On February 23, 1945, a group of five Marines and a Navy corpsman were ordered to raise a flag. It wasn’t the first flag to be raised in that location, but this one was bigger than the first. Ira Hayes, Rene Gagnon, and John Bradley (or was it Harold Schultz?) were the three flag raisers who survived the battle of Iwo Jima, and became National heroes. They became symbols of America’s War effort. They were no better or worse than the 26,038 other Americans who were killed or wounded in the battle. In fact, 27 men received the Congressional Medal of Honor during the battle. So why does history remember these men?
They are remembered because Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal was on hand to take a picture at the exact right moment: An Iconic picture which is burned into every American’s consciousness and has become a symbol of the US Marine Corps.
On March 14, 2017, Texas passed a transphobic bathroom bill. One of the people who courageously spoke against it was a dear friend of mine (who I hope someday to meet in person) Nicole Lynn Perry. She spoke, and, while she stood in the crowd wearing a look of silent determination, a photographer with Associated Press took her picture.
It went viral.
I’ll come back to this.
So this past Wednesday, March 15, 2017, I attended a meeting of the Phoenixville, Pa. borough council. The mayor was there as well. Big deal, right? Well they were, among other things, going to hear public comment and then vote on an LGBT equality statute. As the commonwealth of Pennsylvania is the only state in the Northeast without equal rights protections for LGBT (thanks to the GOP), this is a big deal. That means that, as a resident of Pennsylvania, I have no protections under the law. I can be fired; thrown out of my apartment; denied health care; and many other things just for being born Trans. That is unless I live in one of the towns covered by a local ordinance. The LGBT Equality Alliance had been working on this for some time, and put out a call for people to come to the meeting to show support.
And I live in Phoenixville.
I went. I sat through endless back and forth about a housing project for disabled veterans and such, as well as other business. Then, they started public comment. I wasn’t going to speak, but I’d seen several people that I assumed were Republicans (by the opinions they gave) so I raised my hand first and was recognized. I had nothing prepared, so I improvised. I was the first to speak.
I told them that I am Transgender. I spoke of how the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania affords me NO rights or legal protections. I spoke of how being Trans is biological, and that the only choices I’d made were to live in Phoenixville, and to attend the meeting. I looked the Mayor and each council member in the eye as I spoke, one at a time. I urged them to pass the measure.
Many others spoke: for and against. They carried laptops with prepared speeches and statistics and handouts. They were amazing speakers whose knowledge of the facts and ability to argue put me to shame.
And, in the end, the measure passed 6-1.
I spoke for maybe two minutes. And, while I spoke, someone took my picture. I am leaning on the podium, legs crossed. I look like a giant maroon slug.
And that picture was on the front page of two local newspapers Friday- the Pottstown Mercury and the Daily Local. My name was mentioned (spelled incorrectly) and I was quoted. It was the last line of my comments, which I thought came out a bit awkward. In any case, they posted the piece online first (and corrected the spelling of my name there at least.) See that HERE.
I posted it online, and received so many wonderful comments. Some people even suggested I run for office. Umm… I think I should get my own life in order first.
The thing is, so many people worked VERY hard to get the ordinance passed. People like Rachel Stevenson, William Davidson, Edwin Soto, and Michael J Speck. I spoke for two minutes, had my picture taken and I got all the ink. I did relatively nothing, but, well there it is.
So, I was chatting with Nicole Lynn Perry online today. She said she was proud of me. SHE was proud of ME? I pointed out that she has become a Symbol of the Cause: the Cause of Trans Equality. Because of her testimony? Her sacrifices? No — because of a picture. I brought up the Rosenthal picture, which rung true for her, as she is a Marine.
Pictures are more powerful today than even a few years ago. So many people today look at pictures and don’t read.
Me? I prefer the picture of the courageous woman who stood and spoke in a state that Hates us. She risked her life for Transpeople. All I did was talk.