Portland Trans March 2015: Finding Strength and Love in Community

Trans March photo

By Leela Ginelle, PQ Monthly

On Saturday, June 13, for the second consecutive year, Portland will be home to a Trans Pride March. This year’s event, which is themed “Trans Visibility is Life and Death,” and which welcomes allies, family members, and friends, begins at 2pm in the north park blocks, where speakers and entertainers will perform, with the march itself commencing at 3:30.

For the event organizers, the march is about strengthening community, and revealing a unified face to the world.

“It’s for us, as the marchers, to send the message that whether we’re trans women or trans men, or genderqueer or non-binary, we care about each other, and we’re there for each other,” says organizer Trystan Angel Reese. Fellow organizer Emma Lugo concurs:

“The march is important, because it’s an exercise in community building,” Lugo says. “I think the trans community has become splintered here in Portland. With this march, though, people have a chance to come together and work as a community.”

The march’s theme focuses on the epidemic of suicide—particularly youth suicide—in the trans community. On May 24, Kyler Prescott of San Diego became the 11th trans youth to kill themself this year. Bullying and harassment underlie nearly all these deaths. The march organizers, who have formed the group Portland Trans Unity, believe visibility can help counter the stigmas and despair that contribute to such acts.

“For me, being trans has always been lonely,” Reese says. “All those nights I spent lying awake when I was young, wondering what was wrong with me were very difficult. That feeling is part of why it’s dangerous to be a trans person. I think that’s why we’re targeted, because people think no one’s going to stand up for us. For all the people who see this march, though, they’ll know we’ll stand up for each other.”

It’s a sentiment Lugo shares.

“We still have so many rights we’re denied,” she says. “We still commit suicide. We’re still bullied. Our families still shun us. This is a chance to come together and demand our rights. When I talk to trans people about the march, they’re excited. They understand intuitively why we need to be there.”

The pre-march program at the park blocks will feature a variety of speakers and performers, including former Basic Rights Oregon Policy Director, and current Gender Justice League Executive Director Danni Askini, and Jayce Marcus, the George Fox University who has sued the school for the unequal treatment he’s received as a trans man. Also on hand will be Two Spirit activist and Basic Rights Oregon Trans Justice fellow Phoenix Singer, trans performer Jesse Paradox and several others.

Reese believes the variety among those who perform and those who gather and march is a great strength of the event.

“There’s something to the huge diversity of the people who’ll be there,” he says. “I’ll be there with my partner and kids. I imagine there will be people who look very fabulous with amazing shoes and outfits, and people in business suits. The diversity shows there’s a million ways to be trans. Nobody’s doing it wrong.”

The current iteration of the Trans March is not the first in Portland. Another was staged a few years back, which, because of its planning and organization, has come to be viewed by some as a cautionary tale.

“There was a march in 2009,” Lugo says. “It was in a historically black community in Portland, and there was a feeling that those staging the march were being insensitive about their surroundings. It was seen as a bunch of organizers coming in and being clueless about the community, and things fell apart with the march after that.”

It’s a lesson from which Lugo and her colleagues have learned. “This year we’re trying to be cognizant about that. When we’re putting together our speakers we want to represent the entire community to the best of our ability.”

The Trans March is affiliated with Pride NW, which has helped it secure permits and police support, and which Reese praises for “standing in steadfast support” of the organizers’ efforts. Lugo says she draws great energy and inspiration from Trans Pride Unity’s organizing model.

“In our planning we’re trying to be non-hierarchical,” she explains. “We operate by a consensus model, so everyone comes along and no one feels bullied. For a lot of us on the committee, the Trans March is a refuge where we can practice our values. It’s so nice to be somewhere where I feel safe to speak as a trans woman, because—as a trans woman—I don’t feel safe in a lot of places.”

To support their efforts, Reese says Portland Trans Unity initiated a fundraising effort. A success, the campaign raised $3,000 in only a few weeks, mostly through $10 and $20 donations. Lugo says approximately a fifth of the money collected has been put toward accessibility for people with disabilities, in the form of disability vehicles for the march and ASL interpreters.

Reese says his personal story helps make the counter narrative the march important for him. “I’m from a military town in the middle of the desert,” he says. “I didn’t grow up knowing anyone trans, or knowing that trans was a thing. I grew up believing the myth that no one would ever love me,” a myth he believes is still prevalent. The march, to Reese’s mind, offers a chance to share a different vision.

“With the march we’re celebrating our resilience,” he says. “No one had an easy time transitioning. We’ve all survived in a world that didn’t want us to, and that’s worth celebrating.”

“We truly don’t see many models of trans people in healthy, loving relationships,” he adds. “So when we come to the march with our parents, partners, family and friends, we show that we do have love.”