Dante “Tex” Gill

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Dante “Tex” Gill was a savvy businessman in Pittsburgh, about whom there is honestly not a lot of reliable information except that “[he] was just a hell of a lot of fun” (according to his sometimes lawyer, Carl Max Janavitz).

Gill was born April 2, 1930 and was given the name Lois Jean Gill. The family was fairly large. That’s basically all the information I could find about Gill’s life before the 1950’s (except some records from the U.S. census that claims he was 3 in 1940. Someone over there is bad at math, I guess. Worse than me, even!) In the 1950’s, still using the name Lois, Gill worked as a blacksmith at horse stables in Schenley Park, where he earned a reputation for taking no nonsense — from people or from horses. According to his cousins, he was already pretty intimidating at this point. Later, he became involved in other businesses in Pittsburgh — including a baby furniture store and a frozen foods store, but was involved in the prostitution industry on the side. It was during this period that Gill began essentially living as a man.

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However, when his mother Agnes fell ill, his businesses simply did not bring in enough money. And so, through business contacts, Gill turned full-time to a life of crime. This was some time around 1964. Agnes died of cancer in 1973, but Gill remained in the illegal business. Gill was arrested by the FBI in 1974, but apparently avoided conviction. On February 12, 1977 — in the midst of what was essentially a mob war — prominent businessman (and local crime boss) George Lee was shot to death in a restaurant in broad daylight. Gill — along with Nick Delucia — took over the massage parlors, which were fronts for prostitution, that Lee had operated.

He came to run a number of these massage parlors, including Spartacus Massage Parlor, the Japanese Meditation Temple, and the Taurean Models massage parlor. One of his parlors, Gemini, was bombed by the mafia in 1977 — destroying the building and killing Joanne Scott, one of the girls who worked there. In the same year, one of Gill’s employees — Anthony Pugh — was murdered in his own home. Later, DeLucia would be charged with planning to assassinate Gill, although this would never be proven in court (and their rivalry would continue until DeLucia went to prison for tax evasion in 1981). Though much of the mob was definitely unhappy with Gill’s control over illegal operations in the city, he was supported by the LGBTQ+ community of the city — and by the Pittsburgh Steelers, who Gill had begun selling anabolic steroids to. That was enough support to keep him virtually untouchable. Gill’s criminal empire grew — much to the chagrin of his rivals in Pittsburgh’s underground.

Gill’s ties to the LGBTQ+ community of Pittsburgh at the time were slim, but enough to earn their loyalty. When Tampa gay bar El Goya burned down in November of 1977, Gill brought the owner Frank Cocchiara to Pittsburgh to manage Taurean Models. Frank — also known as Miss Frank — became a staple of the Pittsburgh drag ball scene and friend of activist Herb Beatty.

By all accounts, he lived an extravagant lifestyle, traveling often and becoming the owner of several rare pets. Gill lavished the women who worked for him with expensive gifts — but conversely, insisted they take lie detector tests if he suspected they might be stealing from him. Gill also insisted on regular tests for STDs — decades before that was common practice anywhere in the United States. Despite this toughness, Gill was described as gentle and non-violent by those who knew him. For a time, he was legally married to Cynthia Bruno — the marriage certificate denotes Gill as “husband”, and no other gender qualifications were asked for. The two did eventually part ways.

In 1978, police attempted one of several efforts to take down Gill’s operations — with no success. Authorities raided Spartacus — and Gill continued the grand queer tradition of weaponizing baked goods by throwing a cake at Pennsylvania State Trooper Gerald Fielder. Gill was arrested in 1979, but claimed that his primary source of income was a ceramics shop called “Take Me Paint Me”. Ultimately, Gill was not convicted of any crime.

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Dante Gill in the Pittsburgh Press

In 1980, a fire destroyed the building that housed the Taurean Models massage parlor. Three men, asleep on the top floor of the building, died. They were customers; neither Gill nor anyone who worked for him was hurt. Authorities determined the fire was an arson. As far as I can find, that was the extent of the investigation — no one was ever arrested for the crime.

The authorities finally got the best of Gill. It was not for his underground prostitution empire — it was for income tax fraud and conspiracy. A federal jury determined that Gill was guilty of underreporting his income by $60,000 between 1975 and 1983 — hardly anything when you consider that Gill was raking in over a million dollars from the massage parlors. The Pittsburgh Press gave Gill the titles of “Dubious Man of the Year” and “Dubious Woman of the Year”. One of the reasons for this prestigious title was said to be Gill’s compassion — the Press specifically noted that he gave senior citizens a $5 discount at his massage parlors. (Apparently, that’s what qualified you for having notable compassion in Pittsburgh in the 80’s.)

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In 1985, a U.S. District Judge sentenced Gill to 13 years in prison — but offered to take three years off the sentence if he would close three massage parlors in 24 hours. Gill complied, reducing the sentence to 10 years. Gill was paroled in 1987 and then was driven into poverty by a string of lawsuits from the IRS. He had not yet — as far as I can find — paid the IRS all of the money they were seeking when he passed away on January 8, 2003.

I did want to note that there’s loads of misinformation about Gill out there on the Internet — some of which is really obvious (incorrect dates of death, for instance, despite there being publicly available obituaries written by surviving family members) and some of it is a bit less so. One area with lots of discrepancy is Gill’s actual gender identity — which makes sense given that the understanding we have of gender now was rapidly evolving throughout Gill’s life. That said, Gill’s cousin Barry Paris has definitively confirmed (in the wake of all that controversy with Scarlett Johannson) that Gill identified was a transgender man.

Albert Cashier

I want to talk about a figure from America’s past: Albert Cashier. I don’t generally like ascribing queer identities to people who haven’t personally identified themselves that way, but I would call Albert Cashier transgender. However, to be completely upfront and fair, we didn’t have that kind of language to describe gender identity yet. I can explain my reasons for making the assumption that Albert Cashier was transgender (and believe me, I will), but why don’t you read this and decide for yourself? Let’s get into it.

19029452_10100196774424649_5941864250246528591_nAlbert Cashier was born in Ireland on December 25, circa 1843 to parents Sallie and Patrick Hodgers, who named their child Jennie Irene Hodgers. Details from his early life are a bit hit-or-miss, as Cashier did not like to talk about his early life (and mostly did so while elderly and disoriented). Most of Cashier’s accounts, however, state that he first gave himself the name Albert when his stepfather dressed him in boys clothing in order to put the child into the workforce.

By 1862, Cashier had stowed away to the United States and taken up residence in Belvidere, Illinois. It was in that year that Cashier enlisted in the Union Army, joining the 95th Illinois Infantry. The 95th fought in 40 battles during the Civil War. Among these was the siege at Vicksburg, during which Cashier was captured by Confederate soldiers. He managed to escape, on his own, and returned to his unit. The 95th continued fighting until shortly after the war ended — as news of the end of the war did not reach them for several days. On August 17, 1865 the regiment was disbanded and Cashier was honorably discharged. Cashier had managed to survive the Civil War, and did so without suffering any severe enough injuries that anyone discovered he was biologically female. Cashier had earned a reputation for running headlong into danger and escaping unscathed.

Cashier returned to Illinois. Over the next four decades, Cashier worked in Illinois at a number of jobs, mostly involving manual labor. He also began to collect his veteran’s pension, living a fairly uneventful life until 1911. It was at this point that, in the course of his job at the time, a car hit Cashier and broke his leg near the hip. When he was examined by a doctor, Cashier’s secret was discovered. Fortunately, his employer and his doctor agreed to keep the secret for Cashier. Unfortunately, the injury meant that Cashier could no longer work. He moved into the Soldiers and Sailors Home in Quincy, Illinois.

In 1913, Cashier’s secret was discovered again — and knowledge of it began to spread. It is a little unclear how exactly this happened — and whether it happened before or after Cashier was moved to a the Watertown State Hospital for the Insane. (And when I say a little unclear, I mean I’ve now read several different biographies all of which give very precise details and none of which seem to line up whatsoever.) At the mental institution, Cashier was forced to wear skirts and women’s clothing for the first time in over 50 years. Cashier insisted upon pinning the skirts up into make-shift pants, which offended some of the other residents of the hospital but was permitted by the staff.

With Cashier’s secret out, the state of Illinois pursued charges against him for falsely collecting a soldier’s pension. Every single surviving member of Cashier’s old unit, however, came to Cashier’s defense — describing his bravery in the field of battle and consistently describing Cashier as a man. The state was forced to drop the charges.

At some point in 1915, Cashier tripped on his skirt and broke a hip. The injury became infected, ultimately leading to Cashier’s death on October 10. At the insistence of those who had served with him, he received an official Grand Army of the Republic funeral and was buried in full military honors. His tombstone read “Albert D. J. Cashier, Co. G. 95th Ill. Inf.”, although this was partly because it took the executor of Cashier’s estate nine years to trace him back to the name Jennie Hodgers.

As I said earlier, because gender identity was truly not understood the way it is today, there’s a case to be made that Cashier wasn’t transgender. Personally, given the descriptions of his behavior after being forced into women’s clothes, I don’t think that case holds up. In any case, the people in Cashier’s life were overwhelmingly positive and supportive when the truth came out, which was remarkable for the time.

(Adapted from this Facebook post.)