THOSE PARTICIPATING in this year's Trans Pride March—the second ever in Portland, and one of a handful nationwide—want to send a message both serious and hopeful.
Organizers chose this year's theme, Trans Acceptance Is Life or Death, with the intent of calling out the grave consequences of transphobia—but they're also looking at the march as a community-building exercise, and want to impart a hopeful message to trans people who are struggling.
"We're marching because we're proud, but we're also marching because we want rights," says organizer Emma Lugo, who also ran for US Senate in 2014 on the Green Party ticket. "We want housing, jobs, and safe medical care. We don't want to be bullied and murdered, which unfortunately happens to too many of us."
Unfortunately, recent news stories—including the widely discussed suicide of 17-year-old Leelah Alcorn last December—and national data paint a bleak picture. According to the National Transgender Discrimination Survey Report released by the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, 41 percent of trans people have attempted suicide. Trans people are four times more likely to live in extreme poverty—making $10,000 a year or less—than the general population, and are twice as likely to experience homelessness. Sixty-one percent of trans people have been physically assaulted, and 64 percent have been sexually assaulted. Meanwhile, 50 percent of lethal hate crimes are directed at trans women and girls.
Trystan Reese, a board member at Q Center and one of the organizers of the march, says the current state of trans rights makes him think of a well-regarded quote about social movements: "First, they ignore you. Then they laugh at you. Then they fight you. Then you win." Reese says trans people are in the "fight you" stage: visible in popular culture, less likely to be closeted or the target of jokes, but disproportionately likely to be the target of violence and bullying.
"Being trans is incredibly lonely," Reese says. When he first came out as trans, he thought he was choosing between being trans and ever having a family or finding a loving partner. "I don't know any trans person who hasn't been in that place, of transitioning and not seeing how they can have a family and life."
Now married with two children, Reese says he's organizing the march so younger or newly out trans people ("people who are like me 10 years ago") can see there is a community for them, and that it's possible to find loving partners and build families.
"I think Portland is unique in that a lot of [trans] people come here," Lugo says, and the city has become nationally known as a haven for LGBT people. But even in Portland, trans people often struggle to find jobs, housing, and health care—not just transition care, but other basic physical and mental health services. Activists with Trans Unity are in the preliminary stages of creating a trans-specific space in the site on SE 12th that until recently housed the Red and Black Café.
According to Debra Porta, president of sponsoring organization Pride Northwest, last year's march was the first trans-specific event to take place during Pride Week—but it's a revival of prior events. In 2008, there was a trans component to the Dyke March; in 2009, trans activists held a march in August. Both Lugo and Porta said there were some difficulties continuing that event—partly due to infighting and due to discomfort that the event took place in North and Northeast Portland. Porta said the march got going again—and was moved back to Pride Week—as a result of conversations between herself and some Pride Northwest volunteers.
Organizers have raised $3,000 for the event (for things like permits and porta-potties). Pride Northwest will mostly provide logistical support, according to Porta. Reese says donors have been really enthusiastic, in part because many people who care about the trans community are afraid and upset—but the march gives them a concrete, positive way to contribute.
Lugo says organizers have made an effort to take an intersectional approach to planning and organizing the event, highlighting the voices of trans people of color (who are much more likely to be targets of violence, especially trans women of color), trans people with disabilities, and economically marginalized trans people.
This year organizers are expecting a much higher turnout (so far, 1,000 people have RSVPed on the event's Facebook page). The event has a long list of sponsoring organizations, from well-known local LGBT-rights groups like Basic Rights Oregon and the Q Center, to organizations devoted to other progressive causes, including Don't Shoot Portland, 15 Now PDX, NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon, and a few you might not have heard of before... like Fat Yoga and the Association of Welcoming and Affirming Baptists.
"I think it shows how deeply connected to the community we really are," Reese says.
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