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🌈Prismatic Past: A Lively Look at Queer History! 🌈

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Welcome, dear time travelers! Buckle up and hold on to your rainbows as we journey through the unexplored corridors of queer history, from San Francisco's flamboyant cabarets to the resilient pueblos of New Mexico.

 

With each page turned, each story unveiled, you'll find the queer past isn't just a series of isolated events but a vibrant tapestry woven with courage, flamboyance, and an undying love for freedom. Be ready to meet these remarkable personalities who shaped our present and are inspiring our future! After all, as someone once said, "Queer history is everyone's history." Let's dive in!

Jose Sarria
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José Sarria (1922-2013)

My Story

After serving in World War II, José Sarria returned to his native San Francisco with plans to be a teacher, but an arrest as part of a sting operation on the San Francisco queer community put an end to that dream. Instead, José became a drag performer at the Black Cat Cafe. He became known for his Sunday afternoon opera renditions and eventually became a leader of the San Francisco queer community. José mobilized the community to fight back against police harassment of the queer community in creative ways, including leading group sing-alongs outside the local jail to show solidarity with the queer people incarcerated in one of the police department’s regular sweeps.

 

In 1961, José became the first out queer person to run for public office when he ran for the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, the same position Harvey Milk would win 16 years later. He made opposing police harassment central to his campaign and made local politicians aware of the growing power of the “gay vote.” José also organized San Francisco gay bars into the country’s first gay business association, the Tavern Guild, and later founded the Imperial Court System, a network of drag charitable organizations in which local drag performers, who are elected members of the Imperial Court for the year, raise money for local charitable organizations. It now has chapters all over the world and is the second-largest LGBTQ+ organization in the world.

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Barbara Smith
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Barbara Smith (1946- )

My Story

In 1975, scholar-activist Barbara Smith formed the Combahee River Collective with her twin sister Beverly and friend Demita Frazier. The group’s manifesto, The Combahee River Collective Statement, articulated their concept of identity politics which centered their experiences as queer women of color who had felt marginalized by male-dominated Black civil rights organizations and white-dominated feminist and queer organizations. The Combahee River Collective Statement would later influence Kimberley Crenshaw Williams’ formulation of the concept of intersectionality.  

 

Smith also formed Kitchen Table: Women of Color Press with a group of other Black lesbian writers and scholars, including Audre Lorde. The press published work by Black lesbian and feminist writers, including several highly influential anthologies such as Home Girls: A Black Feminist Anthology and This Bridge Called My Back: Writings by Radical Women of Color, which made this work accessible in college classrooms. In addition to publishing, Kitchen Table organized conferences and literary events that allowed queer women of color to build networks and relationships and was influential in the development of Black Studies, Queer Studies, and Women & Gender Studies programs at universities around the country and helped pave the way for writers such as Alice Walker and Toni Morrison becoming part of the mainstream American literary canon.

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We'Wha
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We’Wha (1849-1896)

My Story

We'Wha was born in 1849 as a member of the Zuni people, one of the many Pueblo cultures that inhabit the areas now known as western New Mexico and eastern Arizona. As a teenager, We'wha was identified as a Lhamana, a nonbinary gender identity in Zuni culture for people assigned male at birth who take on social and ceremonial roles usually performed by women, at least some of the time. We'wha was taught both male and female cultural roles, used male and female pronouns, and moved back and forth between traditionally masculine and feminine dress.


The year We'wha was born was also the year the Zuni first had contact with American colonizers, who had recently claimed the New Mexico and Arizona territories after the Mexican-American War. We'wha worked for many of the colinizers and became a primary point of contact between the Zuni and the settlers. In 1886, We'Wha was part of the first Zuni delegation to Washington and met with President Grover Cleveland. In We'wha's later life, the mostly peaceful relationship between the Zuni and the white settlers, which had allowed the Zuni to continue their traditional practices relatively undisturbed, broke down as whites began their program of forceful assimilation and tried to destroy traditional practices like recognition of the lhamana. We'wha and five others were arrested for witchcraft and spent a month in prison.

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Bj Bud
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Bj Bud (1948-1996)

My Story

Lesbian activist Bj Bud was born in Chicago in 1948 and became a leader of the Phoenix gay community starting in the 1970s. One of the galvanizing events for the Arizona gay community was the 1976 murder of 21-year-old Richard Heakin, who was beaten to death by three teenagers outside a Tucson gay bar. This led to the organizing of Tucson Pride, Arizona’s first Pride march, in 1977. That same year, Bj Bud started Sunday’s Childe, a newsletter that covered Arizona news, anti-LGBT legislation, and community events. Bj and fellow activist Kirk Baxter formed the Lesbian & Gay Pride Planning Committe and in 1981 organized the first Phoenix Pride, a politically-focused march from Patriots Square Park (now CityScape) to the State Capitol.

 

Bj continued to be active in the community throughout the 80s, bringing awareness of the AIDS crisis to Arizona and becoming one of the leaders of the 1987-88 campaign to recall racist Arizona governor Evan Mecham. After Bud passed away in 1996, the now-defunct Valley of the Sun Gay and Lesbian Center named its historical archive the Bj Bud Memorial Archives in her honor. After the Center closed, the archive was donated to ASU and is now located at Hayden Library in Tempe. It is the largest LGBTQ+ archive in Arizona and includes issues of Sunday’s Childe among other artifacts documenting the history of the Arizona LGBTQ+ community and Bud’s role in it.

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Jeanne Manford
(1920-2013)

Jeanne Manford

My Story

Jeanne Manford spent the first half of her life as a quiet schoolteacher and mother in Queens, New York, who could never have pictured herself becoming a leader of the LGBTQ+ rights movement. But then in the mid-1960s, her teenage son Morty came out as gay. Unlike most parents of queer people at the time, Jeanne accepted this immediately and assured Morty she still loved him. A few years later, Morty had become a leader of the Gay Activists Alliance and was badly beaten by an off-duty police officer. This awakened Jeanne to the systemic oppressions that queer people face and in 1972, she marched with Morty in the third annual Christopher Street Liberation Day Parade (now the New York Pride Parade), holding a sign that read PARENTS OF GAYS: UNITE IN SUPPORT OF OUR CHILDREN.

 

Parade attendees were shocked to see a straight parent showing such public support and Jeanne realized the need for an organization that would not only help parents and family accept their queer family members, but organize them politically to fight for equality. So in 1973, Jeanne and Morty founded Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). Starting with a single support group in New York, PFLAG has now grown into the largest LGBTQ+ ally organization in the world, with over 400 chapters and 200,000 members. And from the beginning, PFLAG has worked not only to create tolerance and acceptance, but to turn parents, family, and friends of queer people into active allies and advocates. In 1991, Jeanne served as Grand Marshall of the New York Pride Parade and in 1993 she was Grand Marshall of the first Pride Parade in her home borough of Queens.

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Special Thank you to David Boyles!

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