The noontime scene in San Francisco's Dolores Park may have seemed incongruous to passersby. Young people wearing purple, feathers, wings, and other individual fashion statements sat at tables with others, some old enough to be their grandparents, all eagerly swapping stories and sharing a meal under a white tent.
Kicking off a weekend packed with Pride activities for the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI) community was the First Annual Youth and Elder Brunch. Friday's Trans March was first held in 2004, to memorialize Gwen Araujo, a young transgender woman in Northern California who was killed at a house party. The trial of her killers ended in a mistrial.
Flames and the Movement
At one table, surrounded by LGBTQI youth, was Felicia Flames, one of the original Screaming Queens from the Compton's Cafeteria Riot -- a benchmark but seldom remembered San Francisco event for the gay-rights movement.
A member of the Ninth Annual Trans March Steering Committee, which helped organize the event, Flames emphasized, "People need to know our history. The struggles we went through, so they can understand why we're here today, and how we need to work together to keep fighting."
Explaining how the brunch came about, Danielle Castro, 37, another steering-committee member, said, "We really felt it was important to have a family space and bring together youth and elders who rarely get to talk."
Castro went on, "It's really important for youth to learn about our history, as trans people, and to find some inspiration to keep the civil rights movement going for trans people. It's essential if we hope to combat all the hatred and violence that exists."
Adding a personal note, Castro remembered, "Growing up, I faced so much adversity and bullying. I don't want to see any youth go through what I went through. We are hoping to make a difference for the youth here today."
Vanessa Li, 19, who attending Pride for the third year, said she first learned about Compton's Cafeteria Riot, which preceded New York's more famous Stonewall riots by three years, during a program held by Lavender Youth Recreation and Information Center (LYRIC).
"We were watching a documentary, Screaming Queens," Li said, "and I remember being really amazed that it happened before Stonewall. I was already in queer spaces for a couple years at that point, and that was still the first time I heard of it."
Li said attending the brunch was important because she has few chances as a queer young person to meet elders. "It's cool to just see who they are. You hear about them being talked about, but to actually see someone and connect to them [is exciting]."
Compton's Riot Before Stonewall
Flames shared her experience as a witness to history as she recalled, "In 1966 a lot of us were trying to find out who we were and where we were going. We started as Queens, then as Hair Fairies, then the girls started moving toward dressing as female. The hippie generation had a lot to do with it."
Describing those rough times for LGBT youth -- almost half a century ago -- Flames continued, "We were tired of going to jail for nothing. We were tired of being harassed for nothing. We'd be walking down the street and [the police] would pull up the paddy wagon and take us to jail, arrest us for obstructing the sidewalk, and we just got fed up."
On the night of the riot, she remembered, "We were all sitting there having a good ol' time, and some cop pulled one of the girls out and someone else threw coffee, and he called reinforcements and everything started happening: corner news stand on fire, cop car overthrown, and that was the end of it."
Today, Flames said, elders from the LGBTQI community face new and difficult challenges. "I have to have an open mind at my age, 66 next month," she said. "Getting older, I've been HIV-positive for 25 years, and the only thing that scares me is being alone -- and nobody to take care of me."
She stressed, "We are a proud community. We do not ask for help, because we have always been independent, and for us to ask for help while we're getting to be seniors is not in our vocabulary. It's embarrassing. It's hurtful for us to ask for help, but sometimes we have to ask."
Sitting at a table with her partner, who is a member of Open House, an organization providing housing assistance and other services to LGBTQI seniors, a woman who introduced herself as Daphne commented that events such as Friday's brunch can help "bridge the gap and focus on quality of being for all ages. We can learn from each other and strengthen and support one another."
Even the San Francisco fog didn't keep participants from discovering how much they share across their generations -- and all over brunch. Participants from Open House, LYRIC, the LGBT Center, and OutLoud Radio mingled and made signs to carry together in the Trans March.