“Paris Is Burning” star Venus Xtravaganza’s home declared a historic landmark

Venus Xtravaganza in "Paris is Burning"
Venus Xtravaganza in "Paris is Burning" Photo: Screenshot

The home of one of the breakout stars of Jennie Livingston’s influential documentary Paris Is Burning is being declared a historic landmark.

For the 1990 film, which documented New York City’s ballroom subculture in the late 1980s, Livingston and her crew interviewed Venus Pellagatti Xtravaganz at the Jersey City, New Jersey, home she shared with her grandmother at the time. In those scenes, the aspiring model is seen lounging on her bed, discussing her dreams for the future.

Now, reports that the city is in the process of designating that house at 343 1/2 Eighth St. in the Hamilton Park neighborhood as a historic landmark to honor Venus.

“Not only for my family, but for the transgender community, the LGBTQ community, that’s historic,” Venus’ older brother John Pellagatti Jr. told The Jersey Journal. “It’s just a wonderful feeling. We spent so many years there as a family.”

Venus Xtravaganza was in her early 20s when she appeared Paris Is Burning. The film centered the stories and experiences of the Black and brown queer and trans people who found community and acceptance New York’s ballroom scene. As Barry Levitt wrote for LGBTQ Nation earlier this year, Venus’s scenes are some of the most compelling in Paris Is Burning, made all the more poignant by her tragic death while filming was ongoing. Found strangled in a Manhattan hotel room on Christmas Day, 1988, her murder highlighted the dangers faced by trans women to this day.

Speaking before the Jersey City Historic Preservation Commission in February, ballroom scholar Michael Roberson said that the designation of her childhood home as a landmark would send a message to trans women that they matter.

As reports, Roberson was one of several people, including Gisele Alicea, the current mother of the House of Xtravaganza, to testify before the commission in favor of the designation. While Jersey City’s planning board was reportedly scheduled to consider the proposal on Tuesday, the city already celebrated the designation on Transgender Day of Visibility.

“Venus Pellagatti Xtravaganza’s story is our story,” Pose star Dominique Jackson said at the March 31 event, attended by Jersey City mayor Steven Fulop, members of the Pellagatti family, members of the House of Xtravaganza, community organizations, and others in the ballroom community.

“Venus got love from all of us,” her younger brother Louis Pellagatti told New Jersey’s News 12 at the time. “But most of her love came right from this house, from our grandmother Justina.”

Brielle Winslow-Majette, deputy director of Garden State Equality, noted the significance of having Venus’s family present at the event. “A lot of people think that people run away from home. They feel like they won’t be accepted and their [ballroom] house is the only family that they have,” she said. “Venus’ legacy was not only in the House of Xtravaganza, but with the Pellagattis as well.”

As Republican lawmakers across the country continue to pass an unprecedented number of anti-LGBTQ+ laws limiting access to gender-affirming healthcare and banning drag performances, notes that the push to honor Venus Xtravaganza is an intentional effort to preserve and amplify the life of a transgender icon.

“LGBTQ people live in our cities and towns, but we often are invisible,” said Livingston. “There are virtually no statues of us. Historically, there aren’t so many records of us, of our own chosen families, our ways of expressing ourselves, of our relationships to our families of origin, to our accomplishments.”

“Having a plaque there is also a tangible item that reminds people that trans individuals exist,” Winslow-Majette said of the landmark designation, “and despite victimization and despite any kind of harassment despite legislation and despite stripping away health care, trans individuals will still exist.”

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