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Transgender Day of Visibility 2024 – Honouring voices

Transgender Day of Visibility (TDoV), taking place annually on March 31, stands as a beacon of celebration and recognition for trans and non-binary individuals. Emerging from the foundations laid by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, who established Trans Day of Remembrance in 1999 to memorialise the lives lost as a result of transphobic violence. Rachel Crandall-Crocker decided to inaugurate a day that celebrated the community instead of mourning it. Focusing on engendering positivity and empowering the community and its respective allies, she “wanted a day that we can celebrate the living…a day that all over the world we could all be together”. Initially celebrated by a relatively small group of activists and organisations, it is now observed globally and has provided a platform for those in the community and those surrounding them to celebrate their identities, share their stories, and raise awareness. 

In terms of the history of the transgender and gender non-conforming community, there have been centuries of resilience, struggle, and triumph in the face of societal norms and prejudices. It vastly predates the modern day, back to ancient cultures such as those of Mesopotamia, Greece, and Rome, in which individuals who would fit our current definition of being trans were revered and lionised. Carried towards into the Middle Ages and Renaissance, despite the rise of religious orthodoxy and stricter perception of genders, the lives of such individuals were seen in Mediaeval hagiography and were chronicled through historical records, art and literature, albeit in more clandestine means. The spread of European and Western colonialism following this period gave rise to significantly more rigid binaries-laws and doctrines were formed, leading to the persecution of trans individuals. However, the early 20th century saw new psychological and medical frameworks towards the recognising of transgender identities; despite often pathologising and stigmatising, it led to the present day trans rights movement. The modern movement gained momentum in the 20th century and is often associated with figures such as Marsha P. Johnson, who co-founded the Gay Liberation Front and the activist group Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR), providing support and resources for homeless trans individuals, writing a collective manifesto in 1970-in addition to being one of the prominent figures in the Stonewall uprising of 1969

Although much progress has been undertaken in the field of LGBTQIA+ rights, transgender individuals continue to face disproportionately high rates of violence and discrimination. Especially in the United States, disconcerting trends have emerged across several Republican-controlled state legislatures, forming a fresh wave of legislation that explicitly targets the rights and existences of trans individuals. Legislative manoeuvres include the push to enact bans on gender-affirming care for minors and criminalising healthcare providers that administer such treatments. Additionally, a recent legislation passage in the state of Kansas seeks to ban transgender women and girls from participating in sports, discriminating and excluding individuals based on their gender identity. Posing a grave threat to the health and well-being of trans youth, such measures blatantly disregard the medical consensus affirming the necessity of gender-affirming care for youth. They are similarly echoed in Europe and the UK. A recent emergence of discourse has also emanated in the United Kingdom, with the government calling to reform the Gender Recognition Act (GRA) of 2004, and the proposed reforms endeavour to allow transgender individuals to legally change their name without bureaucratic barriers. However, this has faced backlash from political groups and lawmakers, leading to severe delays in reform. On January 9, 2023, Kemi Badenoch, who is President of the Board of Trade and Minister for Women and Equalities, made an announcement stating that certificates recognising gender issued to trans individuals in Scotland would not be recognised in England nor Wales; critics labelling this a “trans travel ban“. Essentially, legislative measures and policy discourse targeting trans rights have contributed to a societal atmosphere of increased vulnerability. This inevitably takes a grave toll on members of the community, and according to Mental Health First Aid England, 67% of trans individuals experienced depression in the last year.

In the face of these legislative and societal changes, the importance of TDoV cannot be overstated, serving as a reminder of the resilience of the community and offering a platform for empowerment, solidarity, and collective action. Visibility, as a fundamental concept, encompasses the idea of being seen, acknowledged, and recognised for one’s existence and identity. At its core, it serves as a tool for advocacy and societal change, and while it holds significance across various contexts, it is specifically pronounced for marginalised communities such as the LGBTQIA+ (among many others) who have been historically relegated to the margins of society. As a catalyst for change, it allows for the fostering of empathy, understanding, and awareness for those outside the community, thus challenging prejudices. 

Within the discourse of TDoV, it is imperative not only to acknowledge the significance of the day in celebrating trans and non-binary individuals but also to actively amplify their voices and recognise their societal contributions. An influential piece that arguably shaped transgender activism and advocacy is Trans Liberation: Beyond Pink or Blue, edited and compiled by Leslie Feinberg, who was a trans, anti-zionist, communist jew. Forming an anthology of essays, poetry, manifestos, and personal narratives from transgender, gender non-conforming individuals alongside allies and activists. Published in 1998, it still stands as a testament to the diverse voices and experiences within the community, underscoring the importance and intersectionality in the fight towards liberation. Inherently, art and literature play crucial roles in trans visibility through their service as educational and awareness-promoting tools, self-expression, community building, cultural legacy, and history, in addition to socio-political advocacy to challenge oppressive structures through amplifying the voices from the community. 

~ Alisa-Ece Tohumcu

Image: Roseleechs / Sylvia Rivera during a rally for STAR by Martha P. Johnson / CC BY-SA 4.0 Deed

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