Trans Day of Visibility founder celebrates event’s 15th anniversary on Capitol steps in Lansing •

 “In 2009, I had another sneaky idea.”

That’s how Rachel Crandall-Crocker described her inspiration for a Trans Day of Visibility to the approximately 150 people gathered on a cold, damp Saturday on the Capitol steps in Lansing to mark the 15th anniversary of what has now become an international event.

Crandall-Crocker, the executive director of Transgender Michigan, came out as transgender in 1997, and spoke to the crowd about how that decision saved her life, but also led to her losing her job, money, house and wife at the time.

“However, was that gonna stop me? No!” Crandall-Crocker’s voice boomed out over the Capitol lawn into downtown Lansing, echoing off of the buildings, and reverberating back onto the crowd.

“Right after I was fired, I thought, ‘What can I do to make this so it won’t have to happen to everyone?’ And I had an idea and that was to create Transgender Michigan,” she said, referring to the nonprofit organization that works to unify and empower transgender and gender-nonconforming individuals and communities across the state.

But then that second idea came to her. 

“I wanted a day that we could come together all over the world,” said Crandall-Crocker. “I wanted a day that we could celebrate. I wanted a day that we could be proud. And I had called that day the International Transgender Day of Visibility, which by the way, I am now calling it the month of visibility!” 

Trans Day of Visibility founder Rachel Crandall-Crocker addressing the event from the Capitol steps in Lansing. March 30. 2024. Photo by Jon King

The crowd of LGBTQ+ members, advocates and allies cheered.

“I want you to all know you do not need to be perfect to change the world. I have Tourette syndrome. I am not fluent. However, I created an international movement, and if I could change the world, you could change the world. So everyone, come and change the world along with me,” said Crandall-Crocker.

However, that optimism was tempered by the reality of the political and social forces at work to deny the trans and nonbinary community, as well as the LGBTQ+ movement in general, equal rights.

“We are a community that loses so many people that we have our own annual day for mourning, which is why today is a celebration because we know that every other day we recognize the obstacles,” said state Rep. Emily Dievendorf (D-Lansing), Michigan’s first out nonbinary legislator.

Dievendorf said everyone assembled at the event understood in one form or another that the trans and nonbinary community was being treated as a pawn by politicians and others to try and divide society even though most people really didn’t care if they lived as their true authentic selves. 

“I know what it is, and you know what it is to have folks treat us like we’re undesirable and disgusting when we know, goodness gracious, how beautiful it is,” they said. “What I am always astounded by is how beautiful it is to have the capacity to love and be without feeling like you have to adopt the boxes and the categories and the descriptions that other folks drop on you to weigh you down, to make you easier to understand.”

Trans Day of Visibility falls on March 31 every year. In 2024, it coincides with Easter. President Joe Biden issued a proclamation on Friday, stating: “Transgender Americans are part of the fabric of our Nation. Whether serving their communities or in the military, raising families or running businesses, they help America thrive. They deserve, and are entitled to, the same rights and freedoms as every other American, including the most fundamental freedom to be their true selves.”

Many Republicans lined up to attack Biden, with former President Donald Trump spokesperson Karoline Leavitt saying the president should “issue an apology to the millions of Catholics and Christians across America who believe tomorrow is for one celebration only — the resurrection of Jesus Christ.”

After the rally, Dievendorf told the that while there had been great progress in Michigan since last year’s Trans Day of Visibility, including expansion of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act (ELCRA) to add protections against discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation as well as a ban conversion therapy for minors, there was still much work to be done.

“I’m focused on the name change legislation that’s coming up,” said Dievendorf, referring to bills that would remove some of the requirements placed on Michiganders when they change their name outside of marriage, as well as make it easier for a person to select the sex marker they feel is appropriate for them on their birth certificate and driver’s license.

“We’ve already passed it through the House, but I personally am working most on trans sanctuary, to try to make sure that we can protect folks who come here because they want equitable access to health care,” and that’s really what it is. Equitable access to necessary health care for everybody in Michigan, regardless of your gender,” said Dievendorf.

That was an issue touched upon by Grace Bacon, 83, known to many as the mother of the Michigan transgender community.

“Nobody ever warned me that growing old is gonna hurt so much to move,” Bacon said.

Bacon, who founded Crossroads in 1977, the first support group for Michigan’s transgender community, said she had both hips replaced and needed recovery time beyond the three days that the hospital would provide. 

“My doctor and the nurses in the hospital gave me a list of convalescent facilities in the Detroit area and there were about 35 or 40 of them,” said Bacon. “And I asked them, would any one of these people have problems knowing that I’m transgender?”

Bacon said she ended up in a facility that was accepting of who she was, but that was the exception and not always the rule.

“We need a facility somewhere in Michigan for people who are recovering from surgical procedures where they’re welcome, where they’ll get the proper treatment and they’ll be appreciated,” she said. “Right now we don’t have any such thing.”

Derek Davis of Detroit is Mr. Trans Michigan 2024, and will be competing this November in the Trans USA Pageant in Milwaukee, as will Lyndsey Taylor, also of Detroit, who is Miss Trans Michigan 2024.

Miss Trans Michigan 2024 Lyndsey Taylor of Detroit addressing the Trans Day of Visibility in Lansing. March 30, 2024. Photo by Jon King

LGBTQ+ educator and advocate Frank Vaca addressing the Trans Day of Visibility in Lansing. March 30, 2024. Photo by Jon King.

Trans Day of Visibility crowd as seen from the Capitol steps in Lansing. March 30. 2024. Photo by Jon King

State Rep. Emily Dievendorf (D-Lansing) addressing the Trans Day of Visibility in Lansing. March 30, 2024. Photo by Jon King.

Mr. Trans Michigan 2024 Derek Davis of Detroit addressing the Trans Day of Visibility in Lansing. March 30, 2024. Photo by Jon King

Joshua Pung addressing the Trans Day of Visibility in Lansing. March 30, 2024. Photo by Jon King.

Gin Thompson addressing the Trans Day of Visibility in Lansing. March 30, 2024. Photo by Jon King.

Trans Day of Visibility crowd on the Capitol lawn in Lansing. March 30. 2024. Photo by Jon King

Grace Bacon, founder of Crossroads, addressing the Trans Day of Visibility in Lansing. March 30, 2024. Photo by Jon King.

Mr. Trans Michigan 2024 Derek Davis of Detroit (left) and Miss Trans Michigan 2024 Lyndsey Taylor, also of Detroit. Both will be competing this November in the Trans USA Pageant in Milwaukee. Photo by Jon King

Ximón Kittok with the Grand Rapids Transgender Foundation addressing the Trans Day of Visibility in Lansing. March 30, 2024. Photo by Jon King.

Kammie Mead addressing the Trans Day of Visibility in Lansing. March 30, 2024. Photo by Jon King.

Trans Day of Visibility crowd on the Capitol lawn in Lansing. March 30. 2024. Photo by Jon King

 

Davis used his time at the podium to encourage those in attendance to make sure they surrounded themselves with affirming and loving family members, whether they were their biological family or their “found” family.

“I’ve been incredibly fortunate to have been surrounded by supportive friends and a lot of family,” said Davis. “I can confidently say that I do love myself. I love the man that I have become and love the woman that I used to be. Without her, I would not be the man I am today. Because of my blessings and good fortune as a trans man, it has become my goal to create safe spaces for those who don’t have them. I want people to know that we are loved for who we are. You deserve space to be loved, safe, and yourself. It is important to find your tribe and sometimes it takes a while, but look for them. Once you find them, you’ll feel like you’re home.”

Taylor told the Advance that Saturday’s event was critical to break through the stereotypes that have bound the trans and nonbinary community for too long.

“For us, we are thriving, successful individuals, just like any person among our community,” she said, adding that the biggest misconception is that they are somehow taboo. “That we are night creatures, but we are living amongst everyone, just as each and every one of you’re doing today.”

Reflecting back on how far the movement had come since she had created the Trans Day of Visibility, Crandall-Crocker told the Advance that it was very moving to see how many people had been affected.

“Oh my God, it’s wonderful. It really makes me feel heard, and it makes me feel wanted, and it makes me feel like the leader. I cannot believe I started an international movement,” she said while laughing. 

Her wife, Susan Crocker, who serves as Transgender Michigan’s operations director, said the idea to call it an international event wasn’t necessarily because they thought it would literally go worldwide.

“We called it international because we thought somebody in Windsor or Sarnia, Canada, might be interested, but now we see our name in articles written in Vietnamese and we get contacted from Uganda and Kosovo and Uzbekistan and other places we can’t pronounce,” she said. 

When Crocker-Crandall was asked if making it a global phenomenon was on her mind back in 2009 when she first had that “sneaky idea,” she was quick to answer, “Oh, no, it wasn’t,” before pausing and letting a sly smile come across her face. 

“Or, I could tell you, ‘Oh, yes, it was,’ I planned it right from the very start. I’m really smart!” 

And she let out another laugh.

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authored by Jon King
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