By Malaysia Walker, TEAP Advocacy Coordinator
Transgender African-Americans have made significant contributions to history. Their stories are often ignored, overlooked, or discredited. We highlight the story of Lucy Hicks Anderson, a black trans pioneer.
Lucy was born was in 1886, assigned male at birth, but identified as a woman. She insisted on wearing dresses to school and expected her mother to treat her as a girl. Out of concern, Lucy’s mother sought help from a physician who advised her to raise young Lucy as a girl.
She married Clarence Hicks in 1920, and the couple relocated to Oxnard, California, where Lucy was a renowned chef and hostess for wealthy families throughout her community. She raised enough money to purchase property, which she used to start a boardinghouse and bordello, both of which gained much success.
In her community, Lucy was just as important as the politicians and leaders of faith. She was known for her donations to charities, such as the Red Cross and Boy Scouts. Lucy hosted lavish parties for men heading off to war, and even consoling their families when they didn’t return. Reports state that she purchased nearly $50,000 in war bonds in support of the U.S. efforts in World War II. She later married Reuben Anderson, a soldier from New York, in 1944.
A year later, Navy soldiers began experiencing an outbreak, claiming that it traced back to Lucy’s bordello, which led to everyone in her establishment being tested for sexually transmitted diseases. Upon Lucy’s examination, the local doctor discovered Lucy’s truth, and went public with their findings. Both Lucy and Rueben were charged with perjury for being married as it was illegal for two “men” to marry. While defending their marriage in court, Lucy stated, “I defy any doctor in the world to prove that I am not a woman. I have lived, dressed, acted just like what I am, a woman.”
Upon losing their case, both were sentenced to 10 years of probation, but Lucy’s convictions included impersonation because the legal system defined her as a “man impersonating a woman,” and stated that Lucy could no longer wear clothing defined as “women’s clothes.” The Federal government charged the couple with fraud because Lucy was receiving subsistence allotments as the wife of a soldier, and sentenced them to separate federal prisons. The town of Oxnard also banned the couple for 10 years, so they took up residency in Los Angeles as husband and wife, where Lucy lived until her death in 1954.
We say thank you to Mrs. Lucy Hicks Anderson for being the first transgender person in history to fight for marriage rights, and the right to live in your truth.