Nobody knows for sure which night it was in August 1966 when trans women and drag queens in the Tenderloin decided they’d had enough police harassment and chose to fight back. But the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot is now widely recognized as the opening salvo in the modern struggle for LGBTQ+ liberation, and last year, Mayor London Breed declared August to be Transgender History Month in San Francisco.
To cap off the month, the Transgender District has announced the second-annual Riot Party, a evening of music and performance in the historic Hibernia Bank whose lineup of trans and queer performers from around the country nods to the neighborhood’s roots as a hotbed of political resilience and artistic excellence.
“The Riot Party is twofold,” said Aria Sa’id, the executive director of the Transgender District. “It's arts and culture, showcasing transgender artists and tastemakers in music, and it's cultural heritage. More people learn about the importance and rich history of the Compton's Cafeteria Riots than we ever thought possible. We created the party to bring everyone together and celebrate that transgender people—breathing and existing and thriving in a world does not want us to exist—is still a riot.”
The roster of local and nationally known performers bears that out, with headliners Nomi Ruiz (former lead vocalist of Jessica 6), underground producer and DJ Jasmine Infiniti, Oakland-based singer-songwriter ASTU, and DJ Dreams of Oakland’s long-running party Passion Fruit.
Trace Lysette, who vogued her way up through the New York ballroom scene as a “banjee girl” and broke into acting on shows like Transparent (and, later, as the voice of Toluca Lake on the recently cancelled Netflix animated series Q-Force) will perform on the strength of her latest single, “Red Line,” released on Monday, Aug. 15.
Riot Party, Lysette told The Standard from her home in L.A., is only her second booking.
“The first one was a Revery function at the Banjee Ball in Los Angeles,” she says, referring to one of Downtown L.A.’s trendier venues. “It was a ball, so it was nice to start at my roots. I got to perform for my people before taking it out to the rest of the world. But in a way, this second booking is also my people, because it’s the Trans District.”
Pop icon Kim Petras’ set at Outside Lands two weeks ago is proof that trans and gender-nonconforming people are beginning to break into mainstream pop culture, but Lysette’s career arc demonstrates the tensions that continue to make exposure difficult. As a trans woman who embodies many conventional standards of female beauty—which is to say, she passes—she’s found herself missing out on roles because she doesn’t look “trans enough.” She’s not yet 35, but the casting director for an unspecified LGBTQ+ TV show allegedly thought she was “too mature.”
But the successes overshadow the obstacles. Last fall, Lysette filmed the forthcoming feature film Dope Queens, which she describes as a dramatic thriller about a love triangle with a Pulp Fiction vibe. Shooting scenes at the location of the former Divas nightclub near Polk and Post streets, she became familiar with the Transgender District and its efforts to cultivate trans-owned small businesses and catalog the neighborhood’s decades of trans culture.
“We were out there, in the mix, with the people,” she said. “We didn’t have the resources to block off any streets or get any particular corner cleared, so we just had to be in the environment and let it help us with the art.”
Her music is catching up. Bringing her “homegrown, femme-queen lyrics and unapologetic feminine energy” to what may be the most gorgeous building in the Tenderloin, is itself a victory for visibility.
“There’s only a handful of trans women in hip-hop, and it’s just tough,” Lysette says. “It’s very cis- and hetero male-dominated genre, and sometimes that kind of limits the connections that we get.”
Hibernia Bank, 1 Jones St..
Sunday, August 28, 5 p.m. - 9 p.m. | Free-$275
Astrid Kane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org