Horne celebrates lifetime grand marshal honor

  • by Eric Burkett, Assistant Editor
  • Wednesday June 22, 2022
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Andrea Horne, this year's San Francisco Pride lifetime achievement grand marshal, holds her dog Mei-Mei outside the Curry Senior Center, where Horne has been a community engagement worker for the mature trans community. Photo: Rick Gerharter
Andrea Horne, this year's San Francisco Pride lifetime achievement grand marshal, holds her dog Mei-Mei outside the Curry Senior Center, where Horne has been a community engagement worker for the mature trans community. Photo: Rick Gerharter

Black trans activist Andrea Horne is an imposing woman. It's something in the way she carries herself, perhaps, her bearing, her sense of self. Her voice suggests a woman who has seen it all and knows the score but is enjoying herself nonetheless. She has made her own mark on the trans community in San Francisco and is, now, being recognized for it.

Horne, a woman of a certain age she'll never reveal, is this year's lifetime achievement grand marshal for the SF Pride parade.

"It's an unexpected and incredible honor," Horne told the Bay Area Reporter when the parade grand marshals were announced back in April. "It's a recognition that five years ago I probably wouldn't have received."

About six months before SF Pride announced the grand marshals for the first in-person Pride parade in three years, a friend told her "I'm gonna submit your name," Horne said in a recent interview. "I didn't think a thing of it until a couple days before it was announced. I think it's a great honor. I didn't think anyone noticed me."

In a sense, Horne is offering a similar honor to other women she's researching as part of a book she's writing about Black trans women throughout the history of the United States. Like Mary Jones, a Black transgender woman from a time before transgender was even a concept.

Jones was the first recorded instance of a transgender person in America, said Horne. Originally from New Orleans, she was arrested in New York City in 1836, accused of stealing the wallets of men who solicited her for sex.

"I don't think she did any stealing," said Horne. "When they caught her, she had five wallets in her apartment, and each wallet had $99 in it." The number 99 is a spiritual number, in Voodoo, too, she added.

"I mean, that's a clue to something," said Horne.

Her recognition by SF Pride is part of a larger trend. "It's showing the world how trendy Black trans women are right now, with polls and all that. Laverne Cox and Janet Mock and all that," she said, referring to the actor and author, respectively.

But historically, she said, Black trans women have been overlooked. Popular television shows like "Pose" are changing that to some extent, she noted, but popularity doesn't necessarily mean acceptance.

"I don't think universal tolerance is going to be there for another event for another 50 years but access to opportunity, I think, is coming, you know, because of television shows like 'Pose' and like that, because I find television shows like 'Pose' more surprising to me than...," Horne said.

She trailed off a bit, and then said, "I knew that one day, there'd be a Black president but I never thought there'd be a show on TV about Black trans women. Yeah, it's inevitable we have a Black president but it was not inevitable that we have a show about Black trans women."

Early life

Horne grew up in Los Angeles, in an educated, middle class Black family. Educated or no, however, her family kicked her out when she transitioned at 15. She found her way to San Francisco although she wouldn't live here full time until the late 1970s, when her friend, the late disco legend, Sylvester, talked her into moving to the city where she was spending much of her spare time anyway when she wasn't on the road performing. Even now, she's a jazz singer (her favorite jazz performers include Sarah Vaughn and Nancy Wilson). Somewhere along the line, during an affair with a French noble, she lived in a castle in France, but she doesn't go into details. She's been in San Francisco more than 40 years now.

Like a lot of transgender people, Horne has plenty of stories about the indignities foisted upon her and others, by a society that seems to view trans people with suspicion, or not at all.

She recounted an effort, about 10 years ago, to provide training and resources to young trans women. The plan was to provide job skills to trans women with fewer economic opportunities. They would learn how to write a resume. They would even get computers.

"And on the start date, nobody came," Horne recounted. "Not one person, and I was so embarrassed and I was, like, oh, my god, and it just kind of gave people to say, 'Oh, those trannies, you know. They're so unreliable and we did all this for them and no one even came.' And I was humiliated, and I was sort of mad at the girls and I was like 'We did all this.'"

A couple weeks later, Horne ran into one of the women who were supposed to attend the workshop. She asked the young woman what had happened.

"Oh, we were there but the security guards wouldn't let us in the building," the woman told her. Because their IDs didn't match what the security guard at the building entrance saw when they arrived for the event, he wouldn't let them in.

"And there were about 12 people that the security guard just kept out," said Horne. " And you know, they just didn't complain because they're used to shit like that happening. You know, we know as trans women of color, if you complain too much, you're gonna be the one that goes to jail, right? Not the one who did it."

Horne recalled a moment she faced even earlier, back in the 1990s.

"I remember I had a job in the Financial District, and this is in the early 1990s, maybe," she said. "I had been working there a while, I think I was maybe a temp or something, but I had been working there a couple of months and someone told them that I was trans and when I came back from lunch, the police were standing at my desk as were the building security guards, and they told me to get my purse and I got my purse. They handed me my check and I just walked out.

"I didn't ask why. They didn't say why, but I knew why and they knew why. And so, would that happen nowadays?" Horne asked. "No, I would raise a bitch, you know, and go off and call my attorney and all that kind of stuff. But 30 years ago, that wasn't that wasn't a possibility.

"I just hung my head, not in shame, but I just hung my head and left and I didn't even try to explain or talk to anybody," she said. "And the girl who I'd been hanging out having lunch with started screaming at the top of her lungs, that I was some kind of monster. And then she said — we had just had lunch together — and then she was saying, 'I had lunch with it!' And I'm saying 'But you were just my friend, like, five minutes ago' and so, that. And I figured that if happens to me, who was beautiful, and no one knew I was trans and I had that privilege. If it's happening to me then I knew it must be terrible for everybody else. And so that's kind of what prompted me to sort of change careers and start doing social work, with trans people. Because, yeah, I remember what it was like."

Horne calls these examples of barriers that are invisible to others "but that trans women, especially Black and Brown, have to jump over to just, you know, be seen."

On the one hand, she's tired of having to point this sort of stuff out, having to educate people about the existence of trans people, or her own existence. She tries, she said, to keep it contained to one part of her life.

San Francisco Supervisor Rafael Mandelman, left, recognized Andrea Horne in November 2019 as the District 8 honoree for Transgender Awareness Month. Photo: Courtesy Facebook  

"I try to just kind of save it for work time because it's too much after work," she said, but she sees that as a privilege in itself. When she leaves work — she's a community outreach manager at Curry Senior Center in the Tenderloin — she becomes "a regular little lady going home from work."

Not every trans person gets to do that, she acknowledged. So, on the other hand...

"And I've recognized my privilege and I think it's my duty to kind of reach back and sort of help folks, because I'm already fabulous," she said. "I'm trying to help you all get fabulous. You can quote me on that."

Horne said she hopes that younger Black trans women take from her life an example of how to take life to "a much higher level."

"You know when your parents tell you, you can be anything you want to be when you grow up but most of us know, that's not true."

But for trans women, things are changing, she said. The old obstacles are falling.

"So yeah, I hope that they take from my life that you can do whatever and being trans isn't a barrier any longer, you know?" she said. "Because it certainly was when I was coming up. And we lived in fear. I mean, I lived a stealth life and we lived in fear of being discovered."

Being recognized now, though, seems more welcome.

"It feels really good coming from my community," Horne said. "I love it."

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