Atomic Training is proud to participate in 2022 LGBTQ history month. In this first segment, we are starting in the late 1800s when we are celebrating the first Two-Spirit cultural ambassador to then-President Grover Cleveland, and our first Drag Queen William Dorsey Swann.
We’wha was a non-binary individual born in 1849. We’wha was born into a New Mexico tribe called the Zuni’s. We’wha’s mother was a member of the donashi:kwe clan (badger people) while We’wha’s father was part of the bichi:kwe clan (dogwood people). We’wha’s parent’s sub come to illness and passed, and We’wha’s and their brother were adopted by their parental aunt. We’wha remained part of their mothers’ clan but maintained ties to their father’s clan.
In 1885 expedition leader James Stevenson brought We’wha back to Washington D.C. for six months. The intent was to foster cultural exchange. Everyone assumed We’wha to be cis-gendered, so the visit garnered attention as women rarely participated in delegations.
We’wha even mingled with then President Grover Cleveland at the white house.
William Dorsey Swann
In 1858 William Dorsey Swann was born in slavery in Hancock Maryland. He was the fifth oldest in a family of 13. When the civil war ended, he landed a job as a hotel waiter.
During the 1880s through the 1890s, Swann hosted a series of balls in Washington D.C. He referred to himself as the “queen of drag”. Most who attended these balls were men who were formerly enslaved and were gathering to dance in their satin and silk dresses. These balls were raided, and Swann was arrested often for impersonating a woman. This was the first documented case of female impersonation in the United States on April 12, 1888.
It was Swann’s thirtieth birthday celebration and according to the Washington Post Swann was “arrayed in a gorgeous dress of cream-colored satin”. After the birthday celebration was raided by police Swann was bursting with rage, and he stood up to one officer and shouted. “You is no gentleman!” and resisted that night. This was the earliest-known instance of violent resistance in the name of gay rights.
Swann’s parties had repercussions. When the police would raid these parties the names of the guests were published in the local papers. These guests risked their reputations by attending these parties.
In 1896 Swann was falsely convicted and sentenced to 10 months in jail for keeping a disorderly house (brothel). After his sentencing, Swann requested a formal pardon from Grover Cleveland, but his request was denied. Although this request was to clear him of his charges, Swann was the first American on record who pursued legal and political action to defend the LGBTQ+ communities’ right to gather.
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