The speech I gave for NW PA Pride Alliance Virtual Pride Fest in June of 2021.
Good afternoon everyone.
I would like to apologize in advance if my thoughts today seem jumbled. I have been fighting a great deal of anxiety and depression for quite a while now. My struggles have been both directly and indirectly related to my being transgender. Anxiety and depression can impact how we see our own pride. I feel it is important to mention this because Pride is a celebration of who we are as individuals and as members of our communities. Let me say that again but in a slightly different way. Pride has been riots. Pride is a celebration. Pride is a demonstration. All of this to show the world who we are, that we are never going away, that we deserve our rights as does everyone in our communities.
I firmly believe that our Pride includes our current lives, histories, and heritages. History and heritage are what I would like to talk about today.
For those who do not know me, my name is Dana Rasmussen. I am a woman of transgender experience. My pronouns are she, her & hers. I am of Danish and English heritage. I grew up in a small, mostly conservative, and very religious area. I have been 100% out & open about being a transgender woman since September 19 of 2019. I share a similar set of background stories with many transgender people. I did not know I was trans at a young age, but I did know I was different. Like many of my trans and gender non-conforming siblings, I am a member of multiple groups within the LGBTQ+ family. I have a very loving and kind ally who has been with me on much of my journey. I am a writer of sorts. I enjoy giving back to communities which have helped me. I get a sense of fulfilment when I find out I have made another trans person’s path easier than mine. I am on the board of directors for TransFamily of NWPA. I am kind. I have an INF/TJ personality type. I am very empathetic and emotional. I am a parent of two children. I am a dog mom. I am independent. I am not religious, but I am somewhat spiritual. I am fighting and will win my battles with anxiety, depression, dysphoria, and dysmorphia. I am patient. I persevere. I am enough.
These are some but not all the things which I am. They are all parts of myself, my history, and my heritage which together help to build my personal “Pride”.
When I think about my transgender community’s history and heritage, I first think of the stories of Marsha P. Johnson, Silvia Rivera, and the Stonewall Inn riot in 1969. It was, after all, the event that began “Pride” right?
Many people do not know that “Pride” events have very long histories and tremendous heritages. It is rare that those who do know also understand how intertwined transgender people have always been in both.
Do the names Susan Cooke, Amanda St. James, Felicia Elizondo, and Tamara Ching sound familiar? These trans people are our siblings. They were involved in a riot much like Stonewall. It happened three years earlier in San Francisco. The riot was smaller, but its driving cause was similar. Police had been harassing and arresting drag queens, trans people, and gay people while they ate and talked at Gene Compton’s cafeteria. This led to a portion of the famous tenderloin district recently being designated as the first transgender district in the United States. You can watch their story in the documentary film Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria.
It was common practice in the ‘60s for many bars to deny service to gay, trans, and gender non-conforming people. Sip-in demonstrations were organized at Julius’ Bar in New York City in 1966 by the Mattachine Society. The demonstrators would gather before the bar got busy and then very slowly sip their drinks throughout the evenings and nights. Because there were so many people just sipping drinks other patrons had to wait or go elsewhere. The loss of profit caused by these sip-in demonstrations escalated the exclusion of LGBTQ+ people being served. Lawsuits were filed and eventually resulted in striking down the New York State Liquor Authority’s practice of revoking the liquor licenses of bars which served LGBTQ+ people.
Sit-in demonstrations happened at Dewey’s Lunch counter in Philadelphia in 1965. They were protesting Dewey’s policy of not serving “homosexuals, masculine women, and feminine men.” In the ‘60s the terms masculine women and feminine men were often used to describe transgender people. Three teens were arrested at the first sit-in. This caused a grassroots movement to organize weekly sit-ins. Soon after the 2nd demonstration and learning that more were scheduled, Dewey’s changed its policy.
These are just some of the demonstrations in the ‘60s which either centered around trans people or directly involved us. Trans involvement and inclusion is not limited to this time frame. In the late 1890’s a young Dr. Magnus Hirschfeld founded the Institute for Sexual Research in Berlin. Among the studies performed were psychological, physical, and social impacts and effects of a person’s gender and sexuality, and developing the first hormone therapy treatments. The institute quickly became the world’s foremost authority on the study of what Dr. Hirschfeld called “sexual intermediaries”, those who wished to wear clothes of the opposite sex and those who through their character should be considered the opposite sex. Dr. Hirshfeld would later coin the term “Transvestite” from which evolved the terms “Transsexual” and later “Transgender”. The institute created paying jobs for its patients who would have otherwise not been allowed to hold a job; some even lived at the institute. As the knowledge grew so did the medical understanding of trans people. Doctors at the institute even performed modern medicines first gender affirming surgeries, including that of Lili Elbe, the Danish girl’s multiple surgeries from 1930 through 1932.
Dr. Hirschfeld was in Belgium on a speaking engagement on May 10th, 1933, when rioters raided and looted the institute. This resulted in the library of nearly 20,000 books and publications being burned. I am sure you have seen the photos of Nazi’s burning books in a public square. These photos are of our transgender history and science being destroyed. However not everything was lost. The institute’s client lists were handed over to the authorities. Their names were placed on the first of the “pink-lists”.
“Pink-lists” were used in identifying and detaining transgender and gay people in concentration camps. They were the first to wear what would later be taken back as a symbol of LGBTQ+ pride, the inverted pink triangle.
It is important for us all to understand that no group among us has had a more difficult past than another. We all have struggled to be able to exist, and we must all continue to fight for the most impacted and discriminated against. Another example of us showing up for each other happened last summer. The Black Trans Lives Matter rally in New York City brought together not just people of color but also LGBTQ+ organizations and many other allies who saw the injustices and could no longer stand by. It is estimated that some 15,000 people attended this rally, in the middle of the raging pandemic. They did this to bring attention to the fact that black transgender people, especially women, make up most of the deaths by violent means inflicted on our transgender siblings. They are being killed because they dare to live life as themselves. These people are our siblings. We must stand together to protect them.
These events, transgender and gender non-conforming people, and the innumerable others directly and indirectly impacted by them are part of our collective LGBTQ+ heritage. It is because of all of these that we can exist proudly as our LGBTQ+ selves.