Henrietta Robinson, one of the first transgender people to live openly in South Florida, died Friday of complications from COVID-19.
It is believed she contracted the deadly virus while in the hospital for hernia surgery. Known variously as the Mother of Miami Beach, the Grand Lady of South Beach, the Queen of South Beach, and more by friends and admirers, Robinson had played an instrumental role in the development of the area’s LGBTQ nightlife and drag scene since 1959. She was 79.
“Henrietta was a pioneer in the LGBTQ+ community,” Miami Beach Pride said on Facebook. “One of the first Transgender individuals to live her life in Miami Beach. She was beacon of light in the Transgender movement and a mentor to so many who struggled through the years.”
With her signature blond bouffant hairstyle and retro ’60s fashion choices, Robinson was instantly recognizable around town and a regular in South Beach gay bars. She considered Twist nightclub a second home, as she had a seat on reserve and her fellow patrons treated her like royalty.
Robinson was born in Akron, Ohio, in 1941. She later moved to Milton, Mass., before settling in South Beach in 1959. Robinson immediately set about to make an impact. Her drag performances were legendary before they were even legal.
“Honey, I’ve been doing this for 30 years,” Robinson told the Miami New Times in 1994. “We used to have great old places back in the early Sixties.”
But she faced dangers in the pre-Stonewall era.
“Dressing up was illegal back then,” Robinson continued. “If you so much as wore eye make-up or even a woman's scarf in a club it was right to jail.”
Miami Beach Commissioner Michael Góngora, the first openly gay person elected to the commission, recalled the impact Robinson had on his life when he started frequenting gay bars and clubs in the ’90s.
"She kind of was the godmother of all of us," Góngora told the New Times. "Always somebody happy to lend a smile, a nice comment, or word of advice."
Miami Beach Pride made clear that Robinson remain a presence in the community, writing on Facebook, “Rest in Peace Henrietta, your light will not be forgotten.”