On the eve of the International Transgender Day of Visibility, people from the trans, queer and gender non-conforming communities across the city, state and country filled the Mayne Stage March 30 with an exuberant, resounding celebration of identity, accomplishment, humility, defiance, hope and love.
Additional photo spread at the link: www.windycitymediagroup.com/gay/lesbian/news/photospreadthumbs.php .
The names of the 2014 Trans 100 were announced in three groups, by well-known transgender people. There was no fear. No one was hiding. There was no separation of race or economic background; no distinction between showgirl, transgender, transsexual or genderqueer. There was only unity in a community thatas keynote speaker, actress and activist Laverne Cox notedwas in the midst of a revolutionary act of love and support "in a world that tells us we should not exist."
The evening began with a showgirl revue organized by and including the vivacious host for the evening Angelica Ross. "I want to get drunk with the love of the trans community!" she said. "I'm tired of our community being divided. I want to celebrate all choices because no choice for a trans person is easy."
Jen Richardswho co-directed the evening alongside 2013 Trans 100 member Asher Kolieboireminded the audience that the 2014 Trans 100 was just a sampling of everything the community has to offer. "When we choose a hundred, it's just a way of saying we have countless people doing incredible work. We have everyone represented. A trans person who thinks they are alone can look at this list and see something of themselves in it." Richards co-founded Trans 100 with Antonia D'orsay.
The first portion of that list was presented by ESPN Sports Writer and Editor Christina Kahrl and Mixed Martial Artist ( MMA ) champion Fallon Fox. "I think the important message is that in the ring, on the field, in the press box, in the locker room, I belong, you belong, we all belong," Kahrl said. "We are all capable of achieving at the highest levels in sports."
"I'm not the first pro-athlete that has ever been trans," Fox added. "And I'm certainly not going to be the last."
Kye Allums was the first keynote speaker of the evening. The first transgender man to play on a NCAA Division 1 women's basketball team and the founder of Project I Am Enough, Allums thanked both the audience in the room and those watching the live feed "for simply being who you are."
He talked about a time when he was unsure about adding the word trans to his male identity. "I just wanted to be a man," he admitted. "Every time I went into a room full of people who had no idea who I was, I would experience a shift in the way people would look at me, the way they would act around me and the way they would talk to me once they knew that I was trans. I got sick and tired of being the only trans person in the room." A subsequent discussion with Richards changed that. "When people become aware, they become less afraid," Allums said. "So, for me, being trans doesn't make me any less of a man. For me, being trans is defining who I am."
Off stage, Allums talked about his work on Project I Am Enough with Windy City Times. The website invites people to share a short story and "possibly give someone the strength to stand up and say, I am worth living. I am not alone. I am not perfect, but I Am Enough."
As a student at George Washington University, Allums said there were many moments when he didn't feel as if he was enough. "My freshman year of college, I took a human sexuality class and there was a panel of LGBTQXYZ people," Allums recalled. "There was a trans guy who told a story. That was how I realized that trans existed. I started to research to find other trans people and I discovered YouTube videos. I watched other people transition and, when I watched that, I wanted to do that but I couldn't. I was a Division One athlete and I couldn't stop playing to do those things and, in that moment, I was at my lowest."
Allums instead focused on what he could dochanging his name and gender marker. He believes that initiatives such as Project I Am Enough can help stem the rate of depression and suicide amongst LGBTQ youth. "We've had lots of story submissions," he said enthusiastically. "I'm organizing them and you will see more after April 1."
Before presenting the second portion of the Trans 100 list, senior media strategist at GLAAD Tiq Milan talked about the importance that the trans community be represented authentically and with integrity in the media. "I work with the understanding that the media isn't just something that documents the culture," he said. "The media is what shapes the culture. The media is the conversation we're having about ourselves and with ourselves and it's extremely important that we are a part of that conversation."
While the bestselling author of Redefining Realness Janet Mock has maintained that conversation through her speaking tours and activism across the country, she did not take the stage that evening to accept an accolade butalongside Center on Halsted Youth Outreach Coordinator Precious Davis to present one to a woman she called a living legend.
"Legendary looks like the gorgeous, the generous, the luminous, the one and only Gloria Allen," Mock announced. Audience members stood up and applauded Chicago community leader and mentor "Mama Gloria" who spent years imparting her wisdom, beauty and inspiration to generations of young trans people. "She's given tools to the next generation that will last a lifetime," Davis said.
A visibly shocked and emotional Allen accepted The Living Legend Award. "It is a blessing to stand here and see you all," she cried. "I thank God for you all and I thank God for transgender people. You are a blessing."
Model and activist Geena Rocero provided the audience with a sneak preview of a Ted Talk she did. "I gave a very personal journey as a proud trans woman," she said. "I shared genderproud.com with them. It will be a global campaign for a gender recognition policy that will allow transgender and gender variant people to change their name and gender markers without being forced to go through surgeries."
Rocero wasn't the only one to announce a new website that evening. Trans*H4CK creator, filmmaker and artist Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler presented the winning team of the 48-hour hackathon Trans*H4CK Chicago that was held at Dev Bootcamp starting March 28.
"Trans*H4CK presents technology to improve all of our lives," an exhausted Ziegler explained. "As trans people, we are the first to adopt technology, we find each other through the Internet. So it was important to me to create something where we can use our minds to create something beautiful."
The winning technology was the Referral Aggregator Database constructed by trans-educator Riley Johnson and his team Catherine, Rachel, Eliot and Dominic. "We have organizations here and abroad that have inaccurate and inaccessible referral information," Johnson explained concerning available information on medical providers to the trans community. Ultimately the team came up with a Yelp-inspired platform which will allow the assembly of accurate and up-to-date medical referrals for people to access."
Cox was the final keynote speaker of the evening, described by Ross as a "media slayer." Before taking the stage, she spoke to Windy City Times about what an evening like the Trans 100 means to her. "I got to attend last year and helped out back stage," Cox said. "And it was just an honor to witness. For me, trans people celebrating and loving each other feels so very special."
However, as much as she said she was honored and excited to be addressing the audience in 2014, Cox admitted that she was nervous to be speaking in front of her own people. "When I'm talking to my community, we know what the deal is, we know the struggles that we live with every single day and I guess I want to say the right thing and I want to inspire them," she acknowledged. "But I also want to challenge my community as well. The stakes are so high. It's easy to talk about what cisgender people and gay and lesbian people are not doing for the trans community, but it's hard to talk about what we're not doing for ourselves and what we need to do within the community to lift ourselves and each other up."
On stage, she reminded the audience that "each and every one of us has the capacity to be an oppressor. We have to acknowledge that oppression hurts, that discrimination is deeply, deeply painful and so many of us are imperators of trauma around that oppression." Cox challenged the community to create spaces of healing rather than spending time hurting one another.
Ross believes that the Trans 100 list is one such step in that healing process. Although she joked that last year, she was "a little salty when I didn't see my name on the list," she added that "it really made me understand that, not only does the greater public not know about the breadth of our community, but we don't."
She was included in the list this year alongside professionals, activists, idealists and those doing work for the community across the country. Allums, Milan, Davis, Johnson, filmmaker Lana Wachowski, Minister Louis J Mitchell, Dr. Jillian T. Weiss, D'Lo, and Shay( den ) were just a few of the names called out to resounding cheers.
Brynn Tannehill was on the list. She had made the journey from small, scattered trans groups in Dayton, Ohio. "So often our movement is represented by people outside the community," Tannehill said. "I think it's extraordinarily important for people to see what we can do when we are working for ourselves."
Entertainment for the evening was provided by Mimi Marks, Angelica Ross, Kaycee Ortiz and Eli Krell. Chicago House, GLAAD, Lambda Legal and Trans*H4CK served as co-sponsors and partners for the event.
See the full 2014 Trans 100 list at thetrans100.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/TRANS100_2014_BOOKLET.pdf .
Photos by Kat Fitzgerald, mysticimagesphotography.com .
Videos for Windy City Times by Tracy Baim
Trans 100 with Jen Richards at the link: www.youtube.com/watch .
Laverne Cox at Trans 100 at the link: www.youtube.com/watch .
Windy City Times: Trans 100 with Kye Allums at the link: www.youtube.com/watch .
Windy City Times: Interview with Laverne Cox at Trans 100, Part 1 at the link: www.youtube.com/watch .
Windy City Times: Interview with Laverne Cox at Trans 100, Part 2 at the link: www.youtube.com/watch .
Windy City Times: Gloria Allen honored by Janet Mock, Precious Davis at the link: www.youtube.com/watch .
Windy City Times: Trans*H4CK Winners announced at Trans 100 at the link: www.youtube.com/watch .