dictionary definition

of “a physical or mental condition that limits a person’s

movements, senses, or activities” or “the fact or state

of having such a condition.” However, the third defini-

tional prong of the ADA, which adds “being regarded

as having such an impairment,” put perceptions and

social attitudes squarely in focus (Emens 2013). The UN

Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

(2008) goes even further in defining disability’s social

dimensions. Disability, according to the convention,

“results from the interaction between persons with im-

pairments and attitudinal and environmental barriers

that hinders their full and effective participation in so-

ciety on an equal basis with others.” Perhaps most ex-

pansively, the vision of accessibility propounded by Ron

Mace and the universal design movement since the late

1980s was born out of a belief that particular physical

or sensory differences only become disabling when the

environment creates barriers to access. These recent de-

velopments all emphasize meanings of “disability” that

are external to the body, encompassing systems of social

organization, institutional practices, and environmen-

tal structures. Disability studies scholars refer to this

approach as the “social model,” which challenges the

medical understanding of disability as located exclu-

sively in an individual body, requiring treatment, cor-

rection, or cure (Shakespeare 2006b).

Although the social model predominates, in much

recent scholarship, disability refers to a subjective state,

the condition not only of identifying as disabled but

also of perceiving the world through a particular kind

of lens. As Sharon Snyder and David Mitchell (2006)

note, narratives of disability history that focus on legis-

lative triumphs, social inclusion, and the breakdown of

stigma risk losing sight of the distinct, individual, and

subjective experiences that make up disability’s his-

tory. Disability subjectivity, they argue, does not come

either from bodily impairment or from the socially

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d i s a b i l i t y r a c h e l a d a m s , b e n j a m i n r e i s s , a n d d a v i d s e r l i n 9

constructed world outside; instead, they argue for a

“cultural model” of disability that explores the disabled

body’s interface with the environments in which the

body is situated. While it may be true that to lose one’s

leg, or to be visually impaired, or to have a chronic ill-

ness in the twenty-first-century United States is incom-

mensurate with what those impairments or conditions

meant in eighteenth-century Europe or ancient Egypt,

disability itself always begins and ends with the subjec-

tive impressions of the individual who experiences the

world through her body. Despite the lingering popular

sense that disability represents deficiency or defect of

body or mind, the cultural (or, alternately, biocultural)

model of disability as a relationship between body and

society is gaining increasing legitimacy in law, policy,

and the social environment worldwide.

Part of the transformation of “disability” from stigma

and object of medical correction to source of knowl-

edge reflects this new attention to inwardness. Disabil-

ity becomes a mode of situating one’s understanding

of self rather than a marker of isolation, what the late

disability historian Paul Longmore (2003, 246) called

the “social death” sometimes experienced by people

with disabilities. Whereas too often the experience of

disability entered the historical record only through

the words of those who tried to cure, tame, correct, or

end it, disability studies scholarship is now focused

on building—as well as excavating from the past—a

rich and self-conscious record of the perspectives of

disabled people themselves. Memoirs, films, journals,

performance spaces, and online social networks pro-

moting what is sometimes defiantly referred to as “crip”

culture are all regular features of this new landscape of

disability; meanwhile, academic conferences, journals,

and degree programs have made disability studies a

prominent force on many campuses. Such new devel-

opments parallel feminist epistemologies—including

what used to be called “women’s way of knowing”—as

well as postcolonial and critical race theorists’ critiques

of hybrid identities and psychic displacements, and

queer theory’s blending of social analysis and subjective

expression. Each of these political-cultural-academic

movements began with a first wave of identifying and

resisting oppressive structures, which was followed by

attempts to recover a cultural heritage as a backdrop for

individual and collective expression in the present.

Intersectional modes of analysis point to the com-

mon interests, struggles, and pleasures these move-

ments can promote. Deaf artist and activist Joseph

Grigely (2005) works in this vein when he speaks of a

“proactive” disability studies: one that is focused not

just on attaining rights and accommodations for people

with disabilities but also on developing dynamic, inter-

active, and collaborative projects that challenge the

tyranny of “normal” in all areas of social and political

life. To this end, the subjective experiences of people on

the wrong side of “normal” can be used, in the words

of the Dutch educational philosopher Pieter Verstraete,

“to expose the self to the other,” rather than merely to

“reduce the other to the self” (2007, 63). Vivid examples

of this work of mutual “beholding” rather than objec-

tifying “staring” can be found in Rosemarie Garland-

Thomson’s (2009) discussion of disabled artists who

turn the unwanted attention of others into the subject

of their own work.

While some scholars and activists claim or assume

that disability is a category that cuts across cultures,

others have noted that disability studies rests on as-

sumptions derived from and specific to the Western

world, and that its histories and archives continue to

have a strongly Euro-American orientation. Disability

scholarship and activism in Europe and North America

have long sought independence for people with dis-

abilities, a demand that arose in reaction against being

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d i s a b i l i t y r a c h e l a d a m s , b e n j a m i n r e i s s , a n d d a v i d s e r l i n10

treated as passive, voiceless, and dependent. In the

1970s, the independent living movement was born in

Berkeley, California, and quickly took hold throughout

the United States and Europe, with the goal of achiev-

ing greater autonomy and inclusion by providing

people with disabilities with personal assistants and

adaptive technology. However, as Eva Kittay (1999) has

noted, largely overlooked in the quest for autonomy is

the fact that the independence of disabled consumers is

contingent on the labor of personal assistants who are

almost always immigrant women, sometimes with un-

claimed disabilities of their own. “Independence” and

“autonomy” are concepts that are deeply embedded in

the Western philosophical and political traditions of

liberalism and are not universally desirable goals in all

cultural contexts (Nussbaum 2006).

The global ambitions of the universal design move-

ment, which upholds the worthy goal of a barrier-free

environment, also sometimes founder on the realities

of global inequalities: this approach relies on architec-

tural innovations and the use of technologies that may

be too costly to be realistically implemented in many

areas of the developing world. Moreover, the technolo-

gies that enable people with disabilities in the Western

world are often manufactured by workers who cannot

afford to use them, and who may themselves be dis-

abled. For example, the smartphones and computer

tablets that give students with disabilities in the West

tools to learn alongside their nondisabled peers and

that supply increasingly ingenious apps to allow blind,

deaf, and mobility-impaired people to navigate their

environments are likely to have been assembled under

harsh and potentially disabling conditions in China.

Michael Davidson argues that a more global disability

studies must refine the concept of universal design to

account for variations in resources and cultural values.

In this way, disability studies can prompt us to consider

how “many aspects of modernity are founded upon un-

equal valuation of some bodies over others” (Davidson

2008, 171).

Some scholars have offered the concept of “debility”

as a supplement to disability, which they see as entan-

gled with Western ideas about individuality, autonomy,

and bodily integrity. The dictionary meaning of “debil-

ity” overlaps with “disability”: it is the “condition of

being weak or feeble,” in either physical or mental ca-

pacity. But a secondary meaning—“political, social, or

pecuniary weakness”—makes it useful for scholars at-

tuned to populations made vulnerable by political and

economic forces globally: For instance, Jasbir Puar uses

the term to signify an “aggregate” condition in which

some bodies worldwide are made to pay for “progress”

that others enjoy. “Debility,” she writes, “is profitable

for capitalism” (2012, 153). Like Puar, Julie Livingston

uses the term “debility” to supplement the concept of

disability and its attendant assumptions about a lib-

eral, rights-based understanding of personhood. In

Botswana, for instance, AIDS activists have sought the

equal participation of persons with disabilities in the

public sphere, but Livingston shows how the liberal

model of personhood at the heart of their activism is

undercut by Botswanan notions of moral sensibility,

which include both an ethos of communal care and

an intense aversion to certain types of bodily disfigure-

ment or unruliness. While Euro-American versions of

disability rights focus on “enabling persons to partici-

pate equally in rational-critical discourse in the public

sphere regardless of the vagaries of any individual’s

particular bodily state,” such goals collide with cultural

systems that shape the circulation of bodies, emotions,

and values differently (Livingston 2008, 289).

Obscuring these different constructions of disability

and debility, human rights activists and policy makers

around the world tend to idealize Western—and often

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d i s a b i l i t y r a c h e l a d a m s , b e n j a m i n r e i s s , a n d d a v i d s e r l i n 11

specifically American—attitudes and practices concern-

ing disability, while labeling those in the “developing”

world as “backward” (Kim 2011). Certainly, the United

States has done much to bring forward disability rights

as a concept to be emulated elsewhere, but the social

situation of people with disabilities is by no means uni-

formly secure. In the United States, health and physical

beauty are marketed as commodities more aggressively

than in any other culture. The rhetoric of the beauty,

fashion, diet, and fitness industries, illustrated by the

allure of cosmetic surgery, equates falling from these

ideals with moral failure. So, too, in times of economic

scarcity in the United States and other market-driven

societies, people with disabilities and their supporters

are often seen as a burden on public resources. Programs

for education, transportation, and public services for

people with disabilities are often the first to be cut by

budget-conscious politicians. A backlash against civil

rights accomplishments blames disability legislation

for, in effect, “crippling” the economy. And many who

claim accommodation or compensation under the law

are viewed with suspicion of malingering—especially

those whose disabilities are not immediately visible.

The mapping of the human genome has also had am-

bivalent consequences for disability. Research that

promises to cure or prevent disease and to bring new

understanding of human character and potential often

does little more than succeed in producing a new class

of people whose genes tell us that they may someday be-

come disabled by diseases like breast cancer, cystic fibro-

sis, or Huntington’s disease—thereby creating a perva-

sive anxiety about disability as a future risk. So, too, new

technologies for prenatal testing seek to eliminate some

types of genetic disability through the termination of

fetuses. Such tests further stigmatize genetic conditions

by making them seem like preventable mistakes. And in

the eyes of many disability rights advocates, they augur

a new era of eugenics, in which disability is eradicated

before it comes into the world.

Our understanding of disability is enhanced by

awareness of the term’s complex genealogy, as well as

by the enormously varied experiences of embodiment

across cultures and socioeconomic locations. If history

is any indication, the meanings of disability and the

words we use to describe its various manifestations will

no doubt undergo profound shifts as a category of iden-

tity; a social, legal, and medical designation; and an em-

bodied condition. As a way of perceiving the world, it

will help us to understand—and to influence—the way

that future takes shape.

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