It’s the Friday afternoon before Pride Weekend and, at Dolores Park, transgender people and their allies are beginning to show up. Later this evening, the Trans March, one of the largest trans events in the country, will take place. But first, brunch.
Hosted by local nonprofits LYRIC Center for LGBTQ Youth and Openspace, the annual Youth & Elder brunch is an opportunity for the community to come together and share stories of how it was then, and how it is now.
Luis de la Garza, who has been attending Trans March for the last seven years, said there are few opportunities for many generations of the LGBTQ communities to mix, “and I think there’s a lot of misunderstandings,” he said.
“The perception is sometimes that young people are all tech, wealthy, very selfish, and always partying, and that’s not the case,” he said. “That’s actually a very small percentage of young people. So the more that we try to combat those stereotypes and have events like this, the better.”
He listened intently to the speakers onstage, who were speaking about trans* women activists like Sylvia Rivera, a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front.
“I relate a lot to trans folks. A lot of the times I feel like I’m in the wrong body because I’m not able-bodied,” Garza said, reflecting on why he shows up to the march and day of trans-centered events year after year. “There’s these parallels.” He added that the trauma of being assaulted and called names is similar to the violence trans women face in their lives.
Many of the participants we spoke to said showing up to public Pride events like these take a lot of courage.
Svet, who is originally from Kazakhstan but calls the Bay Area home, said he almost didn’t come today, to his first ever Trans March.
“Looking in the mirror this morning, I asked myself, is it easier to put a pillow over my head and stay at home?”
But he’s here. Feeling everything.
“Excited. Timid. Terrified-excited,” said Svet, too shy to have his picture taken.
Connie Pelkey is less shy.
Every year, she comes to Pride in a variation on the same joyous outfit: angel’s wings and rainbow devil’s horns, and a matching tail, too. She only takes off for a vacation from work Pride weekend, she says, because it’s “all holidays rolled into one.”
Candy Coleman brought her dog to the brunch, and also has been coming to Trans March for years.
“It seems to get better every year,” she said, smiling.
Her friend Diande R. Smith said Trans March and the day of activities is also an opportunity to draw attention to the political and social issues transgender people are facing.
The most important one right now?
“Get that thing outta the White House,” Smith said.
“I’m a Civil Rights activist, lover of human beings, a bleeding heart. If you’re not okay, I’m not okay. And everyone is not all okay. There is always work to do. But you know, it gets me going. I can take the sadness. I’m strong. I don’t think you’re ever going to meet anyone as strong as me. I’m fierce. I get through the sadness. It motivates and inspires me.” –Donna Personna
Most of the participants we chatted with spoke about the Trans March — and Pride in general — as more than a big party.
“My form of celebration is to inspire more activism,” said Donna Personna, holding up her lifetime achievement medal from the Grand Marshal that recognizes her 50-plus years of activism. “It’s not a party, it’s a mission.”
For Personna, the best thing a young LGBTQ+ person can do is know their history. Lately, she’s been telling the media and anyone who will listen about the significance of the Compton Cafeteria Riots, an act of resistance in 1966 against police brutality, by trans women of color in the Tenderloin. These women are responsible for many of the later LGBTQ community’s victories and breakthroughs, Personna said.
“Unfortunately, they lived and they died without ever being told that what they were attempting and doing and was not only okay, but beautiful. They were attempting an authentic life,” she added.
Her greatest fear is that these stories will be forgotten.
“I believe that social justice and liberty that is gained that is best when it was done by those people that want it,” she said, smiling. “And it fills my heart that this was transgender women that were working for their own liberties. And the liberty of the whole [LGBTQ] spectrum.”