By: Tynan Power/TRT Columnist*
Last year, I found myself in the awkward position of trying to carry a 15-foot banner in the Trans Pride march – by myself. That day, no one else in the religious organization whose banner I held stood on the other end (Fortunately, my extended family showed up to help).
Later, some in the organization said they didn’t know about the event. Others felt it was my job to organize a contingent. Many conversations later, it seemed clear to everyone that being a welcoming congregation means staying aware of LGBT events and showing up for them, as they’ve long done for Northampton’s LGBT Pride march in May.
This year, news items ran in the organization’s monthly and weekly newsletters, well in advance. Still, a few days before the event, I expressed concerns to some non-trans queer friends in the organization that no one would show up, again.
The morning of the Northampton Transgender Civil Rights March and Rally on Oct. 15, those friends – and the sole other trans member of the organization – showed up to carry the banner. Not one single straight, cisgender ally showed up.
I would consider this an internal organizational issue, except that this religious group was the only one that showed up at all.
A number of religious speakers were scheduled to give invocations at the rally inside First Churches, yet few were there when the rally started early – because they didn’t march. Others, with good intentions and inspiring words, showed up later, when the rally was originally scheduled to start.
The event drew attention to the ongoing struggle for civil rights for transgender people, the only group under the “LGBT” umbrella whose rights are not protected under Massachusetts state law. Some important people were there: Northampton’s Acting Mayor David Narkewicz, who led the march and read the mayor’s proclamation at the rally, mayoral candidate Michael Bardsley, and councilor-at-large candidate Bill Dwight. Still, few allies beyond the LGBT community showed up, and an embarrassingly small number represented the LGBs. Even the news media was absent, with the exception of The Rainbow Times.
The trans march organizers claimed between 75 and 200 total people at various points in the day; both estimates seemed inflated to me. I wondered where everyone was, especially the rest of the LGBTQ community and all the local “welcoming” and “affirming” religious groups.
What message does this send to transgender people? Especially youth, represented by two of the five contingents in the march?
To this 40-year-old, whose fairly thick skin has been weathered by years of activism, it sent a powerful and painful message of apathy.
I don’t think that message is intentional. If the people I wanted to see there were polled, I’m sure the responses of “I didn’t know when it was” or “I don’t get along with Person X (in the trans community leadership)” would have far outnumbered the blatant “I don’t care about transgender people or their rights.” Yet those well-intentioned answers are ones we can’t afford.
The trans community knows there is an “I don’t care” camp out there. We know how to deal with them: ignore them and keep on trucking. But we are blindsided by well-intentioned allies who nonetheless don’t make it their business to find out what’s going on with trans rights, show up for trans events, and to keep with us, despite interpersonal conflicts or personal discomfort.
On Nov. 20, the trans community will gather again for the Northampton Transgender Day of Remembrance. We’ll begin with a vigil through town to honor transgender people who have been killed or who have taken their own lives in the past year. As one of the co-organizers of the Day of Remembrance, I can’t help but see the connection: community apathy, lack of support and lip-service push transgender people to the edges of society, where they are more likely to become victims of violence, or of the devastating despair that leads some to suicide.
The cycle needs to stop. And the change must begin with allies. This movement cannot afford apathy. Too many real lives are at stake.
To get involved with Northampton Transgender Day of Remembrance, email
*Tynan Power is an FTM parent, writer, Muslim and interfaith leader. He is the author of “The War on the Home Front: A Queer Family after 9/11” in the new anthology “Progressive Muslim Identities.” E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.