OUR STORIES: Ivan Valentin and the Connecticut Connection. Fight Back!

Posted: October 18, 2018 in *Celebration*, Fight Back, for your reflection, From us to you, Justice, Real Food For Thought, Trans Liberation, We fight on, We Love Queers

NOTE: Some language terms in this article are terms that were used in 1975-1976 which have been replaced in Queerdom since then. Bear with these terms and be glad we are not still living back then.

Ivan Valentin and The Connection to Connecticut. A Fight Back!

” Our strength lies not in our ability to assimilate, hide and become absorbed, but in our ability despite our great diversity to stick together and to continue to fight for rights of all men and women to be different and diverse and live their lives in freedom according to their own life choices.”  Ivan Valentin


Gay Pride March, NYC. Left to Right: Ivan Valentin, unidentified, Sylvia Rivera, Jim Fouratt, Marsha P. Johnson (photo Joe Caputo)

Ivan Valentin was quoted as saying, “A drag or transvestite is somebody who always dresses as a woman. A female impersonator is someone who claims to actually be a woman. I’m just a man who likes to dress up.” He was a good friend of Sylvia Rivera and helped to fight back during the Stonewall Rebellion where he was hit in the knee by a policeman’s Billy Club and had ten stiches to close the wound. Speaking about that time he remarked, “We had it. We weren’t going to be beaten or jailed. Those with the good jobs ran out of the bar and fled but those of us who remained fought back. ( 1 ) By 1975 Ivan was headlining Leading Ladies of New York, and appeared in Connecticut at the University of Connecticut, in West Hartford at Finocchios East and after fighting against the liquor laws in Ct. and wining in other places around the state.

We are sure very few knew that what happened on December 10, 1975 would be a blow against oppression, a fight for freedom and a big thumbs up for Queer Culture. That night in December along came Lilly Law and her boys and Ivan showed us the way to fight back. A great lesson learned from Stonewall, When you’re under attack, Stonewall means fight back.! More times than not many of our people fall through the cracks of even our ownstories, let alone the mainstreams story books. More times than not these hard fighting folks are people of color. Such is the case of Ivan Valentin in our own Ct LGBT+ stories.

Well that is what Ivan did.

What was the fight about?

“No on-premises consumption place of business such as a restaurant, tavern, hotel, café, or club ,shall permit entertainment consisting of impersonations either of females by males or of males by females, nor shall any permittee of any such establishment advertise, give, permit or participate in any obscene, indecent, immoral, or impure show or entertainment.” ( 2 )

STOP THE SHOW!!

For a brief time from November 1975 to June 1976, the nightspot Finnocchio’s East was an attraction for the gay community. Its New Year’s celebration was called the “First New Year’s Gayla Party” and featured the Arthur Blake Review. According to ads in the Hartford Courant, the Review was so popular that it was held over for four days. An attempt by entertainer Ivan Valentin to perform Leading Ladies of New York with his troop of female impersonators was shut down by the Connecticut State Liquor Commissioner in the winter 1975. Connecticut state law prohibited entertainment at a liquor establishment where men dressed as women or women dressed as men. Valentin said the show was shut down mainly because “it attracted a largely homosexual crowd.” Others argued that the show was seductive and dealt in sexual content. According to Ivan in interviews the show was not seductive and had no sexual content. In a Hartford Courant article written just 4 days after the closing of the show, William Cockerham had this to say, “According to a spokesperson from Finocchios the complaint that closed the show was made by a competitor, another café that was frequented by homosexuals.”( 3 )  Like so many other bars at that time frequented by Lesbian and Gay people a threat was made to the owner of Finocchio’s that if he allowed the show to continue the liquor license for the premises would be taken away. One way folks that those in power kept us down by threatening to close our gathering places.

Ivan a member of The Gay Liberation Front in NYC contacted the membership who came out with full support of Leading Ladies of New York and Ivan and the GLF stated they would join in any actions to be taken “vowing to fight it all the way.” Leading Ladies of New York had performed for years in New York and Massachusetts without any problems. The troupe did impressions of Bette Midler, Marilyn Monroe, Diana Ross and others. I am beginning to wonder if this attack on Ivan Valentin and The Leading Ladies of New York  was rooted in racism and classism owing to the fact that Ivan was a Puerto Rican performer and was very involved with radical politics in NYC.

By June of 1976 things along with the season began to heat up. Ads began appearing that the Chateau de Ville a dinner theater in East Windsor had scheduled a three week show staring the Female impersonator group French Dressing beginning on August 3. When news got around about the show Ivan stated, “That show will open over my dead body, unless my show is allowed to go on.” He then went on to threaten to picket the Chateau de Ville if he had to and filed a formal complaint. Richard Aubuchon, Chateau de Ville manger said, “I don’t understand what all the fuss is about. We are talking about two totally different acts. The show at Finnocchio’s was seductive and dealt in a sexual content.” He said people have told him that Valentin’s show is “strictly a drag show and not very professional.” Where as French Dressing does an impersonation of Miss Judy Garland so well, “That I have actually seen people in the audience weeping because it was so real.” Aubuchon went on to say that French Dressing has performed in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and has been heralded through-out Europe “as a tremendous entertainment.” ( 3 )

In the Hartford Courant article, “Female Impersonators Would Stop Rival Show,” Henry Donovan, chief inspector for the State Liquor Commission, was quoted as say, “the East Windsor dinner theater would be in violation of the law if the show, French Dressing goes on. The regulation has been on the books for years,” Donovan said. When asked if he would close the show, Donovan said, “probably not, unless there was a complaint.” (3)

Ivan Valentin disputed this by saying, “We have no nudity and we don’t used dirty words. We’re not in drag or impersonating women. We’re entertainers. When we’re off the stage, we take off the makeup, and dress in boy’s clothes.” Tom Condon writing for the Hartford Courant, began his review of ‘French Dressing’ this way, “Feminine beauty whether real or contrived is particularly skin deep on the stage. There has to be more and this is the problem with the female impersonator show, ‘French Dressing’ at the Chateau De Ville in East Windsor.” But then went on to praise some of the performers claiming that some “are seasoned night club entertainers,” another “absolutely amazing” and “two come very close to the truth.” But one just wishes there were more to the show.” ( 4 )

Another source for this ourstory lesson comes from Eric Gordon who at the time wrote for the Hartford Advocate.  In the Hartford Advocate story, Imitation of Images Mr. Gordon writes: “When the Chateau de Ville advertised a revue called “French Dressing” this past summer, Ivan betook himself down to th halls of the Liquor omission and raised a terrible ruckus indeed. Dutifully responding to an outraged citizen’s complain the Commission informed the dinner theatre manager Richard Aubuchon that he too, would be running afoul of the law.” Ivan brought his case to the University of Connecticut School of Law and its Legal Clinic. Louis Parley and a team of UConn lawyers were prepared to file suit in federal court against the Liquor Control Commission seeking to overturn the provision on the basis of unconstitutionality. Claiming that the law was overly broad, vague, and enforced in a unequal and discriminatory fashion. According to Mr. Gordon, “Ivan and the group French Dressing where prohibited while giving the go ahead to Flip Wilson and his character “Geraldine.” ( 5 )

At this time Ivan and the Leading Ladies of New York were performing at the bar in Springfield and a group of UConn Lawyers, students and other interested persons went  to the bar to see the show to, in Mr. Gordon’s words, “make sure they are taking on a worthy case.” They found the show to be harmless and points out that Ivan may be doing something very healthy. He confronts his audience head-on with their uptightness. He demands to know what is your problem with me?” ( 5 )

Ivan at the time of the fight back.

THE SHOW WILL GO ON!!

According to an article in The Hartford Courant of March 1976 a hearing by the State Liquor Commission was held on Monday March 29th at the State Office Building in Hartford. The proposed regulations would eliminate the ban on male and female impersonators but they would leave intact a rule barring live entertainment including impersonations without prior approval of the Commission. Joseph Inturri owner of Helton’s Restaurant on New Park Ave. in Hartford has a challenge to the commissions existing regulations, pending in U.S District Court in Hartford. ( 6 )

 

 

 

 

 

 

It was declared a major win and a celebration of a new freedom that male and female impersonators before this could not enjoy. On Sunday, January 30th 1977 Ivan Valentin and his Leading Ladies of New York put on their show in celebration of the new regulations passed by the Ct. State Liquor Commission. The show was held at Mr. Dominick’s Marque Restaurant in Canton Connecticut. The show was the first conducted in the state since such acts were legalized. The show was a thank you gesture toward Dominick Cifarelli who helped to repeal the law an vowed to continue the fight against the new law banning entertainers mixing with patrons. Mr. Cifarelli has at this time filed petitions in the Hartford Federal Court on the ground that the law violates constitutional rights. ( 6 ) (also see note: 2 (e)

In a follow up article in the Hartford Advocate Eric Gordon that Ivan and the Leading Ladies will be appearing at the Hartford Hilton’s Ball Room for two shows on February 10th and 11th. Tickets are being sold at $6.00.

Another Show by Ivan Valentin and the Leading Ladies of New York.

What Makes A Man A Man?

At the University of Connecticut in late October Ivan the Terrible and the Leading Ladies of New York appeared on stage. What makes a man a man was a question that was sung out from the stage as the troupe took the stage as Bette Midler, Barbara Streisand and Delia Reese lip singing to actual recordings the stars had many in the audience wondering what makes a man a man? A part of Ivan’s act was changing from women’s clothing to men’s right before the audience. Taking off the wig, wiping off the mascara, off goes the dress back to being a man. Some performers of this song in the underground clubs after removing the women’s clothing stood naked before the audience. Yes what does make a man a man?

A pretty odd review written by Vivian B. Martin, Monday November1, 1976 for the Connecticut Daily Campos: Pg. 3

Here is what Vivian B. Martin had to say:

“What makes a man a man?” It was a question that was sung rather woefully Sunday night and many wondered as they watched members of a homosexual troupe take to the stage as Bette Midler, Barbara Streisand and Delia Reese. Performing before an audience of predominantly admitted gay people, Ivan Valentin, a female impersonator and director of “Ivan the Terrible and the Leading Ladies of New York began the burlesque-type of revue with a rendition of Cabaret a la Liza Minelli. To anyone that isn’t acquainted with the gay community, the firs view of the performers may be a bit of a shock. The men, or rather the performers, make up and carriage as women are convincing. However, the seemingly quick change of genre was the only outstanding quality of the show. As impersonators, the performers apparently need practice. Although the men were dressed and looked like Midler, Streisand and Reese, the only other resemblance to the entertainers were actual recordings. that, coupled with the fact that some of the performers couldn’t lip sing or gesture without looking like they were yawning is a telling sign of why the group isn’t on 42nd street with other acts of its kind. Because of the performers empathy with the majority of the audience, there was a lot of audience participation. In joking with a “straight” in the audience, Ivan answered the unasked question abut his and other homosexuals “Alleged unmanliness” by saying to the spectator, “I’m more of a man than you and more of a woman that you’ll ever get.”  “I accept myself.” Ivan said yet admits it hasn’t been easy. He finished the act by changing from women’s clothing to men’s right before the audience, while singing a song telling what its’s like to be gay. As he wiped off the mascara and took of his wig, Ivan began to look like any other male on the street. Yet as he sings his troubles, it’s easy to see how unhappy he is despite his jokes. Unlaughing now, the audience starts to question themselves and it’s felt when he asks, “What makes a man, a man?”

What do you have on!

We have all heard of the old time law called the Three Pieces of Clothing Law.  This was a law and an attempt by the fascist state to intimidate, harass and jail, Lesbians, Drag Queens, Fem-boys and Transvestite folks back in the day.  In the 1970 US courts began to hear challenges to such laws on both freedom of expression on vagueness grounds. Bans on cross dressing have been successfully challenged and many cities have taken steps in recent years to remove even unenforced laws banning crossing dressing from their books. But we all know how the police are. they often target someone who looks “different” or does not conform to their expectations, which can include visibly transgender people. Trans women of color have often faced extra scrutiny from the cops who assume that they must be engaging in sex work.

In 2014 the U.S. Department of Justice advised federal law enforcement agencies, including the FBI and ICE that they may not profile or target individuals based on their gender identity.  We will have to wait and see where the present regime leads us to on this issue.

Allyson Allanta, Sylvia Rivera, Ivana Valentin at Stoewall 26 NYC.

So let’s remember everytime we see our faboulous sisters up on the stage performing, or at a benefit helping to raise money for our community let say a little thank you to Ivan Valentin and all of the others for saying no to power that was trying to suppress us, for standing up and for fighting back.

IVAN VALENTIN PRESENTE!

.. and the next time you’re able to gather at a venue to have a ball, or walk the street as yourself without the harassment or arrest by the police, take a moment to think about our elders who fought to express themselves in a oppressive hostile climate.  Always remember that they fought the powers that be, speaking OUT, LOUD AND PROUD for a better world we all could live freely and never forget that our fight for our liberation is tied into the fight for the liberation of all people.

 

Here is a pretty good video:

Lilly Law, sometimes Betty Badge and always Alice Blue Gown have always been after us from shutting down the drag balls, and our shows, to raiding our clubs, to entrapping us in Tea Rooms and where ever we roamed lookin for love. Here is a wonderful post card from the 1930s.

A bit of Ourstories

Drag balls flourished in major cities during the 1920s and the famous “pansy craze” of female impersonations packed burlesque shows with straight as well as gay customers in the early years of the Depression. In 1931 New York police raided the Pansy Club and initiated a campaign of harassment against drag balls and streetwalkers. Similar antidrag campaigns followed in Lost Angeles, Atlantic City, and San Francisco. Drag balls in Harlem had been going on every year since 1869 but due to the harassment of police the 1939 ball was canceled by the Hamilton Lodge. A refocus by the authorities on what they termed “sexual deviation” and “predatory homosexuality.” The Revocation of Gay Bars liquor licenses by the authorities was one mean of control as any gathering of homosexuals was considered to be “not of good character” or a “resort of disreputable persons.”  Over half in states in the 1930s regulated the sale of alcohol through a licensing system and in most states the licensees had to be “of good moral character” and that the premises not be “disorderly” Violation of these regulations meant the liquor license could be revoked. Investigators were sent in to many gay bars and to other gathering places. The state liquor authority closed down bars if a bar allowed its premises “to become disorderly in permitting homosexuals, degenerates, and undesirable people to congregate.” Hundreds of gathering places were closed.

“At the time, being homosexual was, in itself, seen as disorderly,”..  Dick Leitsch, referring to in 1966 when many NYC bars refused to serve homosexuals.

Here is an interesting case. The closing of Gloria’s NYC 1940. Challenging the law unsuccessfully.

“There is no rule or regulation…which provides that a sex variant may not be served.”(8) Interesting here we see Gloria’s challenging the idea of LGBT folks being degenerate, disreputable, not of good character but just sex variant.

The New York state liquor law stated that a liquor license depended on the requirement that it not suffer or permit such premises to become disorderly. This law was interpreted by the State Liquor Authority to apply to people who were considered to be “degenerates.” Can you say us? The State Liquor Authority deemed that Gloria’s had allowed its premises to become disorderly in permitting homosexuals, degenerates and undesirable people to congregate. This charge was based on reports by investigators that male patrons had behaved in a “feminine manner,” that a patron had “Fondled” one of the investigators and two “degenerates had solicited the investigators. Gloria’s was ordered to purge the bar of all degenerates. Gloria’s was closed and other bars in New York City were soon to follow. Other states began a crackdown on bars and the authorities argued in the courts that they had the right to close down bars if they believed that “lewd and degenerate people gathered there.

In Leslie Feinberg’s book Stone Butch Blues a fictional account of 1950 working class lesbian bar culture and the “Three Piece Of Clothing Law” that her main charter Jess is arrested under for wearing men’s underwear was not just a social taboo but a criminal act. The law went back to the mid nineteenth century and outlawed crossing dressing or masquerading as the opposite sex. Starting in 1840 and continuing well into the 20th century ordinances were passed in cities makin it a crime for a man or a woman to appear in public in “a dress not belonging to his or her sex.” The highest number of cross dressing arrests of the century was in 1879 in San Francisco. Women were required to wear three pieces of feminine clothing, and would be arrested if found not wearing them

A way Back in the day.

Let’s start here: Deuteronomy 22:5 (ASV) A woman shall not wear that which pertaineth unto a man, neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment; for whosoever doeth these things is an abomination unto Jehovah thy God. Okay so if I am a communist does this law still apply?

This story is just the tip of the iceberg but our hope at this time is that Ivan Valentin and The Leading Ladies of New York can take their rightful place in Ct. OurStories.

NOTES:

A Big thank you to the Ct. State Library Law Department for providing us with so much of the important information for this article. Also the Hartford Public Library’s History Center for providing us with some very valuable information with the writing of Eric Gordon in the Hartford Advocate. Thank you both.

( 1 ) Ivan Valentin speaking to Robert Pavlick for his book, A Gay Epiphany: How Dare You Speak For God.

( 2 ) This is the Ct. State Law that was used to close The Leading Ladies of New York Show. We have only taken the parts that pertained exactly to the show. From the Connecticut Law Journal, February 24, 1976. The parts of the law surrounded with [  ] are the parts that were removed. We also wish to add these parts just for good measure. Some of these remain on the books:

(c) [No on-premises consumption place of business such as a restaurant, tavern, hotel, café, or club ,shall permit entertainment consisting of impersonations either of females by males or of males by females, nor shall any permittee of any such establishment advertise, give, permit or participate in any obscene, indecent, immoral, or impure show or entertainment]

(f) A permittee will be held strictly accountable for the conduct of his permit premises. (Many times this section was used to close down bars.) It was even used in New York to close down bars if the police felt that the bar may become disorderly.

(d) No person shall be employed or otherwise used on permit premises while such person is unclothed or in such attire, costume, or clothing as to expose to view any portion of the female breast below the top of the areola or any portion of the public hair, anus, cleft of the buttocks, vulva or genitals. No person on the permit premises shall be permitted to touch, caress, or fondle the breasts, buttocks, anus or genitals of another person nor shall any person of the employee be permitted to wear or use any device or covering exposed to view which simulates the breast, genitals, anus, pubic hair or any portion thereof.

(e) No “live” entertainment shall be permitted except in accordance with prior written permission of the commission. No entertainment shall be performed on or within the enclosure of any bar. No entertainer, dance, or other person shall perform acts of or acts which simulate: sexual intercourse, masturbation, sodomy, bestiality, oral copulation, flagellation or any sexual acts which are prohibited by law; the touching, caressing or fondling of the breasts, buttocks, anus, or genitals; the displaying of any portion of the female breasts below the top of the areola or any portion of the pubic hair, anus, cleft of the buttocks, vulva, or genitals. No permittee shall permit any person or entertainer to remain in or upon the permit premises who exposes to public view any portion of the pubic hair, anus, cleft of the buttocks, vulva or genitals. Entertainers must perform in one location and entertainers may not mingle with the patrons.

( 3 ) Troupe Hits Closing of Café Show. William Cockerham, The Hartford Courant, December 14, 1975, pg. 9. and Female Impersonators Would Stop Rival Show, William Cockerham, The Hartford Courant, June 12, 1976, pg. 1A

( 4 ) “French Dressing’ At Dinner Theater, Tom Condon The Hartford Courant, September 12, 1975, pg. 29

( 5 ) Eric Gordon. “An Imitation of Images,” The Hartford Advocate, Oct. 27, 1976, Feb. 9, 1977.
Martin Duberman also wrote about this in his book Stonewall

( 6 ) Airing Set On Rules For Shows, David S. Barrett, The Hartford Courant, March 28, 1976, pg. 12.

In accordance with the provisions of Section 4-168 of the General Statutes as amended notice is hereby given that the Liquor Control Commission propose to amend department regulations under authority of Section 30-6 of the General Statutes concerning the conduct of permit premises as follows:
Section 20-6-A24

The regulation that was removed.

(c) [No on-premises consumption place of business such as a restaurant, tavern, hotel, café, or club ,shall permit entertainment consisting of impersonations either of females by males or of males by females, nor shall any permittee of any such establishment advertise, give, permit or participate in any obscene, indecent, immoral, or impure show or entertainment]

( 7 )  Impersonator Celebrates Ban Repeal, Joseph Nunes, The Hartford Courant, January 31, 1977 pg. 27A.

(8) George Chauncey Gay New York.

Still on the books. Remember from the song, What Makes a Man a Man, these lines, “The answers come from those who make, the rules that some others must break, just to keep living.”

Chapter 545 Liquor Control Act Connecticut

Sec. 30-106. Entry into disorderly house by officer. Every officer who has a warrant for the arrest of any person charged with keeping a house of ill-fame, or a house reputed to be a house of ill-fame, or a house of assignation or a house where lewd, dissolute or drunken persons resort, or where drinking, carousing, dancing and fighting are permitted, to the disturbance of the neighbors, or with violating any law against gaming in the house or rooms occupied by such person, or with resorting to any house for any of said purposes, and every officer who has a warrant for the arrest of any person charged with keeping open any room, place, enclosure, building or structure, of any kind or description, in which it is reputed that alcoholic liquor is exposed for sale contrary to law, or with selling alcoholic liquor in any place contrary to law, or for the seizure of alcoholic liquor, may, at any time, for the purpose of gaining admission to such house, room, place, enclosure, building or structure, or for the purpose of arresting any of the persons aforesaid, make violent entry into such house, room, place, enclosure, building or structure, or any part thereof, after demanding admittance and giving notice that the officer is an officer and has such warrant, and may arrest any person so charged and take such person before the proper authority. The Department of Consumer Protection, its agents and any member of any organized police department in any town, city or borough, and any state policeman, may, at any time, enter upon the premises of any permittee to ascertain the manner in which such person conducts business and to preserve order.

In 2011 the state of Connecticut passed the Gender Identity and Expression bill. Here are the sections:

(21) “Gender identity or expression” means a person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth, which gender-related identity can be shown by providing evidence including, but not limited to, medical history, care or treatment of the gender-related identity, consistent and uniform assertion of the gender-related identity or any other evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held, part of a person’s core identity or not being asserted for an improper purpose.

Sec. 2. (NEW) (Effective October 1, 2011) As used in sections 4a-60, 8-169s, 8-265c, 8-294, 8-315, 10-15c, 10-153, 10a-6, 11-24b, 16-245r, 16-247r, 28-15, 31-22p, 31-57e, 32-204, 32-277, 38a-358, 42-125a, 42-125b, 52-571d and 53-37a of the general statutes, as amended by this act, and section 37 of this act, “gender identity or expression” means a person’s gender-related identity, appearance or behavior, whether or not that gender-related identity, appearance or behavior is different from that traditionally associated with the person’s physiology or assigned sex at birth, which gender-related identity can be shown by providing evidence including, but not limited to, medical history, care or treatment of the gender-related identity, consistent and uniform assertion of the gender-related identity or any other evidence that the gender-related identity is sincerely held, part of a person’s core identity or not being asserted for an improper purpose.

What Makes A Man A Man Lyrics

My mum and i we live alone
A great apartment is our home
In Fairhome towers
I have to keep me company
Two dogs, a cat, a parakeet
Some plants and flowers
I help my mother with the chores
I wash, she dries, i do the floors
We work together
I shop and cook and sew a bit
Though mum does too i must admit
I do it better
At night I work in a strange bar
Impersonating every star
I’m quite deceiving
The customers come in with doubt
And wonder what I’m all about
But leave believing
I do a very special show
Where I am nude from head to toe
After strip teasing
Each night the men look so surprised
I change my sex before their eyes
Tell me if you can
What makes a man a man

At 3 o’clock or so I meet
With friends to have a bite to eat
And conversation
We love to empty out our hearts
With every subject from the arts
To liberation
We love to pull apart someone
And spread some gossip just for fun
Or start a rumor
We let our hair down, so to speak
And mock ourselves with tongue-in-cheek
And inside humor
So many times we have to pay
For having fun and being gay
It’s not amusing
There’s always those that spoil our games
By finding fault and calling names
Always accusing
They draw attention to themselves
At the expense of someone else
It’s so confusing
Yet they make fun of how I walk
And imitate the way I talk
Tell me if you can
What makes a man a man

My masquerade comes to an end
And i go home to bed again
Alone and friendless
I close my eyes, I think of him
I fantasize what might have been
My dreams are endless
We love each other but it seems
The love is only in my dreams
It’s so one sided
But in this life i must confess
The search for love and happiness
Is unrequited
I ask myself what have I got
Of what I am and what I’m not
What have I given
The answers come from those who make
The rules that some of us must break
Just to keep living
I know my life is not a crime
I’m just a victim of my time
I stand defenseless
Nobody has the right to be
The judge of what is right for me
Tell me if you can
What make a man a man

Tell me if you can
Tell me if you can
Tell me if you can
What makes a man a man


Arrested at the National Variety Artists Exotic Carnival and Ball.

October 26, 1962, 44 people were arrested at the National Variety Artists Exotic Carnival and Ball in Manhattan. The ball drew up to 2,000 party goers. The people arrested were arrested on the sidewalks or in the lobby of the Manhattan Center. The charges were masquerading and indecent exposure. Police Commissioner Michael J. Murphy directed the arrests and as quoted in the New York Times as saying, “the most disgraceful condition of the spectacle.”

A Bit of OurStories

Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and police departments kept lists of known homosexuals, their favored establishments, and friends; the U.S. Post Office kept track of addresses where material pertaining to homosexuality was mailed. State and local governments followed suit: bars catering to homosexuals were shut down, and their customers were arrested and exposed in newspapers. Cities performed “sweeps” to rid neighborhoods, parks, bars, and beaches of gay people. They outlawed the wearing of opposite gender clothes, and universities expelled instructors suspected of being homosexual. Thousands of gay men and women were publicly humiliated, physically harassed, fired, jailed, or institutionalized in mental hospitals. Many lived double lives, keeping their private lives secret from their professional ones.

Police raids on gay bars were frequent—occurring on average once a month for each bar. Many bars kept extra liquor in a secret panel behind the bar, or in a car down the block, to facilitate resuming business as quickly as possible if alcohol was seized. Bar management usually knew about raids beforehand due to police tip-offs, and raids occurred early enough in the evening that business could commence after the police had finished.During a typical raid, the lights were turned on, and customers were lined up and their identification cards checked. Those without identification or dressed in full drag were arrested; others were allowed to leave. Some of the men, including those in drag, used their draft cards as identification.

Compton’s Cafeteria was one of a chain of cafeterias, owned by Gene Compton, in San Francisco from the 1940s to the 1970s. The Tenderloin location of Compton’s at 101 Taylor Street (at Turk)—open from 1954 to 1972—was one of the few places where transgender people, especially trans women who had spent a long evening hustling, could congregate publicly in the city, because they were unwelcome in gay bars due to transphobia. Compton’s management and staff, in an effort to deter drag queens and trans women, would frequently call the police when they were present causing them to be harassed and arrested for a crime called “female impersonation.”

The cafeteria was open all hours until the riots occurred. Most of the fights occurred from 2-3 am so they were forced to close at midnight. Because cross-dressing was illegal at the time, police could use the presence of transgender people in a bar as a pretext for making a raid and closing the bar.

Coopers Donuts was located on Main Street in the Skid Row neighborhood of downtown Los Angeles between two gay bars, Harold’s and the Waldorf, and was a popular hangout for transgender people. There had been many LGBT customers at Cooper’s taken into custody before, and on the day of the riot, two police officers entered the cafe and asked patrons for ID as LA law dictated at the time that if a person’s gender presentation did not match the gender shown on their ID they were taken to jail. The officers attempted to arrest two drag queens, two male sex workers, and a gay man. One of those arrested was novelist John Rechy, who wrote of the event in his novel City of Night. In his novel, Rechy describes the victims of the Los Angeles Police Department’s abuse on this night as a culmination of routine targeting of the LGBTQ community.

SAY WHAT!

A person perceived as male who dressed in clothing customarily designed for women could technically be arrested in New York for “impersonating a female” as recently as 2011 — the remnants of a 19th century statewide law prohibiting wearing “the dress of the opposite sex.”

Crossdressing laws are rarely, if ever, enforced in American cities today. However, between 1848 and World War I, 45 cities in the United States passed laws against crossdressing defined as “wearing the apparel of the other sex”

2007
Delcambre, Louisiana
To fight the ‘saggy pant look’ in 2007, the town of Delcambre instituted the following law: “It shall be unlawful for any person in any public place or in view of the public to be found in a state of nudity, or partial nudity, or in dress not becoming to his or her sex, or in any indecent exposure of his or her person or undergarments, or be guilty of any indecent or lewd behavior.”

Oakland City Council
2010
Oakland, California
Immoral Dress Code 9.08.080 from 1879 was amended on May 21, 2010 to exclude “in the attire of a person of the opposite sex.”

Vimeo
2014
Haddon Township, New Jersey
1964’s Ordinance 175-10 for Indecent Dress or Exposure: “It shall be unlawful for any person to appear in any street or public place in a dress not belonging to his sex or in an indecent or lewd dress. In 2014, comedian Ben Kissel sought to overturn the law. He succeeded.

According to the ACLU. 

California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia all have such laws. Their protections vary. For example, Nevada’s law bans discrimination in employment, housing, and public accommodations like restaurants, hospitals, and retail stores; Maine’s law covers those categories plus access to credit and education.

At least 200 cities and counties have banned gender identity discrimination, including Atlanta, Austin, Boise, Buffalo, Cincinnati, Dallas, El Paso, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Louisville, Milwaukee, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Pittsburgh, and San Antonio, as well as many smaller towns.

The governors of Indiana, Kentucky, Michigan, New York, and Pennsylvania have issued executive orders banning discrimination against transgender state workers. Some cities and counties have also protected their transgender public employees through local ordinances, charter provisions, or other means. People discriminated against by public entities on the basis of gender identity might also be able to argue that the government’s action was unconstitutional.

Niles Marsh

Interesting Side Note For Further Exploration.

In 1931 Niles Marsh  one of the best know drag performers on the American vaudeville and night club circuits appeared in Hartford at the Capitol Theater. Marsh was one of the many artists who during that period encapsulated what was know as the Pansy Craze. Marsh was a child prodigy and started his career as a boy soprano touring for four years playing a female role. A producer heard him sing and cast him in a Broadway show. He then went on to be a very popular entertainer on the vaudeville circuit where he was singled out as “the one who is going to prove a real sensation.”  Popularity of live theater decreased with the advent of “talkies” but Marsh still made regular appearances opening before a feature film. Marsh opened in Hartford before the feature film Charlie Chan, and was described as “a non-too-serious feminine impersonator” according to the Hartford Courant’s article, “Charlie Chan Picture tips Capitol Bill”, The Hartford Courant April 18, 1931.

He was described as “America’s foremost female impersonator, presenting his famous impressions in dazzling gowns.”During a subsequent nightclub appearance, Marsh was seen by Mrs. Eve Finocchio, wife of the proprietor of a new drag nightclub in San Francisco, which had just opened in June 1936. Marsh was soon signed as a regular performer at Finocchio’s and remained “one of the highlights of the show” for at least the next eight years.

Some facts from our Timeline: Challenging and Changing America: The Struggle for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Civil Rights. A short selection of events.

1916: A moral reform organization known as the Committee of Fourteen Periodically investigates the Drag Balls being held in Harlem. The committee released 130 reports describing its visits and demanding that such “perversion must desist.” During this period and throughout the 1920s the police, politicians and mainstream society found themselves simply unable to suspend the ball scenes. The patrons rather than abandoning the scene fought for change and opportunity.

1920: Drag Balls which began in 1869 at Hamilton Lodge, Harlem began to gain more public visibility and were frequented by many Gay men and Lesbian women as well as straight people. These balls help to pave the way for an establishment of a queer culture.

1927: Mae West’s play The Drag opens in Bridgeport. The Drag subtitled A Homosexual Comedy in Three Acts and written under the pseudonym Jane Mast is about the cost of living a secret life. The play lasted for 10 performances before it was closed down and is banned.
Inspiration for the play according to West came from “homosexual young men she knew at the time who desperately wanted to be open about their relationships.” At this time Gay Actors were not allowed speaking parts in plays by the Actor’s Equity Union to keep them from membership in the union. West auditioned and cast exclusively Gay actors from Greenwich Village Clubs.
The actors were given a short story line and then improvised the script using their lives as a guide. The final scene consists of a giant Drag Ball. West was an avid supporter of Gay rights during her entire life. The play was a huge success when it opened in Connecticut but was panned by the critics calling it, “an inexpressibly brutal and vulgar attempt to capitalize on a dirty matter for profit.” Broadway joined in the chorus and one producer called the play, “the worst possible play I have ever heard of contemplating an invasion of New York striking at the heart of decency.”

1933: During the “Milk Strike” when mothers of the poor and unemployed protested that large amounts of milk were poured down the storm drains to keep the prices high and the police were beating people Harry Hay throws a brick and dislodges a policeman from his horse.
Sympathizers rushed him away to Clarabelle’s for hiding. Clarabelle who lived full time as female, was the “queen mother” of the Los Angeles Bunker Hill. She held an informal position coordinating homosexuals, queens, communists and bohemians. She had a dozen lieutenants, who monitored the area. Clarabelle was one of the most powerful of the “Queen Mothers” who oversaw the comings and goings in the districts of town where they lived. Bunker Hill was raised for downtown development in the 1960’s and over 11,000 residents were displaced.

1951: Christine Jorgensen begins her transition with sex reassignment surgery in Denmark after getting special permission from the Danish Minister of Justice. Writing to her friends, Jorgensen said, “As you can see by the enclosed photo, taken just before the operation, I have changed a great deal. But is the other changes that are so much more important. Remember the shy, miserable person who left America? Well that person is no more and, as you can see, I’m in marvelous spirits.” The last procedure was performed in the United States with Harry Benjamin as a medical adviser. She became an instant celebrity in the US after a front-page New York Daily News story and used her new-found fame to advocate for transgender people. Calling what she did “a swift kick in the pants for the sexual revolution.”

1959: In May two cops decided to check IDs at Coopers Donuts in Los Angeles a popular all night hang out for Transgender people, queers, hustlers, drag queens. The law stated a person’s gender expression must match the picture on a ID. Having put up with police harassment for years this night was different. Patrons fought back utilizing items from the coffee shop in their fight against the police. The officers retreated and called for backups. The riots ensued and led to the temporary closure of the street and the arrest of several people.

1961: Jose Sarria a performer at the Black Cat and a gay political rights organizer is the first openly gay person to run for public office for a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. Getting over 6,000 votes political pundits began to realize that there was and could be a gay block of voters. Sarria said at this time, “No Politician in San Francisco would dare not to knock on Gay doors after this.”

1965: Liquor Laws in New York City considered any gathering of homosexuals to be disorderly forbid the serving of liquor to Gay men and Lesbian women in restaurants and bars. Bartenders in fear of being shut down denied drinks to homosexuals or kicked them out. In 1966 members of the New York Mattachine Society stages “Sip-Ins” in which they visit taverns, declaring themselves to be homosexuals and waited to be turned away so they could sue. Julius a Greenwich Village Bar refused service to the men. This resulted in much publicity and a reversal of the anti-gay liquor laws.

1965: Jose Sarria founded the Imperial Court Systems and named herself, Empress 1, The Widow Norton. Sarria was a long-time performer at the Black Cat in San Francisco who rallied local gay men against the legal system. The Imperial Court System today is found all over the world with various houses competing at drag balls. The Imperial Sovereign Court of All of Connecticut has over the years raised thousands of dollars for non-profit community groups.

1966: The staff of Compton’s Cafeteria in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco an all-night hangout calls police to crack down on transgender individuals who frequent the restaurant. The restaurant had instituted a service fee directed at transgender individuals and blatantly harassed them. Picket lines were formed outside the restaurant. When a police officer attempted to arrest a transgender patron, she threw her cup of coffee at him. At that point a riot began, and the restaurant’s plate glass window was broken. The fighting spilled out into the street and a police car had its windows broken and a news stand was burned to the ground. Picket lines formed the next night and the newly installed window was smashed again. The city began to address the transgender community as citizens rather than as a problem to be removed.

1969: The Cockettes and avant garde psychedelic hippie Gay theater group perform for the first time at the Palace Theater in San Francisco. The group performed all original material, dressed outrageously and put their lifestyle on the stage. The Cockettes gains an underground cult following.

1970: STAR Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries is founded by Sylvia Rivera and Marsha
P. (Pay it no mind) Johnson. STAR was a political organization with a radical ideology but also provided housing and other social services to homeless queer youth and sex workers. The organization was made up of mostly low-income, homeless, transfeminine people of color. Rivera stated that Marsha and I funded the house working the streets in order to keep everyone fed and sheltered and to keep “our kids” from having to hustle the streets.” STAR House is considered to be the first LGBT youth shelter, the first transgender sex worker labor union and the first organization to be led by women of color.

1970: STAR writes its manifesto outlining the groups political ideology and demands. The Manifesto identifies themselves as the revolutionary army against the system. They condemn transphobia, sexism, racism, mass incarnation and police harassment. They point out the exclusion by the gay rights movement and the feminist movement of trans peoples. Among their demands are the rights to self-determination, the end to job discrimination, the right to change identification to match correct names and gender. They have a distinctly socialist perspective in the demand for free education, healthcare, food and other social services for all oppressed peoples.

1971: The Transvestites Legal Committee, Chicago’s first Transgender political organization is formed after the shooting death of James Clay Jr. by Chicago Police. The Chicago Gay Alliance demanded that the FBI investigate the shooting. Alliances of Black and Gay Activists against the killing of Clay, Fred Hampton and Mark Clark begin through the Alliance To End Repression.
After an organized tour of the Hampton and Clark apartments lead by the Black Panthers the Mattachine Midwest a homophile liberal group joined with the Gay Liberation Front and Panthers and released a joint statement challenging the police account of the raid and the murders.

1971: The Twenty Club is founded in Hartford which is a support group for Transgender people created by Cannon Clinton Jones and Dr. George Higgins a professor at Trinity College. The club met at Christ Church Cathedral for over 30 years. The club is incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1976.

1973: At Pride in New York City, Lesbian feminist Jean O’Leary speaks out against drag performers at the June event. Her group The Lesbian Feminist Liberation passed out leaflets during the event denouncing drag queens as being misogynist and coitizing the march. Sylvia Rivera of the Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries took the microphone and spoke against that sentiment and about the harassment and arrests of drag queens on the street. At this time Rivera asked the crowd “what are you doing for your gay brothers and sisters in jail? Have you been beaten up and raped in jail, she continued. I have been beaten up and raped many times by men. Do you do anything for them? No!” As the crowd became angrier and booed louder, Bette Midler took the stage and sang the song “Friends.” This event became one of many in the LGBT community where Lesbian, Gay men and Transgender activists clashed. Years later O’Leary apologized saying, “looking back I find this so embarrassing because my views have changed so much since then.”

1975: A Connecticut law barring female impersonators is resurrected to close Ivan Valentin’s “Leading Ladies of New York,” drag show. The University of Connecticut School of Law took on the case and the matter ended with more permissive legislation.

1974: The first Gender Identity Clinic is founded at Mount Sinai Hospital in Hartford by Dr. Michael Baggish. The first surgery took place in the summer of the same year.

1976: The Outreach Institute for Gender Studies is established to help facilitate the Fantasia Fair. The Institute hold programs to help educated and share ideas for the cross-dressing community, to help further personal growth of individuals facing gender related issues, support resources for health care professionals and advancing the accumulation of knowledge about gender identity and role development.

1979: Mary Collins police force veteran of 13 years returns to active duty in Bridgeport after a June sex-change. She states, “I see no reason why I cannot return to my job. I am not ashamed of what I have done or who I am. I expect some flak.”

1979: Radical Faeries is founded by Harry Hay, John Burnside and others who wanted to create an alternative to what they saw as the assimilationist attitude of the mainstream U.S Gay community. Regional Faerie groups were formed throughout the country including one in Connecticut. Participants in the first Faerie gathering help to establish the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence in San Francisco.

1979: The Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence a leading Order of Queer nuns first appear in San Francisco on Easter Sunday in full traditional habits walking through the streets. The Sisters devote themselves to community service, ministry and outreach to those on the edges and to promoting human rights, respect for diversity and spiritual enlightenment. The Sisters are a national and worldwide order.

1991: Nancy Burkholder is ejected from the grounds of The Michigan Women’s Music Festival after refusing to answer if she was Transgender. The MWMF maintained a woman born women policy since its inception with the first festival in 1975.

1992: Camp Trans is founded by Transgender and cisgender women at the Michigan Women’s Festival. Each year after the Burkholder incident protests and educational workshops were held at Camp Trans about Transgender issues.

1993: Hartford’s first drag ball, “Hartford Sizzles” spearheaded in part by the Hartford Gay and Lesbian Health Collective, is held at the Community Center. Other balls were held from
1993-1997 by The House of Everlasting Empire, The House of Nations, The House of Freedom, the House of Flava, The House of Ebony and the House of Pleasure. All Houses generously donated thousands of dollars to various community projects and non-profit institutions.

1992: Leslie Feinberg writes a pamphlet for the World Forum, Transgender Liberation: A Movement Whose Time Has Come, is considered to be a groundbreaking Marxist analysis of Transgender oppression and liberation. The first paragraph of the pamphlet says: “This pamphlet is an attempt to trace the historic rise of an oppression that, as yet, has no commonly agreed named. We are talking here about people who defy the (man-made) boundaries of gender. Gender: Self-expression not anatomy.” In Feinberg’s usage, Transgender became an umbrella term used to represent a political alliance between all gender-variant people who do not conform to social norms for typical men and women, and who suffer political oppression as a result.

1993: Hartford’s first drag ball, “Hartford Sizzles” spearheaded in part by the Hartford Gay and Lesbian Health Collective, is held at the Community Center. Other balls were held from
1993-1997 by The House of Everlasting Empire, The House of Nations, The House of Freedom, the House of Flava, The House of Ebony and the House of Pleasure. All Houses generously donated thousands of dollars to various community projects and non-profit institutions.

1993: Stone Butch Blues written by Leslie Feinberg is a genderqueer narrative. The book is centered around Jess a butch lesbian in 1970 America. Jess does not feel at home in her female body, and not at home in her community. The book traces Jess’s search for self, while working in factories in Buffalo NY, hanging out in bars, discussing union organizing and the treatment of working class people. The novel shows how gender and class shape Jess’s identity.

1993: The Connecticut Department of Motor Vehicles allows Transsexual persons to change their gender on driver’s licenses.

1993: The Transsexual Menace or “The Menace” was a Transgender rights activist organization founded in New York City. It was the first direct action group of its kind and grew to be a national organization with twenty-four chapters. The group was founded by Transgender activists Ricki Wilchins and Denise Norris, in response to the exclusion of Transgender people from LGB Pride marches happening at the time. The Transsexual Menace showed support of victims of anti-transgender crimes by demonstrating outside courthouses. Connecticut formed a chapter of Transsexual Menace which joined protests and demonstrated at the Human Rights Campaign Offices.

1999: Camp Trans is again erected, after a 5-year hiatus, along the road to the Michigan Womyn’s Music Festival. These demonstrations were held to protest the Festivals policy of excluding trans women. Joining in the camp were Leslie Feinberg, Riki Ann Witchins, Boston and Chicago Lesbian Avengers and many allies. A number of trans women were admitted to the festival that year.

1999: The Transgender Day of Remembrance is begun by Gwendolyn Ann Smith as a vigil to honor the memory of Rita Hester a transgender woman who was killed in 1998. The vigil commemorated all the transgender people lost to violence since Rita Hester’s death and began the tradition that has become the annual world-wide Transgender Day of Remembrance.
Additionally, during the week of November 13-19, people and organizations around the country participate in Transgender Awareness Week to help raise the visibility of transgender people and address the issues trans people face. About this day, Gwendolyn Ann Smith said, “Transgender Day of Remembrance seeks to highlight the losses we face due to anti-transgender bigotry and violence. I am no stranger to the need to fight for our rights, and the right to simply exist is first and foremost. With so many seeking to erase transgender people—sometimes in the most brutal ways possible—it is vitally important that those we lost are remembered, and that we continue to fight for justice.”

1999: The Connecticut Stonewall Foundation holds an all-day conference “Celebrating our Life Stories and Our Relationships at Trinity College in Hartford. Keynote speaker is Sylvia Rae Rivera a Transgender Woman who participated in the uprising at the Stonewall Inn in 1969. The day featured panel discussions, music, and art. Over a hundred people attended the event.

NOTE: The author of this work is now working on a new timeline for late 1999-2018. The closing of Leading Ladies of New York and Ivan Valentin was included in the first timeline. The new timeline concerns the many advances made by the Transgender community during this period, and examines the many left Queer movements that sprang up in Connecticut and around the U.S and the world.

Let us leave you with this thought by Lourdes Ashley Hunter from her essay, Every Breath A Black Transwomen Takes Is An Act Of Revolution: “Trans and gender non-conforming people of color are disproportionately impacted by physical and structural violence. According to The National LGBTQ Task Force, Black trans people have a household income of less than 10k a year and almost 50% have attempted suicide. What is equally disturbing is the silence from mainstream media, the Black social justice and LGBT organizations. The same systems that are designed to protect us is actively engaging in erasure. When looking at the mainstream Black and LGBT organizations leadership teams and Board of Directors, they lack diversity and representation. How can their work be informed if they don’t even hire us? Denying a Black Trans woman a job is an act of violence. Denying Black trans folk access to healthcare is an act of violence. Denying Black trans people platforms to speak and represent themselves is erasure. Actively engaging in erasure is an act of violence. “

 

 

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Comments
  1. Joe says:

    Love this. Thank you for this research and bringing Ivan to our attention.

    • Joe, you are welcome of course. We firmly believe that as activists, as revolutionaries it is our responsibility to educate each generation, and ourselves about the torchbearers that preceded us and to name their unique identities and contributions in their challenge to change amerikkka. When we began looking into Ivan and his contribution to our queer stories we worked off a footnote from Martin Duberman’s book Stonewall. Thank our lucky stars that there are people who know the importance of archiving history and ourstories. We are now looking into a William Plane, from Guilford Ct. who was hung in New Haven in 1646 for teaching rascally boys to masturbate and stating there was no god. A monster in human form so say the court.

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