Board proclaims March 31, 2024, as Transgender Day of Visibility

March 26, 2024

A previous version of this story included incorrect pronouns for panelist Zubbi Azubuike, who uses xey/xem/xir pronouns. The story has been corrected.

Junix, a member of Multnomah County’s Queer and Trans People of Color Employee Resource Group addresses the Board of Commissioners
The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners proclaimed Sunday, March 31, 2024, as Transgender Day of Visibility in Multnomah County.

The day serves as a celebration and platform to elevate the voices and contributions of “Multnomah County’s gender-expansive community, including transgender, Two Spirit, nonbinary, genderqueer, gender expansive, gender non-conforming, gender fluid, agender, and intersex people, among others, both locally and globally,” read the proclamation.  

Commissioner Sharon Meieran sponsored the proclamation. Now in her final year on the Board, Meieran expressed honor and gratitude for the opportunity to sponsor the proclamation every year throughout her tenure as commissioner.

She also highlighted the difference between Transgender Day of Visibility and Transgender Day of Remembrance, the latter of which is focused on honoring the memory of transgender people killed in acts of anti-transgender violence. 

Transgender Day of Visibility “not only acknowledges the significant and continued struggle for transgender rights but unlike Transgender Day of Remembrance, it’s an opportunity to highlight and celebrate our incredible transgender community,” said Meieran. 

Several speakers shared heartfelt and heart-wrenching journeys related to their gender identities, and shared both the importance of, and continuing dangers associated with, transgender visibility.

Ophelia Darling, a lead library assistant for Multnomah County Library and co-chair of Prism, a County employee resource group, said much of her life had been spent in isolation.

Growing up in a rural Oregon community of fewer than 200 people in the twilight years of the 20th century, she said, queerness was something that was never discussed. Except as an insult. 

“From my earliest awakening into the world, I was keenly aware that to be queer was something dangerous,” Darling said. “Something that invited ridicule and shame.”

But when Darling moved to Portland for college, she encountered transgender people who became her classmates, and after college, she found friendships in the transgender community. 

“As my understanding of trans people changed, I changed, too. Until one sunny afternoon in May, the truth became undeniable. I had been trans my entire life. It took me a long time to accept my gender as a blessing, not a curse,” she said.

In comparison to many others, Darling said her transition has been “extraordinarily privileged.” She had not experienced violence for being transgender. She did not lose friends or family. She did not lose her job or face workplace harassment.  

“I have access to gender-affirming healthcare, denied to so many," said Darling. “And yet, despite all these fortunes, I still grieve for the little girl in rural Oregon who never got to see how beautiful she was.” 

“When asked, ‘Why do we need trans visibility?’ my answer is simple,” Darling said. “We need trans visibility so trans people can recognize themselves in the world. So that trans children can grow up, knowing who they are. So that trans adults who never had the chance to come out can know there is a name for what they feel.”

“And it’s never too late to be yourself,” Darling said.

Junix, a member of Multnomah County’s Queer and Trans People of Color (QTPOC) Employee Resource Group and chairperson of Anakbayan East Portland, a grassroots organization of Filipino youth and students, spoke about violence occurring against transgender people throughout the world.

“As a genderqueer, transsexual and pansexual Filipino today, I'm speaking on behalf of the Filipinos in the Philippines and to remember the tragic death of Jennifer Laude,” Junix said. 

Laude, a Filipina trans woman, was drowned in 2014 by a member of the U.S. Marine Corps in Olongapo, Philippines.

“Murder is, by definition, inhumane. But Jennifer Laude’s life was taken in a particularly humiliating manner, which is, unfortunately, common when it comes to the murder of trans people around the globe,” Junix said.

Junix pointed out tragedies that have occurred throughout the world, from the Philippines, to Oklahoma where 16-year-old Nex Benedict died, to Oregon, where Titi Gulley died in 2019. 

“Today, I honor these deaths and stories to illustrate the ties between the United States and what happens to trans people around the globe. I want the commissioners to understand that in order to defend trans people here, we have to take up an internationalist perspective,” Junix said.

Zubbi Azubuike, executive director and founder of Black & Beyond the Binary Collective — which focuses on building leadership, healing and safety for Black, African, transgender, queer, nonbinary and intersex Oregonians — also addressed the Board. 

“We envision a future that gives power back to our communities, celebrates self-expression, and preserves dignity, joy and the future of Black, queer and trans communities living fully liberated lives,” xey said.

Azubuike shared xir personal experiences growing up in rural Georgia, where xey came out at age 14.

“What that meant for me is I didn’t have access to a home,” Azubuike said. “I spent a lot of my childhood on the streets and in unsafe situations — pushed into things that were not healthy for children.” 

“I come to this work and to the organization,” xey said, “because I feel like no LGBTQ (person) should ever have to experience what I experienced on the street.” 

One of the vital aspects of the organization's work is providing housing for those living on the streets, partly with funding from the Joint Office of Homeless Services.

The organization’s work hasn’t been without serious challenges, including attempts to burn down their building, vandalism of cars during events, windows being shot out, and even DJs at events being shot by pellet guns, Azubuike said.

“When we talk about visibility, I want to name the dangers that come with that, especially being the only Black, queer organization doing that work in the community,” Azubuike said. “While I think it’s important to continue to make sure trans people are visible, I don’t want us to miss what the cost of that visibility might be for people living at the intersections.” 

Another group of presenters read the proclamation together, proclaiming Sunday, March 31, 2024, as Transgender Day of Visibility in Multnomah County. 

Afterwards, the commissioners expressed their immense gratitude for the presentation.

Commissioner Jesse Beason recognized Dr. Alan Hart, who was born in 1890 and graduated from Lewis & Clark College in 1912.  

Assigned female at birth, Hart became the highest-recognized woman graduate of OHSU in 1917.

Hart was also one of the first Americans who were assigned female at birth to undergo a hysterectomy. He lived the remainder of his life as a man. 

“Hart began to live as a man and had the most amazing career as a doctor, radiologist and wrote four novels,” Beason said.

“I think the visibility of trans folks is so incredibly important because it shows that the political project to erase trans people in this country and across the globe is relatively recent, because we have cultures that have for thousands of years recognized the important role that trans folks play in our culture,” Beason said. “They are welcomed, they are natural, and they bring all their gifts to bear on our society.”

Commissioner Julia Brim-Edwards thanked the presenters, saying “We see you,” and thanked Commissioner Beason for his historical insight. 

Commissioner Meieran said that proclamation takes on special meaning at this point in history. Meieran also shared that she has two non-binary children, one of whom is studying to be a teacher. 

“Whenever I talk to them about teaching, they talk about what they are going to do to expand understanding of queer and gender inclusivity in the classroom, to make kids feel safe,” said Meieran. “As a parent, the most I hope for and continue to hope for is that they can live authentically and be safe. As a commissioner, my job is to strive for a world where everyone’s kids, where all people, can live authentically and be safe.”

“We have the opportunity in this room, to understand more, reflect, to be inspired to learn and to grow,” said Commissioner Meieran. “But most importantly, we create a space for visibility so trans people can recognize themselves in the world.” 

Chair Jessica Vega Pederson also acknowledged the timeless existence of transgender and gender-nonconforming people who have been here “since there were people.” She expressed her gratitude for the “work, contributions and perseverance of trans and gender-nonconforming community members and allies.” 

“I am dedicated to working in partnership alongside you to ensure that Multnomah County can be a safe place, and remain a safe place and community where every one of us can thrive as our truest selves.”