For the past three years, the International Trans Day of Visibility has also seen the presentation of the Trans 100 a gala evening held in Chicago that unveils a list of 100 impassioned transgender and gender nonconforming individuals representing a vast cross section of age, race, talent, profession, income level and culture from across the United States.
However, since the 2015 event, the Trans 100 website remains inactive and its social media pages have gone dark. The question remains as to whether there will even be a list or an event in 2016 and beyond.
The genesis of the Trans 100 occurred in the fall of 2012 when Arizona-based Trans 100 creator and Executive Director of Transcentrism inc. Antonia D'orsay posted a comment on Facebook she had made to her son regarding how she believed she more modestly ranked among transgender people. The post was seen by internationally celebrated advocate and co-writer and co-producer of Her Story Jen Richards.
Richards and D'orsay collaborated on the production of the first Trans 100 in 2013 so beginning a legacy that provided a sampling of everyday transgender people celebrated, not as a best-of or a top-100 but for their work for the transgender community that has both elevated and advanced it in a society whose hostility, judgements and overall misconceptions about transgender individuals have led to prejudice on every level, inordinate poverty, mass incarceration and appalling violence oftentimes going uninvestigated by law enforcement, ignored by the mainstream press and forgotten with sublime disregard by legislators.
In 2015, Richards turned over the reins of the event to Community Educator of the Midwest regional Office of Lambda Legal Crispin Torres alongside activist and national educator Rebecca Kling.
With the unimaginable numbers of transgender women of color murdered during that year, reports detailing the tremendous financial, judicial and human rights inequities faced by transgender individuals, the attempts to legislate against transgender use of public spaces through campaigns of fear waged in states across the country and the questionable and controversial impact Caitlyn Jenner's public transition, subsequent reality television program and statements made by the celebrity have made on the community's visibility, the 2016 Trans 100 would seem more imperative than ever.
However, the immediate hours after the March 29, 2015 Trans 100 were marked with disputes regarding the selection of that year's list along with an open letter of protest regarding off-the-cuff remarks made by the evening's keynote speaker.
A disagreement between Torres, Kling and D'orsay regarding ownership of the event and its website quickly devolved into a heated public fight on social media.
"Following the 2015 Trans 100, we had a number of conversations with Toni where it became clear she expected to rejoin the Trans 100 as Executive Director," Kling told Windy City Times. "Crispin and I were interested in continuing to co-direct the Trans 100 at the time and so invited Toni to come on as an advisor and a voice in the future of the event but neither of us were comfortable walking away when we had been asked by Jen Richards to lead the organization."
"Toni feels a lot of personal investment in the Trans 100," Torres added. "Neither of us have a close relationship with her but she was essentially unwilling to work with anyone else on the project. She was looking for sole leadership and ownership of the Trans 100. At the end of the day, Rebecca and I thought it was best to step away from the project and let Toni take the lead. Even though were not sure what that would do to the future of the Trans 100, we did not want to have an inter-community conflict over something that really belongs to trans people across the country."
Both Kling and Torres maintain that D'orsay took the website down after they refused to acquiesce to her demand to take full ownership of the Trans 100one that she was expressing via email even during the 2015 live broadcast.
"Unfortunately that has not resulted in a 2016 Trans 100," Kling asserted. "We are proud of the work we did with it in 2015. It was not perfect and there was and is room for improvement. One of the things that breaks my heart is that, at least in the short term, we're not going to be able to explore what was possible. One of the reasons I was interested in having Toni involved as part of a more cohesive board that we were hoping to form was to make things more accountable and transparent to the larger trans community."
D'orsay told Windy City Times that much of 2015 was spent dealing with the horrific illness which eventually claimed the life of her husband. It has taken her well over a year to begin to recover from her loss.
"Everything was centered around him," she said. "I was difficult to get a hold of. The content and the idea of the Trans 100 is obviously something I'm extraordinarily passionate about. But I wanted to wait to step in until [Torres and Kling] had completed the 2015 event. They were under the impression that I had left it entirely which was not true. So there was a conflict in terms of how we saw the ownership of it and therefore the direction that we wanted to take it. I had wanted to work with them but, due to the nature of the events surrounding the turnover, it unfortunately meant that they were not willing to go forward. "
D'orsay added that she has spent the last six months quietly working through the issues that were raised following the 2015 Trans 100.
"I haven't decided whether I'm going to do a list this year or not," she said. "Because I need to get some of these issues finalized and formulated before I can move ahead. The transparency issue has always been something that has haunted the Trans 100. My model for it was created to avoid the kind of political infighting that tends to plague the community. The question is are we going to be doing that on a larger scale? The Trans 100 needs to be international but there are cultural and socio-political considerations to that."
"My heart is in the creation of the list," D'orsay stated. "I love the event and it is a critical and crucial component of the Trans 100. Some of my ideas are to have the Trans 100 be something that moves around the country so that is not tied to a specific location. I did not disagree with creating a sense of stability with what we were doing by keeping it in Chicago for a few years. I would actually love to do it again in Chicago but, as an individual, I don't have the capacity or the skillset to pull it off. So it may not be possible to have an event this year."
Regarding the social media fight, D'orsay asserted that it was born out of a breakdown in communication with Torres and Kling.
"We were all negotiating and dancing around each other," she said. "We weren't getting anywhere so I took my complaint to a public platform in order to get a response. It wasn't something I liked doing. But I felt like I was being completely cut out of my project. In my doing so, I created an interpersonal rift between the three of us and that was not my goal. I would actually love to work with Crispin and Rebecca in the future. I've apologized for the rift but there's nothing more I can do. There's a justifiable, understandable, very human reason why this division exists and the responsibility for it does fall to me but, at the same time, I don't regret it because of the position I was in at the time."
"In all the conversations that came up with Toni and up to the point we resigned, we were very willing to work with her," Torres said. "We wanted to make that relationship equitable. We weren't trying to keep her away or out of the project. We wanted to honor and respect her leadership of the origins of the Trans 100. We weren't denying her a seat at the table. We just wanted to do it in a way that was respectful of the amount of work everyone put into this. We all believe in the mission. We're all here for the same reason."
Kling and Torres have managed to keep the email newsletter going that is circulated between prior honorees and others involved in the organization of the event. "The goal of that has been to keep the network and the community going," Torres said. "We believe in the power of the people who have been involved, in the possibilities for collaboration, supporting each other and lifting each other up."
"I know that there is no enterprise that has had the scope, tenor and public scrutiny of the Trans 100 that can go without criticism," he added. "It's truly ironic that the Trans 100 is not supposed to be about celebrity but that is some of what ended up creating conflict around it. The whole situation was damaging and traumatic for me personally. To have your own community lack compassion and understanding was hurtful."
"There was ego involved. I created the Trans 100 and I'm not going to back down from that," D'orsay said. "It's my legacy and I'm going to protect it. I want it to blossom and move forward but a fundamental philosophy I have is that nothing can be done by yourself. Every single person on the last has been surrounded by other people who have made it possible for them to do the things they do. If Crispin and Rebecca want to get back together, work with me and make something happen, I am absolutely willing to."
D'orsay pledged that the Trans 100 website and accompanying social media would be back up by the end of the month. She added that the reason it has been down is due to issues with a new server she was using.
"We and dozens of volunteers put a lot of time, effort, love and belief in the value of the Trans 100," Kling said. "It is so important to have spaces that are celebratory, where we can lift each other up and demand visibility of our value and the important work we are doing. To do any activist work requires you to be an optimist, so I still have hope that the Trans 100 will return."
"I have to decide now whether I will be working on a list for 2016," D'orsay said. "The Trans 100 is going to continue on. It's going to be international and it's probably going to take a couple of years to get there. In the end, the Trans 100 is about bringing us together, showing the world what we are about and recognizing that, as much change that has been happening over the last decade, there's still much more work to be done and this work has real impact on the daily lives of everyday trans people."