Transgender Michigan Celebrates 20 Years

Kate Opalewski
By | 2017-08-10T09:00:00-04:00 August 10th, 2017|Michigan, News|

Rachel Crandall Crocker speaks out during a July 30 rally in Royal Oak to support transgender troops in the military. BTL Photo: Alex Godin

Rachel Crandall Crocker said she feels “wonderful” about this year’s Transgender Pride in the Park. The largest gathering of transgender and gender non-conforming people and their allies in Michigan happens on Aug. 12 from 12-6 p.m. at Donald Red Geary Park in Ferndale.
“I can’t believe it’s been 20 years,” said Crandall Crocker, the executive director and co-founder of Transgender Michigan. She started the organization in 1997 with her wife, Susan Crocker, to provide advocacy, support and education while serving to create coalitions in the state of Michigan to unify and empower transgender and gender non-conformist communities.
Her expression, “Wow,” speaks volumes when asked how things have changed in two decades. Without minimizing the Trump administration’s recent attacks against the transgender community, Crandall Crocker said she is proud of what TGMI has accomplished.
“Things were a lot different 20 years ago. Almost nobody heard the word transgender. Nobody had ever met any of us,” she said, noting that’s why one of the issues the organization focuses on most is education. “I mean, originally we had to ask people if we could educate them. Now, people request the education.”
Crandall Crocker said this is why TGMI started chapters as far reaching as Sault Ste. Marie so transgender people and their friends and families could connect with one another. As of today, there are 14 regional chapters and seven special interest groups including ally outreach, FtM (female to male), older adults, prison outreach, spirit and faith outreach, outreach for transgender people with disabilities and youth.
TGMI receives thousands of calls each year from all over the country on their helpline, which Crandall Crocker said most people use to come out.
“People who have known who they are forever, but didn’t feel safe coming out,” she said.
Crandall Crocker understands that with progress and increased visibility over the years backlash is to be expected. But just like transgender people stood up for their rights 51 years ago, she said today, transgender people will do the same.
This month marks the anniversary of the riot at Compton’s Cafeteria in 1966. Dr. Tim Retzloff, who teaches LGBTQ studies and U.S. history at Michigan State University, said, “The story, vitally excavated by historian Susan Stryker, reminds us that queer resistance to police harassment did not begin at Stonewall. As we grapple with renewed attacks specifically targeted at transgender people, it is particularly important to remember that those who transgressed and transcended gender norms in the past often bore the brunt of societal hatred and were also at the early forefront of battling that hatred.”
This historic Transgender Pride in the Park will also commemorate the 40th anniversary of Crossroads, founded by Grace Bacon in 1977. It is one of Michigan’s earliest transgender organizations, and one of the first in the country.
When asked what is the most concerning issue for transgender people right now, Crandall Crocker said unemployment.
“It’s still so hard for a trans person to find any jobs, even at Wendy’s. Without employment, people aren’t making any money and so they can’t afford a place to live or find a place to live partially because of discrimination,” she said.
Matt Helms, Director of Special Projects and Research in the Office of Mayor Mike Duggan said leaders in the LGBTQ community were “assured” during a roundtable on July 20 that “he would look into their concerns that transgender individuals are being turned away from homeless shelters in Detroit, in violation of the city’s nondiscrimination laws.”
Helms could not go into specifics beyond that because he said, “We don’t know yet what the examination of the issue will find.”
Until then, Crandall Crocker said, “It’s really important that we have allies. We’re nothing without our allies. We need to let the world know that we’re supported, even by people who aren’t like us.”

Rachel Crandall Crocker said, “It’s really important that we have allies. We’re nothing without our allies.” BTL Photo: Alex Godin

When Crandall Crocker spoke during a July 30 rally in Royal Oak to support transgender troops in the military, she told attendees that 300 people attended last year’s Transgender Pride in the Park. That’s a big deal when she looks back on the first event when 12 people were in attendance. This year, she said she wants 500 people to come.
At that same rally, Crandall Crocker set the tone for the celebration.
“If you think you’re not good enough to be an activist, you’re wrong. We are all good enough and we are all good enough to change the world,” she said.
Beyond TGMI, Crandall Crocker – an activist herself – also established the International Transgender Day of Visibility, which is recognized in countries like Russia and Africa.
“Some transgender people are living in the middle of nowhere with little to no access to anything,” she said. “It can be so lonely out there. We are here for people who just want to talk.”
Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter, among others, will speak during Transgender Pride in the Park.
“Elections have consequences, and for the LGBTQ community and transgender people in particular, this administration has had a harmful agenda. Our response can’t be to meet hate with hate, but rather to resist these attacks like we did at the rally, with positive determination to support one another,” he said.
Coulter’s presence is a big deal for Crandall Crocker. She said, “The mayor being there helps to legitimize everyone’s identity. We’re really excited about that.”
And considering the way some people think, she said “If the mayor is welcoming us, then we must be real.”

RJ Watson and his brother, Eric Watson of Westland support the T in LGBT with pioneering transgender activist Grace Bacon. BTL Photo: Kate Opalewski

Transgender Pride in the Park is free to attend. Participants are encouraged to join in the potluck by bringing a dish to share with hundreds of friends.
Participating Vendors include White Stag Workshop, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan, TREES (Transgender Resource, Education & Enrichment Services), Transformative Solutions Counseling Services, Equality Michigan, Pride at Work Michigan, Support the T, Char Davenport, Tracy Hoover, Good to Glow, Workers World Party, GIFT Grand Rapids, Royal Oak First United Methodist Church, Rosemary A. Jozwiak, PC & Associates, Health Emergency Lifeline Programs, Affirmations, Christ the Good Shepherd, and more.
The event is sponsored by Link-Up Detroit, Baker College in Jackson and Wrigley’s Pharmacy in Highland Park.

About the Author:

Kate Opalewski
Kate Opalewski is BTL's features editor and has been since 2015. She has covered a variety of topics ranging from art, politics and community outreach. Recently, she was honored by the Detroit Police Department LGBT Advisory Board for her work for the local LGBTQIA community.