“LGBTQ Legacy” is a series of Equality Utah posts celebrating influential lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer individuals who have gone before us. Each post focuses on a particular person and reflects upon the ways we can honor their memory.
Lucy Hicks Anderson (1886–1954) was a chef, a hostess, and a transgender woman before the word transgender was first coined. From her very earliest years in Kentucky, Lucy identified as a girl, telling her parents (who had named her Tobias) that she wasn’t a boy and that she wanted to go by the name Lucy and wear dresses to school. The family’s doctor advised her parents to respect Lucy’s wishes, and so, as she grew up, Lucy was recognized as a woman by everyone in her life.
She married her first husband, Clarence Hicks, in 1920. In 1929, Lucy and Clarence got a divorce. Later, in 1944, she married her second husband, Reuben Anderson. Lucy was well-known in her community of Oxnard, California. She was a fixture of the local social scene as a chef and as a purveyor of liquor during the Prohibition Era. She also ran a boarding house that doubled as a brothel, and it was this connection that eventually exposed her publicly as a transgender woman.
In 1945, she was convicted of perjury for identifying herself as a woman on her marriage license, making her one of the first transgender people in the United States to suffer legal consequences for her gender identity. And, later, she was convicted of fraud for receiving military benefits as the wife of a soldier and was sentenced to serve time in a federal prison. After her release, Lucy and her husband moved to Los Angeles and lived there quietly until her death, in 1954.
Although she didn’t set out to do so, Lucy Hicks Anderson became a pioneer for transgender people. Here are a few lessons we can learn from her experiences and courage:
1. Gender should not be defined by physical features. During her testimony at trial, Lucy summed up her defense as follows: “I defy any doctor in the world to prove that I am not a woman. I have lived, dressed, and acted just what I am: a woman.” Biological sex, gender identity, and gender expression are complex subjects, and a person’s identity can’t be reduced to just their physical traits. People like Lucy Hicks Anderson show that dividing everyone into two strict categories, based on what their bodies looked like at birth, is an imperfect way of understanding each other. People are wonderfully diverse and unique, and that diversity is something worth appreciating.
2. Laws can be used to target marginalized people and express prejudice. Even when laws aren’t designed to target LGBTQ people or other marginalized groups, they can still be used that way. The perjury and fraud charges that Lucy Hicks Anderson was convicted of, for example, weren’t created with transgender people in mind, but they were still used to shame and punish Lucy for her gender identity, setting a troubling legal precedent. Because of this possibility, it is important to pass nondiscrimination ordinances to give all people equal rights and protections under the law.
3. Transgender people are part of our history, even if we haven’t recognized them yet. Lucy Hicks Anderson lived the majority of her life without anyone knowing that she was assigned the biological sex of male at birth. Research led by LGBTQ people has uncovered the stories of other influential transgender people—like gospel singer Willmer “Little Ax” Broadnax, stagecoach driver Charley Parkhurst, and jazz musician Billy Tipton.
There’s no way to know now how many people, over the centuries, would now be called transgender. Those people would have lived their ordinary lives, done their work, loved their partners and spouses, and contributed to the world. We may wonder, though, who are the transgender men and women hiding in plain sight in our history books and family trees? While increased understanding of gender identity has led to greater awareness of transgender individuals in our present day, Lucy’s story shows that transgender people have been here all along.
At Equality Utah, we wish to honor Lucy Hicks Anderson and all the transgender pioneers who came before her or have followed in her footsteps.
What do you find most inspiring in the story of Lucy Hicks Anderson? And which other LGBTQ heroes would you like to see featured in Equality Utah’s future “LGBTQ Legacy” blog posts?
Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter (@EqualityUtah) or Facebook (facebook.com/EqualityUtah). Also, if you are ready to change issues affecting Utah’s LGBTQ community, get started by checking out our resource guide, attending one of our signature events, or by volunteering for Equality Utah!