by Jessica Carreras
Rachel Crandall admits it – she is a Facebook addict. But sometimes, like when starting up the first ever International Transgender Day of Visibility, that's a great thing to be.
"I went on Facebook and I was thinking…whenever I hear about our community, it seems to be from Remembrance Day which is always so negative because it's about people who were killed," Crandall, who heads up Transgender Michigan, recalled. "So one night I couldn't sleep and I decided why don't I try to do something about that.
"I thought, 'why doesn't someone do it?' Then I thought, 'why isn't that someone me?'"
Just a few months later, Transgender Day of Visibility is in full swing, slated to take place for the first time in history on March 31. Events will happen locally, but also across the country and in England and Canada.
Unlike Transgender Day of Remembrance, Crandall said, the day of visibility aims to focus on all the good things in the trans community, instead of just remembering those who were lost. "The day of remembrance is exactly what it is. It remembers people who died," she said. "This focuses on the living. People have told me they love Remembrance Day but it really focuses on the negative aspect of it. Isn't there anything that could focus on the positive aspect of being trans?"
The largest local event is happening at Five15 Media, Mojo and More in Royal Oak, where a panel will talk about trans visibility, how to increase it, the obstacles to it and whether or not transgender people feel free to be out. Crandall will speak on the panel, as well as philosopher, public speaker and LGBT activist John Corvino and Triangle Foundation Executive Director Alicia Skillman. Another panelist, straight ally Michael Layne from the public relations company Marx Layne, has yet to be confirmed, as does the planned moderator, TV news anchor and local celebrity, Charles Pugh.
"It will focus on Michigan in the way that everybody on the panel is from Michigan," Crandall said of the event. "However, we're going to be talking in a larger scope."
A scope, Crandall added, that reaches all the way across the world. As the executive director of Transgender Michigan, she has answered calls on their helpline and received e-mails from as far away as Russia, and the response to a call for a day of visibility was overwhelming. "I hear from people all over the world about visibility," she said, "and I've heard from some people who said they would love to be visible but it's just not safe where they are."
The same is true, Crandall admitted, for parts of Michigan. However, though certain cities and areas are not safe for trans people in the state, she is adamant that the network for transgender people is stronger than many other states.
The pros and cons of being out as transgender in Michigan, Crandall said, will also make it into the panel discussion. "There are small towns in Michigan where I would be very careful. This will be talking about that," she said. "We'll be talking about our fears and what stops us from being visible."
Crandall added that she's especially excited about the panelists. "I'm excited that John Corvino, who really has never said much about the trans community, he really wanted to be on our panel," she said. "And I'm excited about Alicia (Skillman). That's gonna be really cool. She really hasn't had a chance to say that much yet so I'm excited about this. I think it will help to expand the dialogue, which is one of the goals of the first International Transgender Day of Visibility."
Though the event was borne out of Michigan, events all over the country and even world have popped up since Crandall put the word out on Facebook. Maryland Equality is holding an event. Members of a high school Gay Straight Alliance in Washington, D.C. are painting the transgender symbol on each other's faces. A group in Minnesota is holding a whole weekend of workshops and discussions surrounding the topic.
And in Michigan, the Ruth Ellis Center and youth trans group GenderSpark also have plans in the works to be involved with the day.
To Crandall, the enormous and viral growth of the events proves that people in the community were waiting for something just like the Transgender Day of Visibility. "I think sometimes people are thirsty for something and we may not even know it until we take the first step," she speculated. "I took the first step and people are just hungry for it."
One big change from usual events, Crandall was proud to report, is that the Transgender Day of Visibility was done all on a grassroots level, without backing from any large organizations. So more than just big events that raise money, Crandall hopes that the day will allow people to get involved as individuals – from coming out to their friends, family or coworkers, to just wearing a ribbon to show support.
"I've heard people say that if it wasn't for this, they wouldn't be doing anything out," she said. "…I think a lot of trans people are just looking for an opportunity to actually do something, not only to write a check. They want to actually do something and I think this day is giving them something to actually do."
For more information on the first International Transgender Day of Visibility, check out the Facebook page at http://www.facebook.com/home.php?#/event.php?eid=45086343009&ref=mf