You will be ok. That was the affirmation Alia Cusolito shared outside the Massachusetts State House Thursday morning with a crowd of a few dozen people, some of them holding rainbow pride flags or the blue, pink, and white transgender pride flags.
“There’s so much more to life than what we’re seeing now,” they said. “And there are millions of people who support you. I promise there is hope for you, there is a place for you. I love you, and you are beautiful and powerful.”
Cusolito, a high school sophomore from Rochester, was celebrating Transgender Day of Visibility. Cusolito and other speakers Thursday noted that legislation and other government actions targeting young trans people’s ability to seek gender-affirming health care, play high school sports, and have their gender identities reflected on government IDs and documents have been filed in 34 states, according to Freedom for All Americans, an organization advocating for legal protections for LGBTQ people.
Massachusetts state legislators, including members of the LGBTQ Caucus and Senate President Karen Spilka, also spoke at the event and told the crowd they would work on legislation supporting trans people, including a bill to allow an X gender marker to be used on driver’s licenses and other state-issued documents that has been in the works since 2018, but has not been passed.
The Biden administration announced an X gender marker will be available on US passport applications starting on April 11. Federal officials also announced that new Transportation Security Administration scanners at airports, which until now have required TSA agents to chose a gender for the person being scanned and sometimes lead to painful and uncomfortable encounters when people were mis-gendered, will have a gender-neutral option.
“It’s so important that we protest the anti-trans legislation because it will harm more queer kids,” Cusolito said Thursday. “Trans people have always been here, and we will always be here. We can’t be erased, so please stop trying.”
Transgender Day of Visibility was first celebrated in 2009, when Michigan activist Rachel Crandall-Crocker noticed the only prominent day for trans people was a day of remembrance for victims of violence, not a day of celebration or joy. It’s since been marked with rallies and celebrations worldwide.
More than a decade later, celebrating trans visibility remains an important calling, said Kimm Topping, safe schools program manager at the Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students.
“Not all of us can be visible and be seen, especially folks who are at the intersection of racism and ableism and so many other forms of oppression, who cannot be visible and open,” Topping said. “This is on behalf of the entire community for us to be visible and say, you’re safe here, and it’s okay to be ourselves and to exist.”
Becks Loo, a Boston University student, came to the event with some friends and said he was inspired to see people in power supporting trans youth.
“I think one of the most moving things was actually to see parents and families in the audience,” Loo said. “Not everyone gets that support, so to see parents waving pride flags and trans flags was really inspiring to me, and just gave me hope for the youth in this community.”
It was a touching moment for his friend Shre, who only recently came out as trans. He wanted to be identified only by first name because he is not out everywhere.
“This is really cool, because I’ve never been to events like this before,” Shre said. “I’ve never been publicly out as myself.”
The friends stood together on the State House steps, holding signs and listening to speakers, including Massachusetts Senators Julian Cyr and Jo Comerford, Representative Jack Patrick Lewis and Speaker Pro Tempore Kate Hogan. Other people in the crowd wore hearts in trans flag colors on their faces and coats, tended after children, and calmed barking dogs as a parade of LGBTQ legislators spoke on the steps.
“Visibility means people seeing me for who I am,” Shre said. “I get misgendered a lot. I just wish that people would ask me what my pronouns are.”
Grace Sterling Stowell, executive director of the Boston Alliance of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Youth, which she has worked with since the 1980s, said the burdens of oppressive and discriminatory laws often fall on young people.
“I know firsthand the experience of harassment, discrimination, and violence directed at me simply because of who I am,” Sterling Stowell said. “No young person should ever have to experience what I did and growing up and beyond.”
Many young trans people are looking for clues in their environments that they are safe, said Jeff Perrotti, founding director of the Massachusetts Safe Schools Program for LGBTQ Students.
“Whenever your identity is steeped in silence or secrecy, anything that creates visibility matters,” Perrotti said. “The fact that we’re here at the State House to create this visibility really matters for people to know that they’re not alone. They’re loved. They’re not too young to know how they’re feeling. And they have a lot of support.
“The message of today is,” Perrotti added, “no matter what your circumstances are, there are wonderful surprises in store for you.”
Gal Tziperman Lotan is a former Globe staff member.