Being the Deputy Executive Director of the ACLU of Southern California is a fast-paced job with lots of responsibilities, but it also certainly comes with its share of excitement. Take, for example, how I spent the night of December 11, 2010. That evening I had the honor to serve as a judge for the Quest Woman of the Year pageant for transgendered activists, an annual fundraising event for Asian Pacific AIDS Intervention Team.
ACLU/SC Deputy Director James Gilliam with 2010 Quest Pageant Queen Maria Carmen Hinayon. Photo: APAIT
As I sat in the audience stunned by the glitz and glamour of the seven fabulous contestants, I couldn't help but reflect on the fact that if it were not for the brave transgendered individuals who fought for their rights more than 40 years ago — represented by none other than the ACLU — it may still be unlawful for events like the Quest pageant to take place in Los Angeles.
You see, that's because in the sixties it was illegal in Los Angeles for performers to dress as members of the opposite sex. But a courageous local transgender activist named Sir Lady Java — who refused to give up her right to work and to maintain her livelihood — partnered with the ACLU to challenge the law (known as Rule Number 9). While the ACLU challenged the constitutionality of Rule Number 9 in court, Sir Lady Java was a model client, initiating public rallies, protests, and pickets.
Of course, it shouldn’t surprise anyone who is familiar with the ACLU of Southern California's history of advocating for the LGBT community to learn that we were involved in representing Sir Lady Java and her fight for transgender rights. After all, we were the first ACLU affiliate in the country to adopt a then-controversial policy recognizing the rights to sexual privacy for all persons. We were the first affiliate to form an LGBT Rights Chapter. And we were the first ACLU in the country to hire an attorney to work full-time on LGBT issues.
Helping Sir Lady Java fight the local ordinance that required gender-conforming dress is just another example of the ACLU's longstanding commitment to securing everyone's rights. But it paved the way for the night's winner, Maria Carmen Hinayon, to wear her fabulous black and white sequin gown without fear of reprisal by authorities. Maria is an activist in her own right, serving as an officer of the LGBT student group at Cal State University, Long Beach.
So, as I sat there that night struggling to decide who was deserving of being named "woman of the year," I was beaming with pride from the fact that events like the Quest pageant and others exist thanks, in part, to the ACLU — the organization I was there representing.