International Transgender Day of Visibility (ITDOV) occurs annually on March 31 and is a day to celebrate all transgender and gender non-conforming (TGNC) people around the world. To learn more about ITDOV and how the community can be supportive and affirming of transgender and gender non-conforming people, West Michigan Woman caught up with Jazz McKinney, Executive Director, Grand Rapids Pride Center.
ITDOV was created in 2009 right here in Michigan by Rachel Crandall Crocker, LMSW, Executive Director and Co-founder of Transgender Michigan. McKinney explained Crandall Crocker's motivations.
"When Rachel Crandall Crocker created ITDOV, she stated that it was because she was frustrated that the only well-known transgender-centered day was the Transgender Day of Remembrance, which mourned the murders of transgender people, but did not acknowledge and celebrate living members of the transgender community," McKinney said. "The day is dedicated to celebrating the accomplishments of transgender and gender non-conforming people, while raising awareness of the work that still needs to be done to achieve trans justice."
There are a variety of ways to celebrate and show support for ITDOV. As a start, McKinney encourages those in West Michigan to fly trans flags in observance of ITDOV and Trans Week of Visibility. Beyond that display of solidarity, we asked McKinney what actions the community at large should take on a daily basis to ensure the affirmation, safety, happiness and success of trans and gender non-conforming people in our community (and everywhere). Their response is an action we're all capable of doing.
"Lift up the voices of the community," they said. "If people are willing to take the time to listen, the community will tell you what they best need."
McKinney believes the majority of the argument against the proper treatment of the TGNC community stems from personal beliefs and people using that as a barrier to treating other humans as just that: human.
"We all are unique and just want to be happy and live without the constant fear of rejection," they explained.
According to McKinney, the easiest way for parents of TGNC children in particular to show support is to listen and provide their child with any resources they may need.
"Children want and need to be loved and know that they are accepted for who they are even if—especially if—who they are isn't what other people think they should be," McKinney said, noting some available resources at Grand Rapids Pride Center. "We offer a few different support groups for folks to engage in, with the most relevant being a trans youth group and a caregiver's support group."
When it comes to employers bettering their understanding and treatment of TGNC employees and colleagues, McKinney believes education is the key.
"A lot of times, employers and even other staff just have not been exposed to TGNC folk and therefore don't understand what it is they go through," McKinney explained. "However, our aim for employers is to treat everyone with dignity and respect and kindness, no matter what differences people may think there are."
McKinney says that employers should work to have conversations with the communities in which they don't have a full understanding to help increase their knowledge and exposure. Ultimately, an employer should focus on the ability of a person to do their job and how they as an employer can work to provide a safe environment for that employee to thrive.
"Here at the Grand Rapids Pride Center, we offer trainings for employers and hopefully we will soon be able to offer training for individual people to learn more about the LGBTQ+ community as a whole, but in particular the TGNC community," McKinney said.
McKinney also had a message for any TGNC people reading this article:
"You are worthy, you are amazing and you are valid, so hold your head up high and be proud of who you are and know that even if it feels like there's no hope, there are people out here who want to support you."
More information and resources could be found at Grand Rapids Pride Center.
GR TRANS FOUNDATION
The Grand Rapids Trans Foundation makes available an academic scholarship to help transgender students with education-related expenses while pursuing a degree or certificate from an accredited college, university or technical/vocational program with a satellite campus or permanent presence in Kent County. Applications for the scholarship, which requires a 500-word or less essay, are now open for the '23/'24 academic year and are due by May 1, 2023.
In addition, the Foundation's "Update!" program works to assist TGNC people with guidance, advocacy, legal assistance and financial support in ensuring their legal documents better match their identity. The Grand Rapids Trans Foundation also offers up a regularly updated local resource list to help TGNC get access to the affirming care and support needed.
Written by Sarah Suydam, Managing Editor of West Michigan Woman.