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    Honoring Trans Women of Color as Pioneers of the LGBTQ Rights Movement

    By Katie Conry–

    Trans women, especially trans women of color, have been at the forefront of the struggle for queer liberation. This is strongly reflected in the history of the Tenderloin and across the country as well. We are proud to share it at the Tenderloin Museum, which opened in July 2015 and celebrates the rich history of one of San Francisco’s most overlooked neighborhoods.

    Through history exhibitions, resident-led walking tours, community programs and the presentation of original artwork, the Tenderloin Museum invites all comers to learn about the roots of our dynamic neighborhood. The Tenderloin Museum highlights the pioneering activism and fierce resistance woven deeply into the story of our 31-square blocks.

    The cornerstone of this history is the Tenderloin’s role as a center of LGBTQ activism, including the 1966 Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, the first recorded militant uprising by the queer community against police harassment in U.S. history. As such, this history features prominently into our permanent exhibition and public programming.

    Play Recreates History

    On February 22, 2018, the Tenderloin Museum opened the interactive theater work The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot to the delight of a sold-out crowd and quickly sold out every night of the extended run. The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot was directly inspired by the 1966 riots that were a catalyst for the birth of LGBTQ activism in San Francisco. Predating New York City’s Stonewall Inn Riot by three years, The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot remains relatively unknown. The riot has become an integral piece of the Tenderloin’s identity, and this play has offered a singular opportunity for audiences to celebrate the individuals whose tenacious spirit spawned a civil rights movement.

    As for what happened at Compton’s during that fateful summer of 1966, a drag queen patron of the cafeteria threw her cup of hot coffee in the face of a police officer as he made an unwarranted attempted to arrest her. The neighborhood’s drag queens and allies banded together to fight back against their ongoing discrimination, beating the cops with their high heels and throwing furniture through the cafeteria windows.

    While the play The Compton’s Cafeteria Riot has immense significance for the TLGB community at large, it was a defining moment for the Tenderloin. The play was conceived in 2015 and developed by myself and Bay Area playwright Mark Nassar. The history on display at the museum inspired us to translate this pivotal moment to the stage. Nassar wrote the script with legendary neighborhood drag queens Donna Personna and Collette LeGrande, whose firsthand accounts of Compton’s inform the dialogue and direction. After last year’s wildly successful run at the Tenderloin Museum, our partners plan to restage the play later this year.

    Compton’s Transgender Cultural District

    Another exciting contribution to the remembrance of the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot and the LGBTQ rights movement it spawned is the creation of the first legally recognized transgender district in the world, the Compton’s Transgender Cultural District. Spearheaded by three Black trans women—Honey Mahogany, Janetta Johnson and Aria Sa’id—and currently under the

    leadership of Sa’id, this cultural district continues the vital work of honoring the neighborhood’s trans history and celebrating the people living and working in the Tenderloin today.

    Honoring both the Compton’s Cafeteria and Stonewall Riots honors trans women, and particularly trans women of color, and recognizes their vital contributions to the early days of the LGBTQ movement. Commemorating these landmark historical events gives trans women back their rightful place as pioneers of the movement. Honoring the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, the neighborhood’s seminal act of resistance of a marginalized community striving for survival and recognition, gives the Tenderloin and San Francisco back their rightful place in history as the birthplace of the modern LGBT rights movement.

    Katie Conry is the Executive Director of the Tenderloin Museum in San Francisco (