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Black History Month: Sir Lady Java was a transgender trailblazer who challenged police harassment

Sir Lady Java was a transgender activist and trailblazer in the 1960s when she protested Los Angeles police harassment.

LOS ANGELES – This sister did it for herself.

In the late 1960s, when the Los Angeles Police Department enforced “Rule No. 9” – a ridiculous city law that essentially made it illegal for people to crossdress – department officials didn’t think anyone would challenge their harassment.

They were wrong.

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SIR LADY JAVA

Enter Sir Lady Java, a waitress, female impersonator, and transgender activist at the Redd Foxx Club on La Cienega Avenue in Los Angeles.

When the Los Angeles police threatened to shut down Foxx’s club in 1967, the comedian bowed to the intimidation and canceled Sir Lady Java’s act.

TRANSGENDER TRAILBLAZER

But Sir Lady Java joined forces with the ACLU, who argued the law was unconstitutional and took away her income. Her legal challenge, however, didn’t proceed because only the club owners could file a claim, and nobody did.

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Nevertheless, Java became a trailblazer. She spoke truth to power by challenging the police and the city with public rallies, protests, and pickets that received press coverage from Jet magazine and the L.A. Advocate, which later became The Advocate.

About the author

Phillip Zonkel

Award-winning journalist Phillip Zonkel spent 17 years at Long Beach's Press-Telegram, where he was the first reporter in the paper's history to have a beat covering the city's vibrant LGBTQ. He also created and ran the popular and innovative LGBTQ news blog, Out in the 562.

He won two awards and received a nomination for his reporting on the local LGBTQ community, including a two-part investigation that exposed anti-gay bullying of local high school students and the school districts' failure to implement state mandated protections for LGBTQ students.

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