Philly and beyond to celebrate Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31

By: - March 28, 2021 6:30 am

Celena Morrison, executive director of the Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs, will speak on March 31 in support of International Transgender Day of Visibility (Philadelphia Gay News photo)

By Michele Zipkin

PHILADELPHIA — International Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV), which takes place annually on March 31, is about celebrating trans lives and educating the public about trans history. Trans folks in Philadelphia and beyond are organizing virtual events to share trans stories and have community conversations.

The Philadelphia Office of LGBT Affairs will host a trans flag raising on March 31, including remarks by the department’s executive director Celena Morrison on the importance of the day.

“This day is dedicated to celebrating transgender people and raising awareness of the discrimination and violence we face,” Morrison said in an email statement. “TDOV is a celebration of the history of our contributions to society, which are too often ignored. This year, awareness is more important than ever. Not only have we seen disturbing trends of violence against trans women here in Philadelphia and across the country, but there are also dozens of states currently considering legislation that would amount to discrimination against LGBTQ people and communities.”

2021 has seen dozens of anti-trans bills introduced in state governments, including legislation that would ban trans individuals from receiving medical care and trans students from participating in school sports.

“But while facing these significant cultural, legal, and economic challenges, Trans people continue to bravely share their stories, claim their seats at the table, and fight for equality,” Morrison said in the statement.

Darius McLean, director of the Arcila-Adams Trans Resource Center (TRC) and Empowerment Programs at William Way LGBT Community Center, is organizing a virtual photo gallery of community photos and voice recordings conveying what visibility means to each person.

McLean, who uses the pronoun hiz, said that in terms of hiz definition of visibility, “I’m Black, Lenape, first generation Jamaican. Visibility means me embracing all those parts of me, as well as being trans and being proud, whether that’s making sure my child knows from a very young age that their baba is a trans person and talking to them about that, [or] using my identity to help people learn and empathize with our community.”

McLean added that a lot of transphobia stems from a lack of empathy for trans people.

“I think that visibility means that we’re cared for more by not just our community… but opening up ourselves for other support.”

Trans activists and TransWay co-facilitators Kendall Stephens and Elizabeth Coffey Williams will hold a special virtual TransWay meeting to celebrate TDOV. They will begin by introducing the TRC at William Way and glean participant feedback on how they think the center can best serve trans communities.

“The way that the center has been used and who accesses it the most, it shows that we need to reach out more to BIPOC-identified folks, disabled folks, undocumented folks, and further support our community and those that are further marginalized within an already marginalized community,” McLean said.

As part of their TDOV celebration, Stephens and Coffey Williams sent a call on Facebook for people of trans experience to share their stories at the meeting, “and to share how far they have come in their gender journey and express how they see themselves through that journey,” Stephens said.

At the meeting, trans activist Desmond Tyrone will shed light on “everything that [the trans community has] been through, about how we’re more accepted now than how we used to be,” he said. “Bringing attention to the people that didn’t get a chance to see this day, to remember them, to know that they didn’t get forgotten about. To show [cisgender] people… that we’re just as great as anyone else, and that we’re not going anywhere. We’re not going to be erased.”

Stephens also plans to focus on the celebratory aspect of trans people living authentically in their transness.

“[My meaning of TDOV] is being able to celebrate those individuals that live very honestly in their gender truths despite some of the societal consequences that they face,” Stephens said. “There’s a personal freedom that comes from you being brave in your visibility, putting yourself at risk knowing that the bigger risk is not being an honest manifestation of who you are.”

Philly Trans March (PTM) in conjunction with Trans Masculine Advocacy Network (TMAN) plan to hold a TDOV event on March 31 in the form of “a virtual marketplace for Trans entrepreneurs,” PTM and TMAN founder Christian A’Xavier Lovehall said in an email. According to PTM’s Facebook event page, people will also have the opportunity to discover and invest in local trans owned businesses. The event will also showcase local trans and nonbinary performers, including a live set by DJ Delish, organized by PTM member and current reigning Drag King of the Year Mx Deej Nutz.

On March 28, Garden of Peace Project, which originated in Pittsburgh and serves Black queer and trans youth, will facilitate the virtual conversation Transparent: A TDOV Conversation with Trans Masculine Folx about Our Visibility and Representation. Organizers and hosts of the event include Garden of Peace founder Michael David Battle, Mel Howard, Rashod Xavier Brown, Sasha Alexander, Vann Michael, Lovehall, and others to be announced.

The event will address how Black and Brown trans masculine people are represented in the media, film and TV, books, nonprofit leadership and other facets of life.

“I think [TDOV] is a time for reflection, a time for us to really consider what visibility and representation look like, what the dominant narratives are and what our lived experiences are really like,” Battle told PGN.

He said that describing his ideal version of transmasculinity is complicated due to “centuries of colonization, genocide, enslavement, misogyny, misogynoir, homophobia and transphobia,” he said. “It’s so wrapped up in white supremacy and oppression and [structural] violence. I think the best answer that I can give is a masculinity that allows for freedom and liberation, that allows us to challenge the ways that we are existing, providing and engaging in relationships with women and girls in our lives.” 

Garden of Peace Project’s Howard told PGN that for him, “trans masculine visibility is getting up everyday no matter how you feel, no matter what that person is going through and choosing to be themselves regardless of what that looks like. There is no requirement when a person says [they’re] trans masculine. I identify as a trans masculine transgender male who is pansexual and in a committed relationship, that’s my narrative.”

Michele Zipkin is a reporter for The Philadelphia Gay News, where this story first appeared.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.