Legendary trans activist Donna Personna shares inspiring story and search for family in candid film

A new film tells the story of artist, performer and trans activist Donna Personna.

Donna will offer an in-depth and candidly intimate portrait of Personna, exploring her journey of self-discovery and her journey to reconnect with her family.

Although she’s well known for her trans activism, Donna’s legacy goes beyond the political – she’s a fine artist and performer, having started out on the stage with the Cockettes.

Her creativity and eccentricity, as highlighted during her lip-synching hey-day, feel like a far cry from her traditional Baptist upbringing in San Jose, California – an important part of her identity that is expanded on in the film. 

Having moved to San Francisco when she was 19, Personna’s estranged siblings have never seen her perform, or met her authentic self. Now in her 70s, she wants to change that. 

PinkNews is exclusively premiering the trailer for Donna ahead of its UK and Ireland release on 15 July.

The 75-minute documentary opens on what is, arguably, one of Donna’s most defining career moments: when she was offered the position of co-writer for a play based on the 1966 Compton Cafeteria Riots. These riots were among the first reported acts of LGBTQ+ resistance in US history.

In the Tenderloin District of San Francisco, where the cafeteria was located, police were continually harassing members of the LGBTQ community, especially trans women. In an era where transgender people weren’t welcome in many gay bars, this public venue gave them a place to meet and work. Unfortunately, once the police got involved, a sea of violence ensued.

Having known some of the trans women involved in this overlooked piece of queer history, Donna had personal insight that allowed her to bring the story to life. The outpouring of praise and encouragement she received for her writing helped encouraged her to leave the city in an attempt to reunite with one of her siblings, Gloria.

Directed by award-winning filmmaker, Jay Bedwani, best known for his 2013 short film My Mother, Donna will be released in UK and Irish cinemas, and on streaming platform Bohemia Euphoria, on 15 July.

Set against a coral pink backdrop, Donna Personna is dressed in a cream dress and blonde wig, surrounded by LGBT performers

Donna theatrical poster. (Truth Department and Films de Force Majeure).