Today is Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV), a day to celebrate, unite, and honor transgender people and spotlight their contributions in a society bent on erasing them. Created in 2009 by trans activist Rachel Crandall Crocker, TDOV came out of a frustration that trans people only had a day of mourning centered on the loss of trans lives due to violence inflicted on the community, inspired by the 1998 murder of Rita Hester (NBC News). Two decades after her death, the American Medical Association declared anti-transgender violence an epidemic (AMA). Though still a time to raise public awareness of the harm and discrimination trans people endure, Transgender Day of Visibility focuses on being a day of recognition.
Trans, gender-nonconforming, Two-Spirit, and non-binary people have long existed before colonialism, though transphobia forced many to remain hidden and almost forgotten in history (Human Rights Campaign). Trans activists were and still are active in women’s, LGBQT+, and civil rights movements despite their contributions, identities, and experiences not being widely recognized (Daily Express).
• Donate to Trans Justice Funding Project, B.I.T.S, TGI Justice, Queer the Land, Transgender District, and OutMemphis, providing financial, political, legal, and community support to trans people.
• Join in local protests on Friday, March 31, including the March for Queer & Trans Youth Autonomy nationwide. Use the state marches map for more information.
• Attend our Trans 101 Awareness Workshop on April 26 to learn how to create safe and inclusive spaces for trans people.
•Hire trans people to your companies and teams. The Trans-Inclusive Chicago provides a guide and support in building a trans-inclusive workplace.
Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Miss Major Griffin-Gracy were pivotal in the LGBQT+ rights movement, including the Stonewall Riots, though trans erasure and whitewashing excluded them from many accounts. They paved the way for transgender people of color in the community (Gayly, Reuters, Remezcla).
Less widely known was the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot in San Francisco. Three years before Stonewall, a group of trans women and drag queens fought against the police harassment they had faced for years in the Tenderloin District of San Francisco, known as the “gay ghetto” (The Guardian). Though it didn’t trigger a national movement, the moment is considered “the first known instance of collective, militant queer resistance to police harassment” in the U.S., which led to a reduction in police violence and the creation of community services and programs for transgender people in the area, including gender-affirming ID cards that allowed many to find employment (Screaming Queens, San Francisco Standard). Learn more about the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot in the documentary “Screaming Queens.”
In 2017, Black trans women Honey Mahogany, Aria Said, and Janetta Johnson founded the Transgender District in the six blocks of the Tenderloin District. Formally named the Compton’s Transgender Cultural District, named after the uprising, it is the first legally-recognized transgender district in the world (The Transgender District).
Beyond social and political movements, the queer and trans community has gained more presence in media and culture. Shows like Sort of, Veneno, I am Jazz, and Pose, which had a large Black and Brown trans cast and crew, offer various experiences and stories of trans and gender-expansive people that don’t rely on the trope of the sassy, one-dimensional sidekick. A 2020 GLAAD study found that 80% of respondents exposed to LGBTQ people in the media say they are more supportive of equal rights for LGBTQ people, while 41% were more accepting of non-binary people (GLAAD).
Visibility and representation, however, don’t translate to acceptance or safety. As seen with the onslaught of anti-trans legislation and violence actively dehumanizing, invalidating, and erasing the existence of trans people, visibility comes with a risk.
In recent years, anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment and legislation have targeted trans people, specifically trans youth. As a result, violence and discrimination against trans people have increased and become embedded further into our public institutions. From 2017 to 2021, the number of recorded transgender homicides more than doubled, coinciding with the increase in anti-trans and loose gun bills nationwide, “creat[ing] an environment ripe for deadly gun violence fueled by hate” (Everytown). Currently, there are almost 500 anti-trans bills aimed at blocking healthcare, education, support systems, and the right to exist openly (Trans Legislation Tracker). While only 25 have passed, they weaponize fear and the legal system to oppress trans existence.
Living in one’s truth should not have to be a revolutionary act. Yet, being openly trans, as well as Transgender Day of Visibility, means being resilient and fighting for one’s survival, and not just a celebration of existence and liberation. Crocker, who also founded Transgender Michigan, said that “visibility is a ‘double-edged sword,'” that can be life-saving and show how you aren’t alone but also opens the community to attacks (them). She added how, although the creation of TDOV came from her experience of coming out and the loneliness she felt, knowing what she knows now, Crocker is unsure she’d create the day if given the chance to do it again.
“I still think that, since the creation of Visibility Day, things really have changed for the better for the youth,” she said. “One day, I want International Transgender Day of Visibility to be a day that we can just celebrate being ourselves. That’s what it’s all about for me: Being our true selves.”
Until trans people can publicly and comfortably be visible, more allies must step up and defend trans lives. Similarly to the 2020 protests, where white protesters were called upon to be the buffers between Black and Brown protesters and the police (NPR), cisgender people need to come out to the frontlines and take the brunt of anti-trans attacks. By centering and following the lead of trans activists, allies must condemn transphobia, affirm gender identities and expressions, acknowledge that trans women are women and trans men are men, and show solidarity in the streets, in conversations with friends and family, and in voting and spending. Not just on the designated days of visibility or remembrance but 365 days a year.
• Transgender Day of Visibility is a time to commemorate trans people and raise awareness of injustices.
• Trans people are experiencing extreme persecution from transphobic legislators and hate groups.
• The visibility of trans people cannot solve the widespread inequities and violence waged against the community.