When transgender people see their stories reflected in the news, the image is almost always the same: scary or tragic.
Little transgender coverage falls outside the bounds of murders, discrimination or people trapped in the "wrong" bodies.
That, says Jen Richards, is exactly the point of the "Trans 100." The event is March 31 in Chicago and Phoenix.
The "Trans 100" will honor 100 of the most engaged transgender organizers nationally in an effort to build unity in transgender communities, empower activists and showcase positive transgender stories.
"We're going to help shift the tone of the way the media interacts with trans people," said Richards, who is producing the event through her blog, WeHappyTrans.com . "So in a sense, the list itself is activism."
The Trans 100 launch event, scheduled for 7 p.m. at the Mayne Stage in Rogers Park, will feature talks by transgender icons Janet Mock and Dr. Kortney Ryan Ziegler. Performances will include trans musicians Namoli Brennet and Joe Stevens. Chicago activist and performer KOKUMO will host the evening.
The event will run concurrently with a launch event in Phoenix, produced by transgender activist Antonia D'orsay, who conceived of the idea for the Trans 100.
And everything from the promotion of the event down to the videography will employ the skills of trans-owned businesses.
Changing the narrative
The Trans 100 launch is scheduled on the International Transgender Day of Visibility, a relatively new observance intended to celebrate trans lives.
The International Transgender Day of Visibility sprung up a few years ago out of frustration that the only day set aside to honor trans people, The Transgender Day of Remembrance (TDOR) in November, mourned the dead. While most felt that TDOR was a crucial event to draw attention to gender-based violence, many trans activists also longed for a day that celebrated the living.
It was Rachel Crandall, executive director of Transgender Michigan, who first acted on that desire, according to a post by Monica Roberts on her blog TransGriot. Crandall's idea spread over Facebook, and the March 31 observance was born.
That sentiment is echoed in the Trans 100 list.
"We want to be able to show the wonders and celebrate the lives of trans people," said D'orsay.
D'orsay notes that most LGBT lists of notable people include few transgender names, and when they do, they are seldom the names of working activists or current leaders.
"They include ones that are dead or inactive or just famous for being trans," said D'orsay. "The people [in the Trans 100] are doing good work for trans people right now."
The start of the Trans 100
The Trans 100 was born accidentally.
D'orsay reconnected with her son last fall after five years apart.
During those five years, her son had studied up on her life. D'orsay is well-known for her work as the executive director of This is HOW, an Arizona organization that serves trans people.
Her son commented that it seemed like she was as pretty big deal in the transgender community.
"Not really," she said. "If there was a list of 100 transgender people, I'd be like 98 or 99."
D'orsay recounted that interaction on her Facebook page, and Richards happened to see it.
"I thought that was a really great idea, and I saw the potential in it. So I wrote to Toni," said Richards.
It was past midnight when the two started talking and within a few hours, they had come up with a formal version of the Trans 100.
Creating the list
In the first 24 hours of the Trans 100 launch, D'orsay and Richards had more than 100 nominations. By the time the nomination deadline arrived, Richards and D'orsay were looking at more than 500 entries, 345 of them discreet.
"I think what was most exciting to me was going through the list and seeing names than had multiple nominations and had people just gushing about how much great work they were doing that I had never heard of," said Richards. "It was like being at a party with all of your friends and you realize that there is a whole other room full of their friends. You're like, 'I get to meet all these people now.'"
An undisclosed group of 15-20 curators is wading through the nominations currently, Richards said.
They will be looking for activists in the U.S. whose organizing work is current and conscious of race, class and other identities intersecting in transgender communities. Those selected will be given a chance to accept or decline the honor. Their names will be presented at the Phoenix and Chicago events.
Beyond the event
Richards chose Chicago to host the event for multiple reasons, she said. Aside from the fact that she lives in the city, Richards points out that transgender advocacy in Chicago is some of the most exciting in the country right now.
Longtime HIV service provider Chicago House is in the midst of launching several transgender programs including transgender housing, Lurie Children's Hospital recently opened a gender identity clinic for trans kids and last year, Chicago saw its first ever transgender pride event, among other things.
Richards would like to keep the event in Chicago in future years, but that will depend on funding, she said.
Right now, she is focused on selecting 100 names on a tight deadline. After that?
"We begin planning the next one," she said.
Ticket information at trans100.eventbrite.com/ .