Saturday, April 8, 2023 Declared “Wendi Miller Day”
Coming out in the late 1990s brought me into the orbit of some of the iconic community leaders whose courage and prescience during the 1980s and 1990s laid the groundwork for the rights and privileges LGBTQ+ folx enjoy today in Pittsburgh and Pennsylvania. I didn’t know them per se, but I ran into them at events, I listened to their speeches, I met ‘mutuals’ and generally grew in my appreciation of their sacrifices and accomplishments.
It has been a great honor for me to have those opportunities.
Living as an out LGBTQ+ person in those decades was precarious and brave, creating a space to literally create spaces for those of us who came afterwards to live authentically and with a degree of breathing space they didn’t enjoy. Living as an out trans person was even more so.
Wendi Miller was such a person.
Wendi died this past week. Her life stretched from July 14, 1947 to April 6, 2023. And today, April 8, had already been declared Wendi Miller Day by a Proclamation from Pittsburgh City Council. Wendi was in hospice care, but able to watch the livestream feed of the unanimous vote and read the proclamation herself. Former apprentices of the legendary framer will prepare the final document for display.
But today, April 8, *IS* Wendi Miller Day in our fair City. It is a day of visibility and appreciation in the midst of a time of sorrow and grief. Remembering Wendi Miller is inextricably entwined with lifting her up in a formal and ‘official’ way, officially embedding her life force into the annals of City.
Scratch that. Wendi’s life force shaped this City all on her own, the Proclamation is both a formality and a necessary affirmation of the work of our elders.
Wendi’s obituary can be found at this link. It is lovingly written with a wryness and care that does not require me to repeat. I urge you to read it.
I knew all along that Wendi had helped to found Pittsburgh Transsexual Support Group and was involved in TransPitt. But this robust version I did not know.
In 1989, Miller began the transition from her assigned gender to become Wendi. She joined a “cross dressing” social club called Transpitt and by 1993 she became its president. Due to the lack of emotional, financial, and medical support for transgendered people, she worked with a group of trans-women to start a non-profit in 1995: the Pittsburgh Transsexual Support Group.
The small group of 20 members took calls from around the area, but due to their presence in online chat forums they often received long distance calls from around the world. In late 1996, the Ricki Lake show consulted PTSG for an episode and Wendi earned her “15 minutes of fame” when she was a guest on the show.
When I first got involved with the then-GLCC (now known as the Pittsburgh Equality Center), I learned about TransPitt. They rented space at the GLCC and dedicated each Monday exclusively to socialization for the trans community. No one else was permitted into the space on those Mondays in order to protect the participants. I was struck by the commitment of group leaders and the community center to maintain this space.
The GLCC did the same thing on Friday evenings for youth ages 14-18. That parallel has always stayed with me, the value and importance of creating what we might call safe spaces for marginalized members of our community.
Re PTSG, the small group of 20 members took calls from around the area, but due to their presence in online chat forums they often received long distance calls from around the world.
I had no idea Wendi was on the Ricki Lake show. Anyone who was adulting in 1996 should appreciate how impressive that choice was. (Ricki Lake: Season 4, Episode 229.) TransPitt and PTSG were separate groups with many members belonging to both. Understanding the distinction is part of understanding our history.
Wendi spoke with the Pitt News in 2011 about her life experiences (note the language in this article reflects the understanding of gender and sex at that period in time.)
I was aware of Wendi’s framing business. Her success – over 50 years – as a trans woman owned business in Pittsburgh should not be unappreciated. During her tenure, she mentored many other trans women in the trade and was a generous supporter of community organizations with her craft.
Wendi Ann Miller, picture framer, cave diver, quick draw, poker maven, and transgender rights pioneer of Pittsburgh
Politics perhaps is where I knew and encountered Wendi the most often.
By the time I began blogging in 2005, she was a seasoned warrior for the trans and queer communities. In 1997, Wendi and others including Elise DeLong worked with the Pittsburgh Human Relations Commission to add gender identity to the protected classes under the City Human Relations Act, just seven years after sexual orientation. They accomplished this by redefining sex in the City code. This was revolutionary and laid the foundation for the City to eventually expand protections to include gender identity and gender expression.
I saw Wendi at marches, rallies, and meetings. My wife had worked with her on assorted projects in the 1990’s. I was paying close attention to the formation of the first incarnation of the Mayor’s LGBTQ Advisory Group in 2009. Wendi was an inaugural advisor and served a term as chair. She was instrumental in helping the Pittsburgh Dyke March access permits and City supports when the City itself was not cooperative. She gave testimony, she brought both gravitas and a sense of resolute commitment to these public conversations.
In 2021, my wife and I took some items to Miller Frame. We had a long winding conversation with Wendi and her partner, standing masked in her store, covering updates and breaking news and talking wood grains and the source of our items. When we picked up the items, that was the last time I saw Wendi in person – immersed in her craft and persevering through a pandemic.
One regret is that Wendi did not participate in The AMPLIFY archive, but her story is well documented in many media outlets thanks in great part to her willingness to live out and openly, to share her privilege and resources with others, to actively create the world trans folx deserve.
It is important that we keep Wendi’s story alive and pass it forward to future generations, both to preserve history and to remind all that our community, including the trans community, have persevered and thrived under oppressive circumstances since time immemorial. There is hope for us today in Wendi and her son Coop deciding to appear on a national television show in 1996. There is a path forward in her deft leadership to bring public policy in line with the experiences of Pittsburgh’s trans residents. There is a model of how we share privilege and resources in her mentoring of other trans women in her craft and her generosity to community organizations. There is a call to service in her many hours of volunteer work leading and creating community institutions that altered the landscape for thousands of people.
Wendy Miller’s impact on Pittsburgh, the lives of persons who identify as transgender, and the consciousness of the LGBTQIA+ community is immeasurable. Her determination and grace in the pursuit of dignity and fair treatment of trans people are exemplars of how to achieve persevering progress towards true equality for people who have long suffered discrimination and injustice.Billy Hileman, queer activist
Perhaps the best tribute to Wendi’s legacy as a human being who walked among us comes from the tribute her son Cooper posted on the Miller Frame website when announcing that she was receiving hospice care. There is care and precision in the declaration of Wendi’s life that makes me weep and rejoice.
It is halfway through Wendi Miller Day and I have to wrap up this post.
Wendi has transitioned to whatever comes next. I know from my own blogging that a trans woman living to age 75 with a loving family and a successful business is not the most frequent narrative we encounter. It may be that Wendi’s final gift to her communities is to remind us that challenging any narrative about our lives will ultimately change the world for the better.
Rest in power, Wendi. May your memory lead the revolution.
WHEREAS, Wendi Miller was born on July 14, 1947 in Pittsburgh, PA, earned a BFA in Sculpture from Carnegie Mellon University (formerly Carnegie Tech) in 1972, shared a life with her partner Dorcas Evans-Miller and raised her son Cooper Miller (1982- ) in Pittsburgh; and
WHEREAS, Wendi owned a framing business for 50 years, Miller Frame, which, since February 14, 1982, operated in East Liberty, serving both small and large clients, including Fred Rogers, Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby, Willie Stargell, Bill Cowher, and completed high-profile projects at the Federal Reserve, University of Pittsburgh, UPMC, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh Public Schools, Pittsburgh Zoo and Aquarium, PPG, and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History; and
WHEREAS, Wendi employed predominantly transgender women, providing rare employment opportunities for Pittsburgh’s transgender community at the time due to discriminatory hiring practices, and Miller Frame was owned and operated for 30 years solely by transgender women; and
WHEREAS, the frame shop served and a refuge and a center of transgender community life and activism; and
WHEREAS, she served as president of Transpitt, established in 1983, a support group for transsexual people and crossdressers and their partners, and was co-founder of the Pittsburgh Transsexual Support Group, established in 1995, a non-profit which focused on emotional, medical and financial support for transsexual and transgender people, two of the earliest support groups for transgender people in the Pittsburgh region; and
WHEREAS, in 1995, she worked with an ad hoc committee of the Pittsburgh Human Rights Commission to protect transgender and gender variant persons from discrimination in housing and employment, which in 1996 redefined the protected category sex to “include those who are changing or have changed their gender identification,” which now extends to Allegheny County, and has been adopted by other communities in the US; and
WHEREAS, in 1996, Wendi appeared as a guest on the Ricki Lake show when they consulted the Pittsburgh Transexual Support Group for an episode; and
WHEREAS, Wendi served as an inaugural appointee to the Pittsburgh Mayor’s office LGBT Advisory Council from 2009-2012, which served as the predecessor to the LGBTQIA+ Commission; and
WHEREAS, Wendi remained a supporter of the numerous charitable institutions in the Pittsburgh community, donating framing to Persad, Animal Friends, The Heart Association, PFLAG, Pittsburgh Center of the Arts, Pittsburgh Artists League; and
WHEREAS, she trained a new generation of picture framers who have gone on to work at institutions such as the Carnegie Museum of Art, and;
NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the City of Pittsburgh commends Wendi Miller for her personal grace, strength, and openness and thanks her for her magnificent contribution to the LGBTQIA+ community; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Council of the City of Pittsburgh does hereby declare April 8, 2023 to be “Wendi Miller Day” in the City of Pittsburgh.
Sponsored by Councilman Bruce A. Kraus
Co-sponsored by Councilmembers Bobby Wilson, Theresa Kail-Smith, Anthony Coghill, Barbara Warwick, R. Daniel Lavelle, Deb Gross, Erika Strassburger, and Rev. Ricky V. Burgess
Bruce A. Kraus Attest: Kimberly Clark-Baskin
Member of Council Clerk of Council
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