In honor of LGBT History Month (October), we will be exploring some of our historical content and sharing historical perspectives from readers. If you’d like to contribute, please email us pghlesbian at gmail dot com.
In 2007, we covered a significant story – the decision by a lesbian-centric fundraiser, Celebrate the Night, to ban a trans woman from performing based on her gender identity. The woman’s name is Jessi Strucaly. She and her now-wife, Emilia Lombardi, pushed back against the transphobia, seeking support from the larger community.
Life was different in 2007. There were almost no local trans led organizations. Social media was also new so we mostly communicated online via email groups. The dialogue around this matter ripped through one such group, Queer Events Pgh, exposing the underbelly of ignorance, prejudice, and the absence of intersectional thought in the queer, feminist, and LGBTQ communities. The most oft-repeated claims were a denial of Jessi’s identity as a female (lots of TERF lingo) and the fear about airing the dirty laundry.
The City Paper ran a feature story on Jessi and the situation, including a gorgeous cover image. This is how Jessi came out to most of her family, coworkers and the community-at-large, by taking a stand for trans visibility.
Jessi’s contribution to regional LGBTQ history is quite significant, especially as a measuring stick for how much things have and have not changed. Her personal bravery has always moved me along with her sense of humor. She resisted boundaries that are still in place and never accepted that she was a second-class LGBTQ citizen. I deeply admire her and will always remember her as a courageous woman.
We caught up with Jessi who is now married to Emilia to chat about the ten-year anniversary of these events.
Looking back at the situation with Celebrate the Night, what strikes you the most ten years down the road?
just how public the situation got. with the city paper article and all. the stir it caused and the support I received.
Why did you decide to ‘go public’ about the situation? I remember you reached out to me and your now-wife Emilia shared the posts via the local queer email list. A few months later, you were featured in a City Paper story. But what inspired you to speak out in the first place?
I had won awards for my acts at magician conventions and being turned down as a performer for being trans bewildered me. I had nowhere to vent my frustrations till I found Sue Kerr and she arranged contact with a reporter from the city paper. the chance to prove my sincerity to the matter and the view of an outlet of my beliefs lead to my speaking out.
Pittsburgh now has multiple transgender led organizations, including the umbrella group TransPride Pittsburgh, as well as an annual TransPride conference. Our Dyke March is now the Dyke and Trans March. Transgender individuals serve on the Mayor’s LGBTQIA Advisory Group. This seems a world away from 2007. Have things changed significantly from your point of view? Should we be further along?
Yes, trans folk are more public with their identity now than before and yes we should be further along, holding public offices and such. the organizations you mentioned above are great sources for informing the public as well as those trans folk that are not aware of just how many of us are out there. they also teach us our rights, about coming out at work, our healthcare and how to get legal name changes.
How did this experience change your life personally and/or professionally?
personally the front page of the city paper outed me as trans, I took it as it came and never looked back. what better way of coming out to friends and family than with headline news, I never had to have “the talk”.
It was a pretty cruddy situation. What made it bearable for you?
the grand support of my now wife Emilia and true friends that didn’t care whether I was trans or not but cared for me.
Are you still active as a professional magician?
no. I was burnt out. after 28 years of running around the country doing shows and 10 years of owning a magic shop, I stopped doing shows once we relocated. I may at some point in my life come out of retirement but I do not see that happening as of now.
You’ve been outspoken on other areas as well as a trailblazer. You have been honest about your sobriety, you were a pioneer as an openly transgender woman in the carpentry union, you were the first trans person to win a local leather title (Miss Pittsburgh Leather Fetish 2011) and I’m sure I’m missing some things. Do you see any connection between this situation and other milestones in your life?
the only connection I see is the publicity between it all, I had been open and forthright about being trans and tho I may have lost some “friends” I still got it out in the open. I do at times miss the excitement of holding titles and competing in magic at the conventions. I do miss the attention I received at times, but is nice to just be myself, with my wife, leading a quit life.
You grew up in rural Western PA. Do you think the progressive changes in Pittsburgh have trickled out to the outlying counties, especially with regard to the trans community?
I did not grow up in a rural area but did live ruraly in my 30’s and early 40’s. I have seen more and more trans folk coming from rural areas now and being more vocal but that just may be my own awareness. having served the Pa. Dept of public health on the Aids prevention committee, I met trans people from around the state and areas one would not think of as progressive.
Is it fair to say that people should remember our history like this situation with Celebrate the Night and the GLCC even though it was an ugly chapter involving our own community? Why or why not?
history should not be forgotten lest it be repeated.
What is your advice to other adult trans women who do not feel welcomed or affirmed by cis lesbian and bisexual women right now?
persist! it is the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.
Do you have any regrets about your choices in this particular situation?
none and I would do it all again if needed.
What can we learn today by revisiting this historical moment?
that whenever there is injustice it the world, one person will be standing up saying “enough is enough”
Anything else you’d like to add?
this was a good chapter in my life but now a different generation needs to step up to continue the cause. there is still alot of work to do to further the equality of those who identify as transgender.
I was also amused by the number of people that did not know that a transwoman could be a lesbian.
Thank you, Jessi.
Invest in documenting regional queer history by donating today. And reach out to us with regional LGBTQ History we should be revisiting this month.
Join the Steel City Snowflakes with a one time or recurring investment in our projects. Click the image to see our current snowflakes.
Follow us on Twitter @Pghlesbian24