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    Trans Activist Felicia Flames Elizondo Inspires Trans High School Students and Others


    10.13.16 FINAL.small_Page_20_Image_0001(Editor’s Note: Teacher Lyndsey Schlax of the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the 10.13.16 FINAL.small_Page_20_Image_0002Arts launched the nation’s first on-site high school LGBT course in 2015. She has just resumed teaching that groundbreaking class. In this column, her students share their thoughts about LGBT-related matters, including their concerns, what they have learned in class and more.)

    Role Model Felicia Flames Elizondo

    Student, Grade 11

    In our LGBTQ Studies class recently we had the pleasure of meeting Felicia Flames Elizondo. She is a transgender activist, AIDS survivor, Vietnam veteran, and San Francisco icon. She talked to us about prostitution, fighting in the Vietnam war, and the reality of being a transgender woman in 1960s San Francisco. Specifically, she talked a lot about the riot at Gene Compton’s Cafeteria, which took place three years before the infamous 1969 Stonewall riots. Trans women, armed with coffee mugs and heels, fought in protest against the unfair treatment they faced from police.

    As a trans person, hearing about the history of the community from someone who was a part of it was incredibly moving. It really reminded me about my reasons for signing up for this class in the first place, to learn about the untold stories in history. Many people who learn about the Stonewall riots don’t learn about the fact that it was started by trans women of color; and many people don’t learn about the riot at Gene Compton’s at all. Transgender people do not deserve to be written out of history. Our lives are not less significant or less important than other people’s. We deserve to be recognized for who and what we are.

    Knowing about San Francisco’s ‘Stonewall’

    Student, Grade 12

    This week my LGBTQ+ class watched a film about a largely unknown riot that took place in our very own city. On a hot August night in 1966, tensions boiled over when the queens, “hair fairies,” and trans women dining at Gene Compton’s Cafeteria finally fought back against the police, spilling out of the shattered doors and windows into the streets at the corner of Turk and Taylor. Despite this riot occurring three years prior to Stonewall, this historical event is little known among LGBTQ+ and non-LGBTQ+ people alike.

    Who were these revolutionaries? How had such a relevant piece of LGBTQ+ history been buried, especially in a city like San Francisco? I asked my mother, who was born in 1960 and raised in the city, and knows much of its history. I asked my brother, a gay twenty-year-old, and rising San Francisco drag queen. Despite being immersed in times and communities that should have taught this story, neither of them had heard of the riot at Compton’s Cafeteria. My mother didn’t even know that the Tenderloin had once been a hub for gay and trans residents. To bring some justice to the rioters, I watched the film again with my mom and brother the next evening.

    There is great importance in hearing the untold stories of history. Sometimes, those stories may have little to do with the shaping of one’s own identity, but each riot and subsequent step forward has contributed to the present state of our world nonetheless. As a citizen of San Francisco, I see it as my responsibility to acknowledge the events, and the people, who are to thank for the resulting community in this city that has given me a safe space to explore my own identity.

    The activists of the Compton’s Cafeteria riot helped bring awareness to the struggles of LGBTQ+ people, specifically trans women, at a time when simply being themselves in public was worthy of a charge for “obstructing the sidewalk.” Stonewall may have been a pivotal moment for the LGBTQ+ liberation movement, but the revolutionary accomplishment of the Compton’s Cafeteria rioters helped me, my family, and my classmates understand ourselves, our city, and our movement in a new way.

    Hidden History

    Student, Grade 12

    For some people outside of this area, San Francisco has the name of The Gay Capital of California. The city has the Castro, the history of Harvey Milk, one of the biggest gay pride parades, and more. Now, if San Francisco is this important to the LGBTQ community, why does a major event that helped pave the way for the rights of drag queens get lost in LGBTQ history?

    When thinking about drag queens as part of the LGBTQ community, many put them under as being transgender, however, there is a difference. While transgender people take their identity very seriously and it is who they truly are, queens make fun of identity and shapeshift into whomever they want to be. They express themselves through fashion and makeup, and their bodies are their canvases.

    San Francisco is a place where many LGBTQ people feel safe to express who they really are, but in the 1960s things were different. There were very few places in San Francisco where queens felt safe and comfortable. An important one of these was Gene Compton’s Cafeteria in the Tenderloin. As time went by and police continued to harass the queens in Compton’s, enough was enough and the first recorded riot against police brutality and discrimination against the LGBTQ community commenced in August 1966.

    Being born and raised in San Francisco, I was shocked when I learned about this event. I am seventeen and had not heard of Compton’s Cafeteria Riot until just a few weeks ago. Why does important history like this get buried underneath everything else that is assumed to be more significant? There was a moment where the feeling of embarrassment fell over me because an event so significant like this one had occurred in my home city, and I had no idea.

    It is facts and stories like these that can save someone, open someone’s eyes, and help them realize they are not alone and they are not the first. Room must be made for history like this. We cannot keep hiding it.

    For more information about the Ruth Asawa San Francisco School of the Arts, please visit http://www.sfsota.org/