The Importance of Trans Visibility

The Importance of Trans Visibility

Toni NewmanEach year on March 31, the world observes Transgender Day of Visibility (TDOV) to raise awareness about transgender people. It is a day to celebrate the lives and contributions of trans people, while also drawing attention to the poverty, discrimination, and violence the community faces.

In 2023, over 300 anti-LGBTQ bills have been filed so far, with over half specifically targeting trans people, particularly youth. This follows 2021 as the most anti-LGBTQ legislative session in history. This hypervisibility typically comes at the expense of trans people who are demonized and scapegoated by politicians and in media.

As a transwoman with 30 years of lived experience, it is important for me to honor those who have passed before me and honor those who are still with us. We are trying to live our authentic lives and be who we want to be. That’s why we are asking everyone to stand with us on Transgender Day Of Visibility.

-Toni Newman, Director of the Coalition for Justice and Equality Among Movements

Visible and Free
Lauren Miller, Health Equity Program Coordinator

Lauren MillerI remember the day I placed my feet on the campus of Benedict College. My pink Mazda 3 was loaded to capacity with all the things I would need that semester. I was nervous; not sure what people would think about me being transgender or how folks would react and if they would know. The year was 2010 and, although that’s not long ago, it was very different for transwomen during that time. Violence against transwomen was just being documented and folks honestly cared very little about our lives. And here I was right in the middle of it all. My heels clicked like the sound of a metronome slowly and stealthily across the campus yard. People spoke as I walked by, and I spoke back in my most polite Southern demeanor.

After going through all the registration hoopla – and if you ever attended a HBCU you know what I mean – I was instructed to visit the English Department and meet my new Professors. Dr. Batten was standing outside the door of her classroom. She saw me and I saw her. As I got closer, she stopped me and whispered, “You look scared and you shouldn’t be because they are going to love you here.” Her Hawaiian accent made me feel so calm and so secure. A part of me wondered how she knew, and the other parts didn’t care. I just wanted to be safe. Living in stealth was a very safe place for me as a young transwoman living in a world that hasn’t learned to accept me yet. Dr. Batten would be my safe space and refuge for many years. She was one of the only people whom I could talk with openly. She was like a mother to me (I hope that wherever she is that she is alive and well. )

I matriculated through Benedict College with ease and in my Junior year decided I wanted to join a Greek letter organization. All of my dorm mates were choosing between AKA and Delta. Times were changing so quickly; by 2015 most Divine Nine organizations had barred the participation of transwomen. It was suggested by my housemates to join a Co-Ed organization. It wasn’t hard to convince me; the promise of cute boys was enough. Alpha Phi Omega welcomed me with open arms and then the unthinkable happened.

I’m not really sure how or why but a rumor started to circulate around campus that I wasn’t born a woman. Me being stealth allowed my boyfriend and I to live our lives and love openly. We often walked around campus holding hands. The bedroom was the only place we revealed our true secrets. When he got the call from some of his friends whom he played football with, the look on his face and tears that subsequently followed told me all I needed to know. I was exposed and no longer safe. (He left school that day and moved back to Atlanta and we haven’t spoken since.)

When I arrived to the campus security gate, I was advised by the guard to visit the Campus Police. They advised me of the rumor that was circulating around campus. Their question was simple and direct: “Are you a man or a woman?” With tear filled eyes I whimpered out, “Woman.” The police were relieved by my response or so I thought, and they allowed me to go. In retrospect I often ask myself how would it have been if I said the former? What would have happened to me?

I headed to my class trying to keep my composure while also wondering who around me knew as well. Needless to say my day went by uneventful for the most part. That evening my organization had a meeting scheduled. We were practicing for our Coming Out Ceremony where we would announce to the whole school that we were members of Alpha Phi Omega. I stepped in line with the other members but when the Dean of Pledges arrived, I was asked to step out of line and go home. I was simply told that my membership card wasn’t in and wouldn’t arrive in time for the Show. I didn’t think much of it even though the events that had occurred that day should have raised the alarm.

A week or two later everyone seemingly forgot about me, especially because President Obama was coming to Benedict and they told us the Secret Service was on campus. We were all too concerned with trying to figure out if the new cute boy in class was actually a double agent. I mean it was too obvious. He was super built with a Mario Brothers mustache. One of the members of my organization stopped me in the hall and told me we would be having a meeting that night and I should attend. I was happy and nervous at the same time. I really didn’t know what to expect but I’ve always been brave so I knew I would be there. As I walked into the senior parking garage where the meetings were being held, I noticed everyone busy spray painting their boots with their line numbers. Blue and gold paint was everywhere. The president of the organization greeted me with a big hug and told me to go get my boots and join in and that she had something to discuss with me when I returned.

When I returned to the parking garage I walked up to our President and asked her what was going on. In her hand she held two white membership papers but before she handed to me she said, “We were told by some of the other members that you were transgender and wanted to make sure you could still be a member. So I contacted our head office and I let them know the situation. I have two membership cards but I can offer you only one.” She held up the membership card and continued, “This one lists your gender as trans and this one as female. Which one do you want? It’s up to you.” Without a second thought I grabbed the one that said transgender and placed it in my pocket and joined my organization members in rehearsing. It was genuinely the first time I felt valued and like a real person.

In my Senior year of college I would ultimately win the position of Treasurer for Alpha Phi Omega. I ran for president of the NAACP for my school and won, along with International English Society, and Fall Fashion Show Planning. I competed in in the Black and Gold Pageant and performed one of my poems for the talent show. I received the highest marks of any student ever for my senior thesis – 130 out of 100. I blossomed and grew because I was allowed and appreciated for my visibility. And once I could be visible and be free nobody could take my power away.