Transgender rights advocates rally at Capitol

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Wells Foster

Mark Vorenkamp gives out “Free pastor hugs” at the rally.

From the steps of the Michigan Capitol, Michelle Fox-Phillips yells, “We must say…Yes, I am transgender.” The International Transgender Day of Visibility crowd applauds. Fox-Phillips is executive director of the Gender-Identity Network Alliance.

March 31 is dedicated to celebrating transgender individuals and raising awareness of transgender issues. The event was founded by Michigan activist Rachel Crandall-Crocker in 2009.

“The only day that the transgender community had was a day called the ‘transgender day of remembrance’ and that is when we remembered our transgender people who were killed just for being trans,” said Crandall-Cocker. “I wanted a day where rather than to focus on the dead, I wanted to focus on the living. I wanted a day where we could be proud and a day that we can bring the whole world together, and a day where we could be very visible.”

Crandall-Crocker said Saturday’s rally was the first of its kind in Michigan and was set up by her organization, Transgender Michigan, which she co-founded with her wife, Susan Crocker. Crandall-Crocker says her group was assisted by the Lansing Association for Human Rights. “I wanted it to be an activist-centered rally,” said Crandall-Crocker.

Thora Hanses drove from Royal Oak to attend the rainy rally. Hanses said she predates the word “transgender” in common speech.

“I was born in 1955, I’m an old lady. So back then the word didn’t even exist, it was invented either ’69 or ’79,” said Hanses. “We’ve come such a long ways.”

Hanses said that she came to the rally to be with her trans and nonbinary community.

Many rally-goers came bearing a rainbow flag, or the transgender pink, white and blue flag. But Andrew Wilford brought a different flag. Waving a red and black anarchy flag,

Wilford says he “doesn’t believe in a structured government at all.”

“I’m transgender, so I want to be out here with my community, but I also want to be representing anti-capitalism and anti-authoritarianism,” said Wilford. “I don’t believe that change can come from within the system,” he said.

Not every attendee was a member of the transgender community. Mark Vorenkamp, pastor at the Asbury United Methodist Church held a cardboard sign that said “Free pastor hug.”

“I wanted to make sure that there was at least one person out here … that could show that God is love, Christians are loving, and God loves you just the way you are, and I love you just the way you are,” he said.

Wells Foster

Jeynce Poindexter stressed the importance of acceptance. 

Speakers included Jeynce Poindexter, priest Charles Blanchard and transgender activist Char Davenport.

Poindexter is a founding member of the Trans Sistas of Color Project-Detroit and a board member of the Women’s March. She talked about the importance of trans people being accepted.

“The importance of being visible is so that society and the world does not continue to keep us as the other,” said Poindexter. “As long as they keep us as the other, they will be able to discriminate against us. They will be able to continue to carry out acts of violence against us. We have to connect so that we can establish ourselves as citizens of this world.”

Char Davenport, a teacher and transgender activist, said, “Visibility often comes with a price, and you need to make the decision that if you’re going to be visible, are you willing to pay that price, and what is that price? I can’t tell you what that price is for everyone, but for some people it cost them their lives. It cost them their education, their homes, their families, their jobs.”

Wells Foster

Andrew Wilford bears his anarchist flag.

Davenport also quoted Mr. Rogers: “Hope is the lipstick we put on our fear of life as it is. To truly accept ourselves, we first must become hopeless.”

Charles Blanchard, a Catholic priest and LGBT ally, also spoke.

“My friends, and I count you as friends, thank you for participating in the process of positive change, I implore you to stand firm, fight the good fight, and always know: as long as I live, I will always be there and have your back,” Blanchard said.

Christina Rissman, who came to watch her friend speak said, “I’ve been to a lot of pride events, which are usually more LGB [lesbian, gay, bisexual] focused. So, I’m happy to finally be at one that is tailored specifically to the transgender community.”

Grace Bacon, an activist from Ferndale said, “Your religious freedoms end where my human rights begin,” said Bacon, “We’re here, we’re queer, and we’re not going anywhere!”