Letter to My California Dreamer: Finding the Gay Mecca

3 min
Felicia A. Elizondo at a hotel in Chicago in 1969. (Courtesy of Felicia A. Elizondo)

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For a series we’re calling “Letter To My California Dreamer,” we’re asking Californians from all walks of life to write a short letter to one of the first people in their family who came to the Golden State. The letter should explain:

What was their California Dream?
What happened to it?
Is that California Dream still alive for you?

Here's a letter from Felicia A. Elizondo to the LGBT Community of the World:

Dear LGBT Community of the World,

My California dream came true when I found out that I wasn't the only queer in the world.

Felicia (then Felipe) Elizondo at 6 years old in San Angelo, Texas. (Courtesy of Felicia Elizondo)

I came to the Tenderloin in San Francisco when I was in high school in 1962-1963. I found a world that I never knew existed growing up in San Angelo, Texas.

The Tenderloin was the Gay Mecca in the 1960s. People came here to start a new life, a new identity.

We were jotos, sissies, queens, queers, lesbians, male hustlers, female impersonators, intersex. We were lost souls trying to understand what future was in store for us. We were out when being queer was against the law.

To survive we had to turn to prostitution, sell drugs, clip tricks (robbing them) when we were desperate -- to buy food and pay rent. If we didn’t have money, then we were on the streets.

Compton's Cafeteria was the center of the universe for us. It was the place to unite with each other. To make sure some of us had made it through the night.

Felicia (then Felipe) Elizondo on the Coronado Naval Base, 1965. (Courtesy of Felicia Elizondo)

What changed my life was when I went to see the movie, “The Christine Jorgensen Story” about  Christine Jorgensen. She had been in the Army, and had the first sex change in 1951.

I finally realized that this is who I am. I didn’t know how I was going to get there, but where there is a will, there is a way.

I went from a little boy to transforming myself to the woman I am today.

Felicia's portrait was used on promotional materials for the 2013 Trans March in San Francisco. (Courtesy of TransMarch)

I am now one of the organizers of a group of community members that started to make sure our gay history would never be forgotten. We got a plaque put up on Taylor Street to commemorate the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, which happened three years before Stonewall.

This plaque commemorates the 1966 Compton's Cafeteria Riot, in which transgender women and gay men fought against police brutality. (Wikimedia Commons: Gaylesf)

Please don’t forget all who came before you. You have to know where you have been to know where you are going.

Sincerely,

Felicia A. Elizondo, aka Felicia Flames

Trailblazer, Historian, Activist, Tenderloin Queen, Pioneer, Legend, Icon, Diva, 31 years survivor of AIDS, Vietnam War Veteran.

We’d love to see your letter to your family’s California Dreamer. Maybe it was a parent, a great-great grandparent or maybe even you were the first in your family to come to California with a dream. Fill out the form here and share your story with us!

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