‘Trans rights are human rights’: Students, community members gather to celebrate Transgender Day of Visibility

In collaboration with the LGBTQ Iowa Archives and Library and University of Iowa Trans Alliance, students and Iowa City community members joined in solidarity to highlight transgender rights and call attention to the importance of trans visibility.


Ryan Adams

Community members speak during the Trans Day of Visibility rally at the Pentacrest on Wednesday, March 31, 2021. The event was put on by the LGBTQ Iowa Archives and Library, and featured chalking and speeches by members of the community.

Rachel Schilke, News Editor

Under flags of pink, white, and blue, more than 100 students and Iowa City community members gathered on Wednesday to celebrate a day of visibility for transgender individuals worldwide, advocating for affirmation, acceptance, and change.

Since 2009, March 31 has marked International Transgender Day of Visibility, a day to celebrate transgender people and bring awareness to discrimination within the transgender community and LGBTQ community as a whole.

In Iowa City, members of the LGBTQ Iowa Archives and Library and University of Iowa Trans Alliance collaborated to host a Trans Day of Visibility rally at the Pentacrest.

During the rally, speakers from both organizations, transgender volunteers, and cisgender allies stepped forward to share their stories.

This international celebration comes at a time where several state legislatures across the U.S have introduced bills targeting the LGBTQ community. As previously reported by The Daily Iowan, several bills in the Iowa Senate expressing anti-LGBTQ language have advanced out of subcomittee. Those bills eventually failed to pass a key legislative deadline, meaning the bills are dead for the session, but advocates say the lasting impact of even bringing the bills to the table is still great.

In February, one of the bills, Senate File 224, would have required students to use the bathroom corresponding to their biological sex in Iowa, including transgender adults who visited K-12 schools. It did not pass in the full senate education committee, failing to advance this session.

Speakers during the rally shared everything from poetry and personal experiences to resources that both transgender and cisgender individuals can access to learn more about transgender rights.

UI third-year and president of the UI Trans Alliance Quentin Kinzy said during his speech that he applauded those who came to the rally and transgender attendees who were visible. Kinzy also acknowledged those who could not be there, hoping one day anyone who is transgender could feel comfortable being visible.

“There’s still attempts to get rid of some of the rights that we’ve gained. There’s still people that don’t believe that we should be here today, that we shouldn’t be speaking out,” Kinzy said in an interview with the DI. “I feel like it’s important that we’re here not only to be visible, but also to support the change in addition to the visibility.”

Director of the LGBTQ Iowa Archives and Library Aiden Bettine, who also spoke during the rally, said to the crowd that as a member of the Iowa City transgender community, he felt called upon to be visible and vocal about the importance of trans rights.

“It’s beautiful to come together. COVID-19 has kept us apart in so many ways, and winter was hard and long for a lot of folks,” Bettine said. “I think to hold a rally outside is one of the first ways that we can really have community here in 2021, following all this legislation and following the ways that we’ve all felt distressed being trans and isolated.”

Bettine said in the current political climate, it is important to be an advocate and build support system for transgender youth, a network he didn’t experience when he came out almost 12 years ago.

“We have seen 15 anti-LGBTQ legislative bills proposed and now dead, but it’s a rough way to start 2021, particularly for the trans community and for trans youth,” Bettine said. “So, also as an older member of the trans community, I’m here for trans youth, right. I didn’t have examples like me when I was a kid, when I was a young teen trying to come out and figure out that I was trans.”

Bettine added that in a day of visibility, it is important for communities to acknowledge transgender people of color and Indigenous individuals.

“We need visibility to speak out and say the trans folks here support all trans folks in our community, whether they’re trans folks of color, non binary, gender non-conforming, trans women, trans men, etc,” he said. “I think trans liberation and trans inclusion looks like liberation for so many other communities. So trans liberation is Black liberation. Trans liberation is Indigenous liberation. Trans liberation is the liberation for folks with disabilities.”

Ann Kreitman, the social media specialist for the LGBTQ Iowa Archives and Library, said both the archives and the UI Trans Alliance want to provide as much support as they can for  transgender individuals on campus.

In January, a campus climate survey was sent to faculty, staff, and post-doctoral students. Underrepresented groups reported lower satisfaction in the UI campus climate than respondents overall, the DI reported.

The disparity was wider among gender groups – 69 percent of Trans and Gender Non-Conforming respondents said they felt valued compared to 81 percent of men and 82 percent of women. A student campus climate survey is slated to be conducted this semester.

“Students are only here for, you know, usually around four years,” Kreitman said. “When you arrive here as a student, you’re getting your bearings, you don’t know what you need to be looking for. So, we’re hoping to build some relationships between the students and the university in order to advocate for trans students and get our needs met.”

She said the recent attacks on young transgender people are unacceptable.

“Trans rights are human rights,” she said. “Trans kids belong in sports, trans kids deserve access to gender-affirming health care. They are one of the most vulnerable populations right now and some of the most marginalized that cannot advocate for themselves. It’s important we stand up, get educated, and come together.”

Many Iowa City community members came to speak, listen, and gather in support of the transgender community, as well.

Iowa City resident and ACT Content Specialist Angela Lambertz said she has several transgender friends and it has  been a “magical experience” to watch and support them through their transitioning process.

“One of my friends came out as trans last summer, and about two weeks ago or so came out on Facebook, and I’m so proud of them,” she said. “To see the photos of their face so relaxed, and so at peace with who they are, is just awesome. I wish more people were able to do that openly.”

Lambertz said she admired the bravery it took for individuals to stand up and come out, both at the rally and in general.

“We need to do this every day, and represent every day, to show that this is normal,” she said. “This is not abnormal, it’s never been abnormal. We’ve always been here, we will always be here. So, we need to be here to show others that aren’t ready to come out yet that it’s safe. When you’re ready, we’re ready.”