Michigan activists share stories of identity and community on Transgender Day of Visibility
Advocates for LGBTQ+ rights gathered at the Capitol on a rainy Friday, sharing stories and marching in support of transgender rights in observance of Transgender Day of Visibility.
Local speakers were supported by members of Queer Youth Assemble and the Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights, and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary, otherwise known as By Any Means Necessary (BAMN).
State House Rep. Emily Dievendorf (D-Lansing), Michigan’s first out nonbinary representative also spoke at the event, discussed their continued work in support of trans rights following the expansion of the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act to protect against discrimination based on gender identity or sexual orientation.
“I didn’t get here by accident. I’ve been working in the movement for decades and decades,” Dievendorf said. “When we finally passed Elliott-Larsen to amend it, and include protections based on gender identity and gender expression, it was a game changer for our community and for my life.”
“Today we are building a world that is not just tolerant. Today we are building a world together that is accepting and where we move past safe to sanctuary,” they said.
Dievendorf said they are working to introduce legislation to go beyond equity and provide safety and opportunity for transgender Michiganders.
“We know that love and acknowledgement translates to how equal we are under the law. We know that we have housing, we know that we have access and opportunity in all of the spaces because that is supposed to be the way the world works,” Dievendorf said.
Dievendorf was joined by one of their interns, Kat Hammons. While Hammons said they could speak on the growing number of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced across the nation, and the struggles LGBTQ+ individuals face with mental health and acts of hate, they instead chose to focus on the times they cried happy tears.
“I went to a trans clothing swap yesterday and dropped off a bunch of feminine clothes that didn’t match who I am. And I later heard that a nine-year-old trans kid picked up one of the skirts I sewed for 4-H years ago and it made that kid so happy,” Hammons said.
Cameron Carmichael, who organized the event, is currently studying art education and LGBT Studies. In his speech, Carmichael said his primary motivation as an educator is to know kids won’t experience the hatred and disrespect he experienced.
“There are people out there. I know who they are, who have my dead name on their tongue, and it dances and lingers with power because I used to weep at the sound,” Carmichael said. “Today I tell those people I have the power now,”
“Today I told Michigan I am Cameron Carmichael. I’m transgender, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”
Essex Brooks, a local drag artist and president of HOUS MSU — the college’s only drag-based organization — denounced attempts to use transgender identities to fuel conservative talking points.
“How many of you who seek to strip us of our humanity, understand the nuances in joy that it is to be a trans person? Do you know us, or do you simply know what you hear in media?” Brooks said.
“We are not a danger to your children. We are human just like you. What I want and what my community needs, is respect,” Brooks said.
Another speaker, Juliette Cayao, echoed Brooks’ calls for acceptance.
“Trans health care is not brainwashing our youth. It is nurturing our youth to be authentic, and nurtures a newfound sense of self love that will inspire the willingness to love others,” Cayao said.
On Friday, President Joe Biden released a statement denouncing attacks on transgender individuals, calling them “un-American.”
“Across our country, MAGA extremists are advancing hundreds of hateful and extreme state laws that target transgender kids and their families. No one should have to be brave just to be themselves,” Biden said.
“I want every member of the trans community to know that we see you. You’re each made in the image of God, and deserve love, dignity, and respect. You make America stronger, and we’re with you.”
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, there have been 435 anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced across the U.S. in 2023.
Three of these bills were introduced in Michigan.
House Bill 4075 introduced by Rep. Andrew Fink (R-Adams Twp.) would limit government action that burdens a person’s exercise of religion. House Bill 4195 introduced by Rep. Joseph Fox (R-Fremont) would require students to use bathrooms and changing rooms that correspond with their gender assigned at birth. House Bill 4257 introduced by Rep. Steve Carra (R-Three Rivers) would change the definition of child abuse to include parental consent and assistance in their child’s transition procedures.
All three bills were introduced prior to the March 16 expansion of the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act to include gender identity and sexual orientation, which was signed by Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
On Friday, she tweeted her support for the Trans Day of Visibility: “In Michigan, we’ll fight for your freedom to live your life, and be yourself without fear of discrimination. While other states are engaging in the business of bigotry, we’re taking action so every Michigander is free to be who they are.”
While some Republicans did work across the aisle to support the expansion, LGBTQ+ advocates ultimately attribute its passage to the Democratic control of both the House and Senate.
Erin Knott, executive director of Equality Michigan previously told the Michigan Advance they are working to gain support for other LGBTQ+ rights bills, including banning conversion therapy and eliminating the gay-trans panic defense, a legal strategy that seeks to excuse murder and assault by claiming the victim’s gender or sexuality is to blame for a defendant’s violent actions.
Alongside speaking out against anti-trans legislation, speakers also discussed the barriers transgender people face in the health care system.
Kassandra Harding, 56, who identifies as a trans lesbian and recently moved to Michigan from Oregon, discussed her difficulties in obtaining hormone replacement therapy after moving.
“Just to get on hormones, it’s going to take like six-months-wait at University of Michigan, because MSU’s [Michigan State University] oncology department is all booked up. They can’t see anybody,” Harding said.
“Universities are doing a disservice to their students that are coming out of med school by not providing them the education that they need to treat the trans population. … Our health care system needs to change and it needs to start with the people in our universities, our politicians,” Harding said.
Alongside the event in Lansing, BAMN planned a rally in Detroit for Friday evening, and another in Grand Rapids on Saturday.
“To all the LGBTQ+ children and adolescents who are affected today by today’s hatred: Your sadness, your fear, worry and confusion are all valid. I will hold them with you. Your community you can call family will hold them with you,” Cayao said.