Digital Transgender Archive

Race & Ethnicity Research Guide

This page and a detailed resource, Researching BIPOC Trans Histories: A Historical Research Guide, have been created to support research efforts at the intersections of gender transgression and race and ethnicity. 

The erasure of people of color in trans and gender-nonconforming histories

Cropped black and white portrait of Gladys Bentley wearing a white tuxedo and top hat

Transgender history is dominated by the experiences of white trans and gender nonconforming people. This is caused by systems of oppression that have marginalized trans and gender noncomforming people of color for centuries. As a result, historical materials related to people of color who transgressed gender norms are less likely to be considered "historical" and worthy of preservation and archiving. Even when materrials have been archived, related search terms may not have been added to descriptions of those materials, essentially making them hidden. The combined effects of racism and transphobia have caused widespread erasure and silencing in historical records.

How we address race and ethnicity in the DTA

It can be difficult to know a person's racial or ethnic identity, particularly when we have such limited traces of their lives. Because racial and ethnic identities are not simply determined by a person's skin tone or appearance, we are cautious about making assumptions about individuals' identities when we are interpreting materials. Yet when we add materials to our site, we are challenged by how to best describe each item without mislabeling the people involved. Our Describing Objects policy states that when racial or ethnic identities are not explicitly mentioned in the object, we only add identity-based subject terms describing race or ethnicity when we can confirm how that individual self-identified or when we can use a broad term that is relevant (e.g., LGBTQ+ People of Color). Our aim is to avoid misrepresenting anyone. Unfortunately, this also means that materials that feature people of color and materials that relate to racial and ethnic experiences may not always be clearly described as such or may lack specificity. Even as we discuss this topic here, we alternate between using "people of color" (commonly used in the U.S.) and "non-white" (more often used globally).

Cropped photo of Sherie Van Crawford, Miss Gay Escandalo 1995, wearing a sombrero

A few U.S.-based trans people of color and organizations to read more about

Trans people of color have been influential in U.S. LGBTQ+ rights movements throughout the twentieth century. This legacy is becoming more widely known thanks to increased media coverage of Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, two pioneering trans people of color who were prominent activists based in New York City. There are also many other individuals and organizations in the U.S. that have fought for political and social reforms related to trans experiences. For starters, you can read more about:

A few collections related to non-white trans people to explore

The Marsha P. Johnson & Sylvia Rivera collection includes dozens of items related to two iconic trans women of color who advocated for the rights of all LGBTQ+ people, particularly trans people of color, youth, sex workers, and those experiencing homelessness in New York City. 

Rudy Cardona and Victor Lopez are the co-creators of a number of pageants: Miss Corpus Christi America, Miss Corpus Christi Metroplex, Miss Nueces County, Miss Texas Riviera, and Mr. Corpus Christi. These pageants were produced by Texas Crown Productions, which Rudy Cardona also owned. The Victor Lopez and Rudy Cardona Photograph Collection consists of photographs from the pageants, as well as the Houston Baile of 1994 and the Houston Pride parades of 1992-1994.

Oral histories are a form of collecting spoken history through the stories of individuals. Our Oral Histories with People of Color Collection highlights histories and experiences that are underrepresented on our site. You can listen to the stories of many individuals who discuss childhood and transition experiences and the violence and discrimination that many trans people face. Most of these oral histories are in English, while some are in Spanish. These oral histories, which are easily accessible for a variety of audiences, are a way of preserving history and experiences that are not often captured in other types of historical records.

The International Conference on Transgender Law and Employment Policy was an annual conference created by Phyllis Randolph Frye and hosted in Houston, Texas between 1992 and 1997. This collection contains over 100 objects, including presentation transcripts and reports, the latter of which advocate for changes in policies such as employment discrimination.

The ONE Archives at the University of Southern California Libraries features a variety of photos from the early 1900s through 2000. Notably, there are ten pictures of Latino gay activist José Sarria participating in a drag show at the Black Cat Bar in San Francisco, California.

Keywords to Begin Your Search

Below is a list of a few search terms that will help you browse for materials that relate to various racial and ethnic identities. In order to get the most accurate search results, some of the terms should be entered into the search bar in quotation marks, as shown below.

What Isn't Yet on this Site

Our materials are primarily about people from the U.S. and Canada, though we are actively working to develop new collaborations throughout the world in order to widen our scope. We have created a Global Terms page to lists trans-related terms that are used in different parts of the world, though most of those terms are not yet used in our collection. However, you might use the Global Terms page as a starting point for additional research—and please let us know if you find anything we might include!