Jill Soloway honored their "transcestors" at Equality California's 20th-anniversary gala — along with a "stand-up" routine that put the historical stigma against LGBTQ people in context.
The Transparent creator, who identifies as nonbinary and uses "they/them" pronouns, was honored Saturday with the organization's Equality Visibility Award. In their speech, they gave a lesson in the "hidden history" of LGBTQ people, including figures who had been erased from history due to homophobic and transphobic forces and regimes.
To raise visibility about this history, Soloway called out two transgender figures by name. One was Frances Thompson, a former slave who testified before Congress about the white terrorists involved in the Memphis Riots of 1866. The other was Alan Hart, a radiologist who was one of the country's first transgender men to undergo a hysterectomy in the early 20th century.
"Alan Hart and Frances Thompson are but two people in a sea of stories that represent our history," Soloway told the crowd of over 1,200 in the ballroom of the J.W. Marriott at LA Live in downtown Los Angeles. "We have always existed."
This history has at times been repressed and destroyed. Soloway mourned how the writings of Magnus Hirschfeld — a pioneering sexologist who advocated for queer and trans people in early-20th-century Germany — were burned by Nazis, an act of erasure that was emotionally depicted in season 2 of Amazon's Transparent. The burning was part of a propaganda strategy in Nazi Germany to demonize LGBTQ people, many of whom would become victims of concentration camps.
"We were all bundled together as the idea that there was something wrong with us, using trans people, using queer people, using feminism as a way to get people hating everyone," Soloway said of the Nazi propaganda campaign. "We were used. Our beautiful legacy wrapped up to create hate. Our beautiful legacy deemed something that had to be incinerated."
"Now we know that queer and trans people are magic," Soloway said. "So many kinds of magic and so many kinds of normal."
Soloway went on to reflect on how "it seems quite crazy to me that homosexuality is considered disgusting," considering how movements like marriage equality and greater LGBTQ representation in media have disproven the many myths and lies used to demonize queer and trans people.
"When you really think about it, it’s heterosexuality that’s disgusting," Soloway joked. "Think about it. Two high school students can take the afternoon off, go home, and be one can of beer and the wrong adult song away from making a human person. That’s disgusting."
"I just want to remind people, heterosexuality is really scary," Soloway went on. "That was just a joke I wanted to try out. My one-day stand-up act. It’s true, [heterosexuality is] kind of gross. It’s so easy to make people accidentally."
Soloway concluded their speech by thanking the pioneers who made a freer world for LGBTQ people possible — including the activists of Equality California. In addition to spotlighting figures like Soloway, the organization devoted its Equality Awards ceremony to reflect on 20 years of activism in the Golden State, including fights related to the AIDS crisis and marriage equality.
"I want to thank the trans people who existed before me, fought before me, fought for me," said Soloway, who had previously thanked the Transparent actress who had introduced them, Alexandra Billings, by name. Previously, they said, "I am so privileged to walk on this path of people, this path that has been paved by my transcestors, this road that the young people are working on."
At the Saturday gala, Equality California also honored community leader Andreas Meyer with its Equality Leadership Award, political commentator Ana Navarro with its Ally Leadership Award, and Amy Quartarolo and Latham & Watkins LLP with its Community Leadership Award. Transgender pop star Kim Petras capped off the evening with a rendition of hits like “I Don’t Want It at All” and “Heart to Break."