Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 3 / 18 January 2018

A working class heroine


Longtime community activist Morningstar Vancil is one of this year's grand marshals. (Photo: Jane Philomen Cleland)
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Truly showing the diversity of the LGBT community, Morningstar Vancil, a committed LGBT community activist who has served in a variety of political and cultural roles, will have her day in the spotlight as a grand marshal in Sunday's LGBT Pride Parade.

"I didn't think that I had a chance," said Vancil, 52, who said she was stunned when she heard from officials at the San Francisco LGBT Pride Celebration Committee.

A self-described working-class butch who is an immigrant of Filipino, Two-Spirit, and black negritos descent, Vancil has overcome substance abuse for the past 22 years and is currently fighting stage-3 cancer. It never entered her mind that she would be honored in this way.

"It's a big deal that I'm being recognized for the services that I did for the community," said Vancil.

"I'm hoping a lot of people will come and join me in the parade," she said, adding that many friends and colleagues, in particular LGBT Filipinos and Native Americans, will join her in her contingent as it marches down Market Street on June 24.


Quiet, steady service

For years, Vancil has quietly served the LGBT community, volunteering for a number of causes and sitting on numerous boards of community organizations.

"Every time I had a project to do I would call her and she would show up and work her tail off. She's a hard worker and always has been," said Marion Abdullah, her friend and partner in activism for more than 20 years.

"She's always involved in community ... she's always involved in something ever since I've known her," continued Abdullah, advocating that grassroots organizers need to be honored and recognized. "She deserves it. She has done all of this without a penny."

Abdullah herself was a community grand marshal in 2006.

Vancil is perhaps best known as a longtime member of the LGBT Advisory Committee of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, one of the founding members of the Bay Area American Indian Two-Spirits, where she also served as an officer. She co-founded ForS/mWoC, and served as outreach chair of the Harvey Milk LGBT Democratic Club.

Vancil also served on the Pride Committee board.

Perhaps one of the least known acts of generosity that Vancil does is to buy tickets for disabled lesbian seniors so they can view the Pride Parade from the grandstands.

"Every year she gets these tickets to give to the seniors who are disabled for the disabled section. She gets that with her own money ... and she gives them to disabled lesbians so they can see the parade," said Abdullah.

Cancer hasn't stopped Vancil. It has only become a part of the repertoire of her LGBT activism that spans fighting for the rights of LGBT people of color and immigrants; human rights and peace are among the intersecting communities that she claims as her own.

Vancil is an active member of Fabled/Asp, an LGBT disabilities storytelling project that stands for Fabulous Activist Bay Area Lesbians with Disabilities/A Storytelling Project. She formerly served on the board of the American Cancer Society as its LGBT member.

As a U.S. veteran she currently serves as the women's commander of the Alexander Hamilton Post 448 of the American Legion, and was a longtime volunteer, she said. Post 448 is the country's predominantly LGBT American Legion Post for honorably discharged veterans of the armed forces, according to the organization's website. The post is based in San Francisco.

In addition to her activism, Vancil is an artist. In 2010, she made a film, Wild Strawberries, which told the story of a Cherokee elder and showing love through the symbolism of wild strawberries. The film screened at the Queer Women of Color Film Festival. The film, which was also captioned for the hearing impaired, as Vancil is, was an independent project separate from the QWOCMAP workshops. It then went on to show at the Native American Indian Film Festival the following year.

Her creative endeavors also include queer performance groups, such as Kreatibo, Butch Magic, Fat Bottom Revue, and Neshkinukat, according to her San Francisco Pride biography.


Humble beginnings

Born on a U.S. military base in the Philippines, Vancil immigrated to the U.S. in 1984 in order to gain political asylum, she said.

Raised by her grandmother she was taught to be her best and to do everything "out of kindness," she said. "Helping each other out makes the world go around," Vancil recalled her grandmother saying. She also taught Vancil not to devalue herself because she was different from the other children, she said.

When her grandmother passed away, Vancil found herself disowned by her family, she said. She struck out into the world, first living in Colorado where she trained to become a police officer. Her law enforcement career was dashed when she was caught in a gay bar and publicly outed. She soon found herself out of her chosen career, she said.

Vancil then moved to San Francisco in the late 1980s, "to be who I am and make a living," she said.

San Francisco is where she finally found home and her chosen family.

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