FELICIA FLAMES
TRANSGENDER ACTIVIST

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Felicia Flames by Vin C

"My name is Felicia A. Elizondo. I'm also known as Felicia Flames. I am an activist, entertainer, historian, trailblazer, Tenderloin queen, pioneer, legend, icon, diva, 32-year survivor of AIDS, and Vietnam War veteran.

The navy taught me organization. It taught me to be authentic. It taught me to be the person I was meant to be regardless of what others think. It taught me strong attitudes and to confront anything and anybody who would ever imagine doubting me. It taught me to be kind. It taught me to be considerate. It taught me—this was before all the horrible things that happened to me. I was beaten up, thrown in jail, raped, and almost killed. It taught me that it wasn't my time. It wasn't my time in the military. It wasn't my time when I got raped, or when somebody almost killed me, or when I got beat up, or things like that. It taught me that I could defend myself, not through fighting but with words.

The first time I got arrested was in the mid-1960s. I was in front of Compton’s Cafeteria, where all of us queens used to hang out, walking to where I lived at the El Rosa Hotel. They arrested me for obstructing a sidewalk. They put me in jail, but they couldn’t prove anything. A lot of the cops didn't meet their quotas, so they would harass us for anything. They would pick us up for—they would go to Compton’s Cafeteria just to get us. People were coming out and arresting us for stupid things. We knew that we were going to get out the next day because they couldn’t prove anything. Another time, I was by myself, and they said I was contributing to the delinquency of a minor. 

It was a normal thing for us to get in there and get out. During a three-day weekend, when we could actually make some money, the police would round up a whole bunch of us queens and put us in jail. We wouldn’t have any money for a hotel, food, or anything. They were treacherous. They just made our life miserable, but we had to endure it because we had no choice. We couldn’t go anywhere else.

 

When I became HIV positive in 1987, I became a triple activist. I used to provide emotional and practical support for gay men who were dying of AIDS. They didn't know I was a transgender. After three or four months, I told them that I was transgender.

They said, "No way. We never thought that a person like you would try to help us and take care of us the way you do."

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I said, "I'm a human being like everybody else. How can you discriminate against me because I'm transgender? You thought that I would not take care of you. The last six months, I've cleaned your butt, gone to the grocery store, sat by you, and gave you all the support that you needed. Then, when you find out that I'm transgender, you can't believe it and think I wouldn’t treat you the same way that I would treat anybody else?"

They were shocked. People were shocked. A lot of the people that I work with were like, "Really?" They couldn't believe that I was taking care of them because they've always downed us. They never gave us our place in society because we were poor, but I've been in the process of changing all of that since I became an activist, a real activist.