June is PRIDE month in most cities and states across the country (Phoenix PRIDE is in April - by June it's too hot). All manner of celebrations, parades, and other activities are planned to observe this month set aside to acknowledge "gay" Pride. This year's observances are particularly timely and relevant due to the recent same-sex marriage ruling in California. There truly is lots to be proud about.
Little by little, however, the transgender community is finding its own identity away from its larger, louder, more established GL (and sometimes B) siblings. It is finding that it has unique needs that are not being met in the context of the broader community and, in fact, often get glossed over or missed as part of the bigger movement. Some in the community see this as reason to "secede" from the GLB communities (as if such a thing were even possible) while others are simply finding ways to celebrate our own unique identities in our own ways. It is in that spirit of celebrating our uniqueness that Transgender Pride has been born.
For many, the notion that "Transgender" and "Pride" can in any way be linked seems more than improbable. After a lifetime of struggling with the unholy trinity of Shame, Guilt, and Fear that so often pervades the Transgender experience any notion of escape to a more positive mindset can seem impossible. It's not impossible and, in fact, it is absolutely necessary in order to achieve any level of self-acceptance that, I'd submit, is truly the foundational concept of Pride.
I attended the First Annual New England Transgender March and Rally in quaint Northampton, MA, this weekend. I'm told that when the the event planners originally called the city to get the appropriate permissions they were told by confused officials, "But we already have a parade for you people." Us people? Who is us people? They apparently felt that since there was already a Gay Pride parade that there really wasn't anything more to do. They have since been "educated."
The entire notion of whether or not the T belongs with the GLB stirs strong passions in some and that's not a debate I'm willing to get into here. I am a believer in community and will continue to work to build bridges to unite us and make us stronger. Those who hate us and would take our rights (and lives) away don't stop to consider the nuances that make us unique or different. I continue to believe that we all need to achieve rights together and that we need to protect the most vulnerable in our family. At the same time, however, the transgender communities need more than simply to share in Gay Pride. We need our own forum to express our own Pride.
Almost 800 people gathered in a small park near downtown Northampton to march. It was a diverse group that included young and old, black and white, a rainbow of ethnicities, trans and allies, male and female, and everything in between. People came from all over New England and beyond to participate. The "Flaming Grannies" were there with flowers in their hats and a big, bold banner. A group from the production of "Rocky Horror" was there and made the march in fishnets. People with dogs, kids on bikes, marchers carrying banners and signs, a police contingent of four, a documentary crew, a group of Legal observers - all gathered in the baking sun to make the two mile walk from the park through downtown to the rally area. It was a beautiful sight to see.
The march snaked through the historic tree-lined streets of Northampton towards downtown. Some marchers chanted, "What do we want? Trans Rights! When do we want it? Now!" Others yelled slogans chastising HRC. Some sang, while others talked among themselves. Some simply marched in silence as if paying reverence to something special and important or just needing to soak it all in. A festive atmosphere prevailed as hundreds of well-wishers lined the streets of downtown to watch and wave (and take pictures - we were a pretty amazing sight), cars honked their horns in support as they passed, and marchers reveled in the positive energy of the event.
The parade led to a rally area in the middle of downtown. By the time we arrived the morning clouds had given way to bright, humid, hot sunshine and marchers baked while visiting vendor tables, socializing, or sitting in front of the main stage to watch the impressive line-up of speakers that had come to participate.
The always articulate and passionate Monica Roberts was there; a highlight for me was being able to spend some time with her since we never seem to have that opportunity when our paths cross. Miss Majors, Ethan St. Pierre, Gunnar Scott, and a long line of local and national activists shared the stage with musicians to share their views on the current state of transgender affairs. Many were pissed-off and their anger struck a chord in many as demonstrated by the sea of heads nodding in agreement, and the applause. Some were hopeful about the future. All spoke eloquently. All spoke passionately.
There was recognition that the we as a transgender community need to take a more active role in determining our own destiny. It was a theme that was repeated time and time again. There was continued outrage that "friends" who had made commitments to us had abandoned us in our time of need and what we need to learn from that. There was appreciation for the support in the broader community and calls for transgender people (and allies) to get more involved. There was concern that we need to be involved in writing our own history rather than allowing others to manage it.
I was the second to last speaker, nearly four hours into it, and used my time on stage to step back from big-picture activism to highlight at a more localized sense of personal activism. We talk about law-makers and national organizations and the difficult reality that many of us face, but at a personal level what can each of us (trans and ally) do in our daily lives to help achieve the things we were all there to demand? Sometimes, simply keeping your head up and maintaining your dignity in the face of an onslaught of public disdain is all it takes. Sometimes it's important to remind ourselves that this journey through gender is simply a journey in search of personal happiness, and that's a journey all of us are on no matter who or where we are. That seems to get forgotten somehow.
I talked about the fact that very few of us start this journey wanting to be activists but that at some point many of us find the need to defend deeply-felt ideals like Fairness and Equality. We reach a point where we stop apologizing for who and what we are and begin recognizing that we deserve the same common decency that others take for granted. I talked about workplaces, and the continuing commitment that both Jamison Green and I have to ensuring that we have equality there. And I talked about the fact that the work we're doing now will set a foundation so that future generations of us won't face the same struggles to get and keep a job, maintain relationships with friends and family, face personal and physical harassment, and endure daily assaults on dignity and self-respect, as we do. That is the legacy that we will leave, and frankly I can't think of a legacy more worth fighting for.
The event closed with a rousing performance by the Drag King performance troupe "All The King's Men". Those who endured the long, hot, sweaty afternoon and stayed to the end were rewarded with a performance that truly brought the house down. And, within minutes of leaving the stage and wishing everyone a safe trip home, the sky opened and big, wet, cool raindrops drenched the area. Some of us left the dry, safe comfort under the tent to stand in it, welcoming the cool, wet release.
Transgender Pride is a concept whose time has come. As indicated by the success of this year's events, it will continue to grow and mature. It is symbolic of our growth as a community and, in fact, is a celebration of that. It is an opportunity to take center stage, to recognize that we share experiences and identities with the broader GLB community but have our own as well, to honor our own community heroes, and to escape being simply the silent 't' at the end of GLB.
Pride is contagious. Just watch - more and more of us will be catching it. I, for one, hope it becomes an epidemic.
Photos of the event courtesy of Donna Rose.
Photos and Video of the event courtesy of the New England Blade