Dewey’s Historical Marker Erases and Gaywashes Black Trans History

Image result for Little Pete's philadelphia

‘It’s always sad to me when a historic site closes,   Here’s hoping that someone in the Philly LGBT community will work to have a historical marker placed at that spot where Black trans history was made once the new hotel is completed.’

-TransGriot, April 25, 2017 

One of the trans themed protests that I have talked about on this blog was the 1965 Dewey’s Lunch Counter Sit In and Protest, in which gender variant African Americans led a weeklong protest starting on April 25 at the diner that led to the owners rescinding a transphobic policy.

Because Dewey’s was a 24 hour eatery near the Philly gayborhood, it was a hangout for trans and gender nonconforming people.  The owners, afraid they would lose cis customer business, announced a policy that anyone who was dressed in attire at odds with their birth gender would not be served.

After getting protested for a week, they dropped that policy.

Dewey’s, operating since 1978 at 219 S. 17th St, as a 24 hour restaurant called Little Pete’s, permanently closed last year and was subsequently demolished to make room for a new Hyatt Hotel on the site. 

Image result for dewey's lunch counter sit in historical markerDuring the 2015 LGBT Media Journalists Convening, the hotel we were using for the convening was directly across the street from the restaurant.   When I was told during the opening mixer event by local Philly community folks that we were across the street from this trans historical spot,  all of the trans journalists in attendance that year quickly agreed after I told them that we would take a photo in front of Dewey’s.

During a break in the convening action, we  along with NLGJA executive director Adam Pawlus went across the street to take that photo.

While I was happy someone read my blog post about the Dewey’s closure last year and started the process to get a Pennsylvania historical marker placed at the former Dewey’s site that I suggested in the post, what I’m not happy about, and neither is the Philadelphia Black trans community, is that the marker gaywashed and erased us out of history we made.

Image result for dewey's lunch counter sit in historical markerThe marker was dedicated on October 1, and there is no mention on the historical marker that it was Black trans gender variant people who sparked, led and executed this event. 

The text of the marker states: “Activists led one of the nation’s first LGBT sit-ins here in 1965 after homosexuals were denied service at Dewey’s restaurant. Inspired by African-American lunch-counter sit-ins, this event prompted Dewey’s to stop its discriminatory policy, an early victory for LGBT rights.”

Frankly, I’m not surprised it happened.   I’ve had Philly based Black TBLGQ advocates candidly talk to me about the disturbing undercurrent of anti-Blackness in the Philly TBLGQ community. 

 I’ve been worried that because of that Philly area anti-Blackness, erasure of the involvement of Black trans people in the the text of the marker for the Dewey’s sit in would happen if we weren’t involved in the process while it was being created to emphatically insist that the marker reflect that. 

Image result for dewey's lunch counter sit in historical markerI also suspected it might happen because ever since I’ve started talking about Dewey’s on this blog and on the Bilerico Project that I used to write for, I got pushback from white gays trying to whitewash the event, or assert there wasn’t any African American or trans involvement in it. 

Here’s hoping that the Philly activist community can get the gaywashed marker corrected so it tells the real story for future generations who read it about what happened on that spot where it stands over 60 years ago

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