The Jersey City Council voted unanimously (6-0) to preserve the childhood home of trans icon Venus Pellagati Xtravaganza, the filming location of the 1990 documentary “Paris is Burning,” at last night’s meeting.
By John Heinis/Hudson County View
“Venus Pellagati Xtravaganza was a trailblazing figure on the ballroom scene, a pioneer and transgender activists, and a civil empowerment for the LGBTQ+ community. Venus was colorful, bold, passionate, and determined. She followed her heart and is still surrounded by a circle of love,” said Chris Perez, who is openly gay.
He recalled that a decade ago, he was at a movie theatre in Manhattan and was holding hands with his boyfriend at the time, noting that he has always been cautious about public displays of affection.
“Towards the end of the movie, a man grabbed my head and started slashing me, saying ‘I’ll show you.’ The guy who tried to kill me was never caught. This was a reality check, that as much as our world has progressed, being who we are is still a risk. I am grateful to be alive, Venus was not so lucky: she was strangled to death at 23 for being who she was. Her case was closed and her killer was never found.”
Amara Velazquez Xtravaganza, Venus’ sister, said both her and her late sister and trans Italian and Puerto Rican women who are a part of the House of Xtravaganza.
“It is so important for trans people to see themselves reflected in society: to be included, to have safe spaces, and to receive support from the systems that govern us. The Human Rights Campaign has declared a state of emergency for LGBTQIA+ individuals in America, enacting laws to try to erase who we are,” she said.
She also said government officials need to do more to help the cause and that preserving landmarks helps the LGBTQ community remember their history.
Michael Robertson, a Camden native who now lives in Brooklyn, talked about his gay, HIV positive son committing suicide.
“The partner goes into the room and my son’s hair clippers, he [cut] all the hair on his head, the hair on his face, and hung himself from the ceiling fan. And he wrote on Facebook ‘I no longer want to live in a world that’s grown so cold … this is particularly why this initiative is absolutely important,” he exclaimed.
“Jersey City had the moment, the privilege, to not only give right this time, but be a landmark for other places.”
The ordinance designates 343.5 8th St. as a historic landmark in Jersey City, which was made possible in part due to the efforts of Jersey City Planning Director Tanya Marione, who is openly gay.
While she could not be present last night, Ward B Councilwoman Mira Prinz-Arey read some remarks from her into the record.
“The Puerto Rican community came to Jersey City and the New York City area predominantly in the 1950s and 60s. Venus was Italian and Puerto Rican and lived in Downtown. She was a physical representation of Jersey City,” she said.
“A lot of trans women would take the PATH into 14th Street to go to the pier in 14th Street, which is where they were all prostituted. In her interview in the documentary ‘Paris is Burning,’ she told us what she wanted: she wanted to get married in a church and wear a white dress. All she wanted is what everyone wants: her story is a Jersey City story.”
An emotional Prinz-Arey fought back tears as she continued that Jersey City must make it a point to encompass all walks of life when discussing diversity, adding that she is “very proud” the city is doing a landmark designation for this location.
Ward D Councilman Yousef Saleh said there are a lot of culture wars being waged in this country by internet and talk show hosts, using LGBTQ+ populations to divide people.
“These radio show hosts, these people on the internet, they’re advocating for the complete erasure of these marginalized LGBT communities and it’s a red herring that’s unfortunately trying to divide us and the passage of this ordinance tonight is a beacon of hope when we see LGBT communities on many fronts across this country.”
Jersey City Ward E Councilman James Solomon said he was proud to honor a lifelong resident and pioneer for years, decades, and centuries to come, particularly with the hateful rhetoric they are facing.
Finally, Councilwoman-at-Large Amy DeGise, who served as the acting council president with Joyce Watterman and Councilman-at-Large Daniel Rivera absent, also spoke in favor of the local legislation.
“This also honors our history here, our strength and resilience of the transgender community. It’s only one of many very tangible actions that have to happen, but I hope that this vote shows our commitment, as a city, to stand by all tangible actions that dismantle all systemic barriers to all marginalized communities.”
The measure was approved unanimously (6-0), with Watterman, Rivera, and Ward A Councilwoman Denise Ridley absent.
After the vote, the council members and the vast majority of the crowd on hand gave a standing ovation.