Trans Day of Visibility reflects growing need for on-the-ground activism

Left: Trans community members and supporters at City Hall for Rise for Trans Lives: a TDOV Demonstration. Right: Attendees of the Trans flag raising at City Hall.

During the March 31 raising of the trans flag at City Hall, which is done to celebrate the annual Trans Day of Visibility, people spoke about the importance of a day which recognizes that Trans people exist, that they need to be protected, and that they must be allowed to thrive. Amid the attacks from multiple angles against the trans community — sports, healthcare, education, youth — and the heightened alarm about backlash stemming from anti-trans rhetoric after the Nashville Covenant School shooting, a moment for the trans community to come together in support was as important as ever.

The flag raising, hosted by the city’s Executive Director of LGBT Affairs Celena Morrison, saw William Way Community Center’s Tyreef King read an uplifting poem; Tatyana Woodard, founder of LGBTQ+ safe haven Ark of Safety, receive an honorary citation for her work in the community; and author and ally Mothasistah speak about raising a trans child and how the future will be okay because of people like them.

Shortly after Mothasistah concluded, Valentina Rosario, a community activist and former program manager at galaei, took the microphone and relayed a message: not enough is being done to help trans people in overlooked parts of Philadelphia. Rosario’s remarks were unscheduled, but the crowd continued to listen and the ASL interpreter continued to interpret.

“Philadelphia is after Girard,” Rosario said. “It’s Logan, it’s Olney, it’s Fairhill, it’s Kensington, it’s Tacony, it’s the Greater Northeast. It is the people who cannot gain access.”

Rosario also criticized the Office of LGBT Affairs for participating more in staged events such as the flag raising rather than on-the-ground work in communities around the city. 

“Walk down Kensington and see the trans people who are addicted, who are dying, who are unsheltered, and this office continues with theatrics. Trans Day of Visibility? Visible for who?”

After the event, Rosario told PGN that the Office of LGBT Affairs should do more to reach trans people who might not be reached by events like the flag raising.

“[The Office of LGBT Affairs] has constituents, and they are the queer people of Philadelphia, including people who do sex work. They’re at 13th and Spruce, Old York Road, Woodland Ave. The office needs to be speaking to trans people who are engaged in the sex work industry. In places like Kensington there are a substantial amount of people who are queer and trans who are dealing with substance abuse disorder. The office needs to be talking to them.” 

Rosario also told PGN that the Office of LGBT Affairs should work with organizations such as Congreso Latino, Prevention Point, and local YMCA centers, all of which help underserved communities.

When asked about Rosario’s criticisms of the Office of LGBT Affairs, Morrison told PGN in an email, “We know there is far more work left to do and remain committed to working with our community partners across the city to ensure that we adequately serve every zip code in Philadelphia. As a demonstration of that commitment, our Office has been conducting a community tour where we meet with organizations and leaders from various neighborhoods throughout the city to hear their concerns and strengthen partnerships. Our goal is to expand outreach this summer.”

A few hours after the flag raising, City Hall played host to another display of trans visibility, when members of the trans community and supporters turned up for a trans rights rally organized by Philly Trans March. A couple hundred people gathered as trans organizers and speakers condemned the barrage of anti-trans legislation across the country and called for action from the community, accomplices, and lawmakers, including mayoral candidates. 

Before the crowd marched down Market Street, PTM organizer Breighton Golphin spoke and introduced three trans and nonbinary youth advocates: Alex Brunson, Zach Jackson, who is nonbinary, and Wes Allen. The three spoke about the real-world ramifications of anti-trans laws. 

“I want to see protection of our rights,” Brunson, a transmasculine sophomore at Science Leadership Academy at Beeber, told PGN. “I want to see protection of us — the trans youth — and I don’t want to see any more of these discriminatory bills pass through.”

As of 2023, 472 bills targeting trans rights have been introduced in 47 U.S. state legislatures, according to the Trans Legislation Tracker, which documents anti-trans bills in the U.S. using data from multiple organizations, including the Human Rights Campaign and the ACLU. Last week, lawmakers in Kentucky and West Virginia passed bills hampering the rights of trans youth. Kentucky’s law has been described as particularly restrictive, and includes a ban on gender-affirming care for trans youth. 

Brunson called for supporters to listen to trans youth and join in the fight to combat the legislative attacks. “Most importantly, they must listen to us, listen to our struggles and help us in the fight,” he said. “It’s horrible when an ally just decides to sit on their butt and not do nothing about it.”

Jackson, who studies psychology at Community College of Philadelphia, said that allies and accomplices can support trans communities in a tangible way by donating to trans-led organizations, participating in trans rights protests and calling their local and state elected officials. 

“Basically doing a lot of the things that trans advocates and trans people are doing right now, so it’s not like trans people against everybody else,” Jackson told PGN. “Allies should also be out there in the streets; allies should be calling offices talking about how out of whack the legislation that is being pushed is, how this is a trans genocide and how a lot of governors and senators are trying to erase us and wipe us out. If you just stop fighting, then more things will be put in place and more people will be put under the thumb of people who are against us.”

At the rally, Allen, a senior at Central High School in Philadelphia, brought up Pa. House Bills 319, 216, and 138, all of which target trans and queer youth. HB 319 would ban classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity for kindergarten through 5th grade; HB 216 would prohibit trans students from joining sports teams that correspond to their gender identity; and HB 138 frames gender-affirming care for youth as harmful and seeks to provide youth who received such care with greater ability to bring a claim against providers.

“This [rally] was a great opportunity to get out and show Philly that we will not stand for this bigotry; we will not stand for it in PA,” Allen said. “I wanted to come out on Trans Day of Visibility to show everyone that we’re here, that trans and queer people have always existed; we will never stop existing. We have beaten oppression before and we will beat it again.”

Allen added that as a young trans person, he wants the same rights as everyone else — to live free of discrimination and fear. He echoed Brunson’s and Jackson’s calls for allies and accomplices to show up for trans youth and speak out against injustice. 

“Call your local representatives and talk to them about how you don’t support these anti-trans bills in PA,” Allen said. “You can call the sponsors of these bills directly and tell them about how these bills are based in fake science, or how these bills would directly impact you or someone you know in a negative way. You can post on your story or your [social media] about trans rights walks and trans rights meetings. The biggest thing currently is being educated on the attacks on trans people and the queer community,  not sitting silently and watching but actively being against these laws.”

After trans youth addressed the crowd, Golphin asked participants to post a photo of the rally on their social media pages, tag local Philadelphia political candidates and current lawmakers, and tell them to wake up. 

“While we need to pass Trans Day of Visibility as a resolution, what good is that if we don’t have our healthcare protections? What good is that if we don’t have housing protections?” Golphin said.

Such protections are vital to trans people, who often face higher rates of discrimination when accessing services such as housing, healthcare, and other public accommodations. Organizations such as the Williams Institute have reported extensively on such topics.

Newsletter Sign-up