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Trans St. Louisans celebrate themselves and the support they receive on Trans Day of Visibility

Alex Cohen, of Dutchtown, and Keith Rose, of St. Louis, listen to speakers on Thursday.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Alex Cohen and Keith Rose listen to speakers on Thursday during an event for the annual Transgender Visibility Day at the Transgender Memorial Garden in Benton Park West. "I'm out here to be able to support the trans community," Cohen said.

The Transgender Memorial Garden in Benton Park West filled with people Thursday to celebrate the trans and gender non-conforming community in St. Louis.

Frigid spring temperatures and rain mixed with sleet couldn't drive away the crowd that gathered to mark the international Trans Day of Visibility.

“I’m amazed at the turnout, overjoyed,” said Michaela Joy Kraemer, an administrative assistant with the Metro Trans Umbrella Group, which hosted the event. “Despite all the rain, I couldn’t believe how many people were out here, braving the cold.”

The event featured speakers who shared personal stories and some of the ways their organizations work to support trans and non-binary people in St. Louis and the surrounding region. Luka Cai emphasized how important it is to just see other trans and gender expansive people.

“Even being at an event like this, seeing other trans people is incredibly inspiring and normalizing,” they said. “I didn’t know who I could be until I saw that represented in the world.”

Cai, who is originally from Singapore, shared memories from their childhood and how they never felt comfortable in their home country.

“The amount of enormous cultural pressure I felt forced me to go around the world and into an entirely new place,” they said. “I think that speaks volumes to how terrible transphobia can be.”

Their experience drove them to establish the St. Louis Queer+ Support Helpline, which offers confidential emotional support and resources for the local queer community, said Cai, who is the executive director. It’s something they wish they had growing up, they said.

While Thursday’s event largely celebrated the progress and achievements of St. Louis’ transgender community, some of the speakers talked about the broader political reality in Missouri. For example, lawmakers in the Senate are considering a bill that would bar transgender women and girls from participating in school sports.

“Many of our elected officials think that trans kids don’t exist in Missouri,” said Katy Erker-Lynch, executive director of PROMO, which advocates for LGBTQ inclusion and equality. “That’s why Transgender Day of Visibilty is so essential. I shouldn’t have to say this, but transgender children have the right to grow into transgender adults.”

Others were more blunt.

“The State of Missouri perpetually seeks to preempt us with laws driven by hatred and not with the best intentions to keep us or our communities safe,” said St. Louis Mayor Tishaura Jones.

Mayor Tishaura Jones reacts when entering a commemorative event for the annual Transgender Visibility on Thursday, March 31, 2022, at the Day at the Transgender Memorial Garden in Benton Park West.
Brian Munoz
St. Louis Public Radio
Mayor Tishaura Jones reacts when entering a commemorative event for the annual Transgender Visibility on Thursday at the Day at the Transgender Memorial Garden in Benton Park West.

Jones used the opportunity to outline how her administration is different, having negotiated health care that supports transgender needs for full-time city employees and training her staff, Cabinet and fire and police leadership on pronoun usage.

“This year we hope to launch the city’s first ever LGBTQIA+ advisory board, with the mission to identify further opportunities to be inclusive and eliminate deadnaming and misgendering in city processes,” she said. “These policies, these changes in government have happened because of you.”

Kraemer said Jones’ appearance was significant as the first St. Louis mayor to attend a Trans Day of Visibility.

“She reached out to us to be proactive about this,” Kraemer said. “It’s so important for trans youth, even trans adults, to know that we exist, that we have people who are in charge, making decisions and fighting for our rights.”

It was a feeling shared by some in attendance, like Drew, who came out as trans a few weeks ago. They didn’t want to share their last name.

“This is my first big trans event, and it’s really cool to be among people who get it and see me for who I really am,” they said.

Eric Schmid covers the Metro East for St. Louis Public Radio as part of the journalism grant program: Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project. 

Eric Schmid covers business and economic development for St. Louis Public Radio.