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Despite Right-Wing Backlash, Michigan Is Better Than Ever For Trans People. These Two Women Made That Progress Possible.

When Rachel Crandall Crocker and Susan Crocker met in the ’90s, there were so few organizations for transgender people that they had to start one on their own. Trans people’s fight to change the gender markers on their Michigan drivers’ licenses or birth certificates hadn’t yet begun. It was perfectly legal to deny housing to trans people or to fire them, as Rachel learned when she was promptly fired after coming out to her employer. 

The times, as they say, have definitely done some changing.

Today – at least, in Michigan – not only is it much easier for trans people to align their birth certificates and drivers’ licenses with their true gender, two years ago Michigan’s Democratic Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson ruled that nonbinary people can use the letter “x” on their licenses. (Making changes to birth certificates is still overly complicated, but at least the state doesn’t require people to undergo surgery anymore.) Trans people are also now protected under the expanded Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which Gov. Whitmer signed in March

Both nationwide and in Michigan, there are more organizations for transgender Americans than ever. Transgender Michigan itself has chapters all over the state, and its budget has grown well beyond the “shoestring operation” Susan says it was in the beginning. This month, Transgender Michigan is celebrating the 24th anniversary of Transgender Michigan Pride in the Park. The Aug. 26 event, which features a vendor area and a bring-your-own picnic, is a chance to socialize and learn about local organizations and businesses serving the Michigan transgender community.

While it would be impossible to name just one person or organization as being responsible for the relative explosion of awareness of transgender people and issues over the past few decades, Rachel and Susan are two undisputed rock stars of the movement here in Michigan. Theirs is also a seriously effective partnership. Rachel, a social worker and gregarious extrovert, is a people person who handles most of the human side of Transgender Michigan, including the lion’s share of conversations with journalists. Susan, an accountant, ensures the technical issues involved in running a statewide organization go smoothly.

When it comes to the progress trans folks have made in Michigan in particular, Rachel and Susan must be recognized, at the very least, as two of the people who have made that progress possible. They have also had an international impact courtesy of Rachel’s creation of Transgender Day of Visibility in 2009. Locally, Rachel was honored in June as a Game Changer by the Detroit Tigers, the Detroit Red Wings and Comerica Bank. 

Of course, there are people who can’t stand the fact that trans folks are finding greater acceptance in society. Such people have ensured that these are scary days for trans and nonbinary people, particularly those who live in red states. Nor has life as a trans American become a cakewalk no matter where they may be living. Trans folks face huge disparities in health care. Violence against gender-nonconforming people is at an epidemic level, and trans people are still more than twice as likely to live in extreme poverty, according to the philanthropic organization Funders for LGBTQ Issues. Republicans are busy passing anti-trans hate laws in every state where they hold a majority.

Even in the face of these depressing facts, though, what’s also true is that respect and acceptance for transgender people is now so ingrained in mainstream culture that Transgender Michigan recently received a $10,000 grant from United Way. Transgender Day of Visibility, created by Rachel in 2009 to celebrate trans people and communities, is celebrated worldwide and has been publicly honored by the White House since 2021.

So, yes: These are the worst of times for way too many transgender people, particularly transgender children in backward red states and the parents who want to protect them. On the other hand, Rachel said, when she first came out, “No one knew what the heck transgender was; one reason Sue and I started Transgender Michigan was to educate people.” 

Rachel also takes heart in the fact that so many young people are out now — and that there’s an organization, Stand With Trans, that she can refer them to. In the early days of Transgender Michigan, she said, she seldom ran into trans youth. That’s not to say that there weren’t any transgender teens or children out there. Rachel knew she was actually a girl when she was just 8 years old. “When I tried to come out to my parents, they said that that was the worst thing I could ever say,” she said. By the time she was an adult and came out for the second time, though, her parents were supportive. 

A natural optimist, Rachel admits that the climate in Texas, Florida and other conservative states concerns her (“I would no way live in Florida”) but, on the other hand, all of the news coverage about Republican hatefulness “is causing a lot more support for us,” including a marked increase in calls to Transgender Michigan’s helpline from people looking to come out and others interested in volunteering. And while Michigan’s current progress on trans issues — like the state’s progress on abortion rights, and so many other things — could be seen as tenuous given that Michigan’s GOP is no better than the national party, Rachel said that she’s very optimistic about our state being a good place for transgender folk. “A lot of people have worked very, very hard to make Michigan a safe place,” she said. “And if we can, I would even like to see Michigan as a sanctuary state.”

For her part, Susan shares her spouse’s optimism. While she feels cautious because of the anti-trans backlash, she said, she also believes the trend is moving in the right direction. “There’s some [people] that are trying to fight back, but that always happens,” she said. 

When it comes to the future, Rachel said that things are “full steam ahead” for Transgender Michigan, including plans for a job fair for transgender people in November at Affirmations. But the future ahead isn’t all work. The couple also likes to go out to dinner and travel — Susan says the couple has been all over Michigan, and have another trip up north planned soon. 

There is one question, though, that Susan wasn’t ready to answer. Given all the coverage of Rachel in particular, is there something no one knows about Rachel that Susan would be willing to share with Pride Source readers?

“I’ll take the fifth on that,” she said, laughing.

For more information on Transgender Michigan Pride in the Park, which runs from 12-6 p.m. on Aug. 26. in Martin Road Park (1900 Orchard Ave., Ferndale), visit transgendermichigan.org/transgender-pride.