Transgender (In)Visibility: Ohio on the March

Transgender Invisibility

What if there was a party and nobody showed up? It certainly seemed like the mics, cameras, and headlines across the country were silent on March 31st; just another day passing, nothing special going on, no reason to unfurl the banners and dust off the song books.

For those of you who missed the memo, March 31st is International Transgender Day of Visibility, a time where our trans siblings around the world take the day and take the streets to hold their heads up high and kick out the jams.

Well it seems like every LGBT media outlet missed the memo, the event was held worldwide with marches reportedly taking place as far away as Ireland and Scotland, and there wasn’t single mention of the International Transgender Day of Visibility in any of the major American LGBT news outlets, there wasn’t a piece from the Huffington Post or LGBT Nation, not a word from the Advocate either.

That’s bullshit. There’s no nice way to put it, that’s bullshit. We’re supposed to be a community, united and strong, and here on an occasion where our trans siblings were putting on their marching boots, out on the streets, showing their neighborhoods, states, nations, and the world that they were here, they demanded to be heard, seen, and recognized, our major news outlets were silent. They turned their backs on their own siblings.

As far as myself goes, I was lighting a smoke when I got a message from H. Klote, the media person for GetEQUAL. She told me she had a story for me, but it wasn’t a local Indiana story. I told her that was fine, I covered whatever sounded interesting. She put me in contact with Zoë Lapin, an independent organizer who organized the march with strictly local sources, and told me that across the river in Cleveland, Ohio, the trans siblings were marching loud and proud.

Since I was unable to travel to Cleveland to witness this local march first hand, I got in contact with Zoë, who agreed to give me the ins and outs on this rally taking place in the heart of the Midwest.

****

Walter: Tell me a bit about this march and how it all came about. How you organized it strictly within your local community?

Zoë: The event came about primarily out of a lack of activity and awareness around the day of visibility, locally. The transgender community in Cleveland has been working tremendously to promote visibility, education, and outreach in the entire city but there was no focus on anything surrounding the day of visibility. Much like the original intention of the holiday, I felt it was extremely necessary to share the spirit of the day and join in solidarity within Cleveland and with the global trans community. I organized the event exclusively within the community because it has been the community putting in the work and reshaping the culture here. I reached out to Jacob Nash and Sue Doerfer, two community leaders whom I regularly work with in promotig efforts of trans equality and liberation. I asked them if anything was being done for visibility day and after learning there wasn’t, I simply decided to try to make it happen. Unfortunately, this was about 3 weeks ago (a valuable lesson for organizing next years event) but I took the task on with high ambition and a determination to make this event an example of solidarity, community, healing, and liberation.

Walter: You organized it in three weeks? That takes a lot of dedication, will power, and black coffee.

Zoë: Hahahaha yes.

Walter: How was the turnout? Do you have rough estimates?

Zoë: The turnout was pretty great, I felt! There were about 50 attendees, a diverse representation of identities, expressions, and all walks of life.

Walter: Fuckin’ A, I dig it! What were the events that happened during the march? Did you have any speakers or maybe a big group sing-along?

Zoë: The event consisted of speakers from members of the trans community and allies. Cleveland City Councilman Jeff Johnson was one of the first speakers giving a powerful testimony about his own path towards understanding trans people and becoming an (unexpected) ally. The speakers were of all perspectives-students, leaders, veterans, immigrants, parents, actors, organizational directors. We had 10 speakers altogether, along with ASL and Spanish interpreters. Speeches were all of promoting awareness, education, solidarity, and community-every narrative was just powerful. Hahaha about sing-alongs, the location of the event is actually in front of the justice center, at one point in the evening I wanted to “shake the walls” of the justice center by getting the audience to repeat “TRANS LIVES MATTER” as loud as possible. We also showed a message of healing by giving a joined “we love you” to the memories of the trans and gender non-conforming people whom have lost their lives-rather by another hand or their own. It was necessary to do I felt, especially when we had 3 trans women murdered in Cleveland in 1 year (2 actually in the same week), back in 2013.

Walter: You had a local city councilman speak at the event? That’s pretty major. I don’t know how things swing in Ohio, but here in Indiana, it would usually be pretty rare to get an elected official to speak at an LGBT related event.

Zoë: I’m honestly still in shock by it, there are a number of advocates for the community on the council and more and more are becoming public about their advocacy and support for trans rights.

Walter: It sounds like your event was a smash, especially given such a short organizing time frame. How was the local media coverage? I mean I’m a freelancer working for a national rag; did any of the local TV stations or newspapers pick up on your event?

Zoë: I reached out to the local media about the event but none of the media outlets were in attendance. I was able to utilize social networking, however, and that was essential in getting awareness out about the event.

Walter: Social media is a necessary item in the tool box of any activist, be they working grassroots independent or with a state or national organization.

Zoë: I completely agree.

Walter: Given the wide array of voices present in this event, especially in such a Midwestern spot as Cleveland, Ohio, does it give you hope in the future of the trans community and the movement? To bounce off that a bit, where do you see the future of the movement? It seems that nationwide, much is still needed to be done to lift up our trans siblings.

Zoë: Absolutely! Much needs to be done, on all levels. I hope that more and more grassroots organizing efforts happen at the local level and that they are getting adequate support from national organizations. I think that national organizations are going to reach out more and more into the community and diversifying their leadership. I think the movement as a whole, will be one of complete solidarity, in which the issues are addressed with intersectionality, accountability, and full representation.

Walter: Well I don’t think I could put it any more succinctly. Any final words of wisdom for the readers?

Zoë: Yes, if you want to promote inclusion, you have to internalize inclusion. When you are speaking out for liberation, equality, and visibility-you need to represent those things. Intersectionality isn’t just another word; it’s a direction-a direction that we always need to be aware of, in any effort. You have to be willing and ready to reach out, you have to not only hold others accountable, but hold yourself accountable-and be willing to be held accountable.

****

Despite the fact that Zoë was organizing a rally of visibility, the rest of the queer press didn’t give a damn, they were apparently too occupied with toasting to the marriage victories across the country; meanwhile our trans siblings are still taking way more shit than any human being should. Brother Gavin out in Arizona said it best in a rant posted earlier;

“I know folks who still can’t take a piss without freaking out, myself included, because the education isn’t out there. I know people who live in states where they can be canned for being who they are.”

Step up your game, LGBT news media, don’t ignore our trans brothers and sisters. They deserve better than that and if you call yourselves queer journalists, you will do better.

I would like to applaud Zoë, lack of press coverage be damned, she organized her locals, went out there and was heard by all willing to listen, even a grungy looking unshaved underground journalist.

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