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February 24, 2014

A Look Back at the T in the 1979 “Gay March” on Washington

By Cristan Williams
@cristanwilliams

 

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Official Souvenir Program of the 1979 National March on Washington, Page 40

It should be noted that the organizer of the 1st MOW was Ray Hill from Houston, Texas. Hill was a significant supporter of both trans inclusion and trans empowerment.

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Trans Leader from Houston, Phyllis Frye (center, holding American flag)

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Phyllis Frye, leading the Texas contingent

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Official Souvenir Program of the 1979 National March on Washington, Page 1

“Gay is Good”

This slogan came out of the 1968 North American Conference of Homophile Organizations (NACHO). This meeting was largely funded by transperson, Lee Brewster (a forgotten trans badass who also funded the Mattachine Society, founded the Queens Liberation Front, funded and coordinated the NY anti-GLBT legal challenges that overturned NY anti-gay laws, published most of the early national trans magazines and newspapers, and fought early anti-trans TERFs like Jean O’Leary  who wanted to erase trans folk from the queer rights movement). The meeting was attended by Houston activist, Ray Hill (who planned the March with Harvey Milk… Hill was the lead organizer of the March on Washington) along with several other transpeople – including Transgender Foundation of America’s Vice President, Alexis Melvin.

In 1967, NACHO wrote:

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Official Souvenir Program of the 1979 National March on Washington, Pages 10 – 11

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Official Souvenir Program of the 1979 National March on Washington, Page 3


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Cristan Williams
Cristan Williams
Cristan Williams is a trans historian and pioneer in addressing the practical needs of the transgender community. She started the first trans homeless shelter in the South and co-founded the first federally funded trans-only homeless program, pioneered affordable healthcare for trans people in the Houston area, won the right for trans people to change their gender on Texas ID prior to surgery, started numerous trans social service programs and founded the Transgender Center as well as the Transgender Archives. Cristan is the editor at the social justice sites TransAdvocate.com and TheTERFs.com, is a long-term member and previous chair of the City of Houston HIV Prevention Planning Group.
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  • Gwendolyn

    Nice story. Now,how about an article on the 1993 MOW. Fifteen years after the original inclusion of transgender folks in the march, transgender folks were allowed to march but were not allowed to complete the march. We were turned away where the parade returned to the Mall. During the time we were stalled on the side of the White House, I overheard two march officials talking about the hold up.
    One told the other, “We don’t want to give people the wrong impression.” I wondered what he meant by that statement. Minutes later, I found out at the Mall. After a short time Phyllis Frye said, “If they won’t let us march in their march, then we’ll hare our own.” Instead of turning right to complete the march and pass by the reviewing stand and the television cameras and other reporters, we turned left.
    We marched up the gravel walkway towards the Capitol Building in our own march. Just another moment in Transgender History.

    Gwen Spencer