After a planning hiccup forced organizers of the National Trans Visibility March to reschedule the event from March 31 to Sept. 28, the event took on a new focus for many attendees and organizers alike. On Oct. 8, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear oral arguments regarding Title VII of the Civil Rights Act and coverage of LGBTQ employees under the umbrella of prohibited "sex"-based discrimination. While three cases are expected to be heard on the same day, each has a potential for impacting different segments of the LGBTQ community. The case specific to gender identity is R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, in which the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission will defend the conclusion that Aimee Stephens was fired due to unlawful discrimination with regard to presenting at work as a woman. The owner of Harris Funeral Homes is a Christian and claims his religious freedom was infringed when having to accommodate Stephens. With a court that has a heavily conservative majority, these cases will decide whether or not LGBT people can be discriminated against in employment.
Attendees of the National Trans Visibility March expressed concern on how the upcoming session of the Supreme Court will impact issues like discrimination in health care and employment. "On Oct. 8, SCOTUS needs to show that transgender people can't be fired for living in their truth!" said Taylor Chandler, operations director for the march.
The sentiment was echoed by allies attending the event in support of the trans and non-binary people in their lives. "There needs to be broad support for the Oct. 8 Supreme Court hearing that will be the basis of the court's decision about employment discrimination for LGBTQ people," said Murray Penner of Prevention Access Campaign. Only 21 states (and the District of Columbia) offer employment protections on the basis of gender identity, with an additional seven states offering this protection only to public employees.
With the Trump administration and Republicans reshaping the nation's courts, concerns about relying on the judicial check and balance to protect transgender people have resulted in a concentration on the role of legislators. "We need our legislators to be proactive on protections for trans people, not reactive," Penner added.
Marchers and organizers were specific in their expectations of legislators. Cameron Pizzaro, director of social media and marketing for the march and a web designer from South Florida, stated, "Pass the Equality Act. Be intentional about passing legislation that includes protections and access for the trans* community."
Alex Leffers, a Washington, D.C. resident and coordinator of the LGBTQA Resource Center at Gallaudet University, warned that inaction won't do: "Legislators need to see that we are here, powerful, and we vote. And we won't quit."
Repeatedly, the expectation of an active and involved federal government working toward a more equitable environment drove home the march's messaging. "I want legislators to see us as a real part of humanity," said Morgan Mayfaire, executive director of TransSOCIAL, Inc., a community services organization serving South Florida. "I want them to see us as equals, people that deserve jobs, a place to live, and health care," Chandler added.
Many trans activists see the lack of federal protections for employment, housing, and health care as helping to create an environment where trans people face open hostility, violence, and even homicide. In addition to government policies impacting the trans community, attendees gathered to celebrate the lives and mourn the losses of the 19 transgender people murdered this year.
The depth of experiences in discrimination trans people face was startling for some allies. "I was very moved by the very personal stories that trans people shared and was very outraged by the stories of discrimination, persecution, and even murder that I heard repeatedly during the rally," Penner reflected.
"Hearing Bailey Reeves' sister talk about her life and what she misses since her life was taken too soon -- it gave me goosebumps seeing her mother and other family up there, still in mourning," Chandler reflected. Bailey was shot and killed over Labor Day Weekend in Baltimore. She was only 17.
While march organizers said they were actively taking constructive feedback into consideration for next year's march (around planning and logistics, more accessibility for people living with disabilities, and a desire for a greater turnout), overall, attendees were upbeat and walked away with a renewed sense of purpose.
"I would have liked to see bigger numbers, and us shut down the city," Chandler said. Penner agreed, adding, "There were many supporters present, but clearly the event needs more support. It is very clear that there will be growth."
"Our gathering reminded me that we need no savior," said Aryah Lester, deputy director of the Transgender Strategy Center. "Our community has all it needs to thrive and prosper."