SHIFT (National Transsexual Counseling Unit)
White line woodcut
Image size: 12" x 18" (30.5 x 45.7 cm)
Paper size: 14.5" x 20.5" (37 x 52.4 cm)
This woodcut is part of a series of prints based on the shape of a triangle celebrating various organizations that helped move gay rights forward in the U.S. during the later 20th century.
Rights for transgender people have lagged behind rights for cisgender (non-transgender) homosexuals in America, but transgender people have been a part of the LGBT rights fight since the beginning.
In August, 1966, three full years before the Stonewall riots by which most people mark the rise of the gay liberation movement, a group of transgender customers gathered in a 24-hour San Francisco cafeteria called Compton's Cafeteria in the Tenderloin District. Compton's was one of few places where transgender people could congregate because crossdressing was illegal at the time and gay bars, knowing that police would use the presence of transgender people as a pretext for making a raid, were unwelcoming.
Yes, crossdressing was illegal in many places well into the 20th century. In the mid 1800s, many U.S. cities adopted laws against crossdressing, initially as an extension of laws forbidding disguises but the laws were also used as a way to surpress the early women's movement as well as the so-called "sexual deviancy" of "transvestitism." It was well into the second half of the 20th century before such laws began to be taken off the books, mostly based on their vagueness.
Anyway, on that August night in San Francisco in 1966, the patrons at Compton's became "raucous," causing management to call police. When a police officer manhandled one of the patrons, she threw coffee in his face and a riot ensued, eventually spilling out onto the street, destroying public property as well as Compton's plate glass window.
Following the Compton riots, activists established the National Transsexual Counseling Unit, the first peer-run support and advocacy organization in the world.