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From Violence to Visibility: California’s Oath to the Trans Community

California’s historic bill will shine a light on the transgender community and those who fought back against state-sanctioned oppression during Compton’s Cafeteria Riot of August 1966.

The trans community represents themselves through their designated flag, their voices, and their rich culture. (Photo courtesy of Ted Eytan)

The Transgender community has been under legislative attack with over 500 anti-trans bills reaching Congress with the intent of silencing, harming and disenfranchising the community, according to Trans Legislation Tracker, a website that keeps a record of anti-trans bills.

Among the abundance of legislation that attempts to undermine or silence members of the LGBTQ+ community, California has enacted a bill that may increase visibility, protection and support for trans people.

Them, the award-winning authority that reports on LGBTQ+ issues, reported that the California State Assembly officially passed California House Resolution-57, a bill that will make California the first state in American history to officially declare August as Transgender History Month.

“I believe that this new Transgender History Month bill is long overdue,” said Javier Zarnowiecki, a freshman sociology major at Howard University. 

“While I do believe this bill will create political tension, it is worth it if people are being educated about the transgender community,” said Zarnowiecki, a native of Oakland, California.

The city of San Francisco enacted the bill in 2021, but the state of California will start commemorating the much-anticipated legislation in August of 2024 according to Advocate.

Although transgender people are finally being acknowledged for their advocacy, it is important to note the history behind transgender people and their resilience, which will also explain why the month of August will represent this celebratory event.

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“Compton’s Cafeteria was the center of the universe for us,” transgender activist Felicia “Flames” Elizondo said during an interview with Vice. “It was a place where we could make sure that we had lived through the night,” Elizondo expressed. 

Compton’s Cafeteria was a popular 24-hour diner for LGBTQ+ people to eat, mingle and exist in a society where many members of their community were ostracized and unaccepted. 

According to NPR’s Code Switch, the restaurant quickly became a safe space for not only all queer people but trans women specifically. 

Although Compton’s Cafeteria was a place of shelter for the queer community, it was also a target for law enforcement officers who sought to arrest members of the community. 

After members of the LGBTQ+ community experienced constant harassment by police officers,  in August of 1966, a police officer grabbed the arm of an unidentified drag queen, who responded by throwing a cup of coffee in his face. 

The incident resulted in what is now known as “Compton’s Cafeteria Riot.” The event is historically significant because trans women and queer people fought for their own protection against California police officers.

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In the documentary “Screaming Queens: The Riot at Compton’s Cafeteria,” drag queen Amanda St. Jaymes shed light on the experience. 

“Sugar shakers went through the windows and glass doors…They fought up and down the streets” Jaymes said, according to Guernica Magazine

While the Compton Cafeteria Riot may not be as well known to mainstream society as other events that sought to end injustice against the trans community, such as New York City’s Stonewall Riots of 1969, the event in Compton set a precedent for the  LGBTQ+ community to stand their ground against violence.

“These ladies took the bullets for us…Everyone in our community stands on their shoulders,” Donna Persona, a transgender activist, told The Guardian in 2019. 

Those who participated in the 1960s uprisings and fought for the rights of the LGBTQ+ community and sexual minorities were unsung heroes. 

“I think that California is making the necessary steps to not only recognize trans people and their contributions to society but to also make the bold statement that states are beginning to see trans people,” said 63rd Vice-President of Howard University’s Student Association and junior political science major from Fort Worth, Texas, Murphy Jones, said.

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With the inaugural Transgender History Month commemoration taking place during the same month as the historical uprising in Central Los Angeles, trans activists and participants of the fateful Compton Cafeteria Riot may finally be honored for their sacrifice and service.

Copy edited by Alana Matthew


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