Rachel Crandall, the head of transgender advocacy and education organization Transgender Michigan, founded Transgender Day of Visibility on March 31, 2009 as a way to celebrate and recognize the accomplishments of the transgender community. With 41 percent of transgender people who have attempted suicide, giving visibility to positive experiences in the community is a way to inspire folks to live as their authentic selves. At The Trevor Project, we have partnered with our Youth Advisory Council member Eli Erlick, director of Transgender Student Educational Resources, for the campaign, #MoreThanVisibility, which is an opportunity to share resources and start a dialogue about transgender justice. Show support of the transgender community by sharing the #MoreThanVisibility pin above on social media. By being visible as an ally, you are helping raise awareness and liberating folks who fear living as their authentic selves due to transphobia, violence towards the community, and/or lack of support.
We are here for the transgender community 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386 and thetrevorproject.org. Here are the stories of two trans women who are a part of The Trevor Project and making a positive difference in the transgender community.
Michaela Ivri Mendelsohn, Board Member of The Trevor Project
Transgender activist, public speaker, businesswoman, and Trevor Board member Michaela Ivri Mendelsohn always wanted to change the world. As a nine-year-old, she read 101 books, 70 percent of which were biographies of people she admired—Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln…but no one on the list was trans. “If there was one person who had asked me ‘Have you ever met someone who’s trans?’, it would have changed my life forever,” she says.
Now, as CEO of Pollo West Corp and the Founder of the California Transgender Workplace Program, as well as the mother of a toddler and three grown children who are making a difference in the world, Michaela is becoming the hero she always wanted for herself. Just last week, she spent time at Out and Equal’s Conference to discuss workplace equality and inclusion. And, on Transgender Day of Visibility, March 31, 2016, she will be at The Oaks in California to answer questions and educate folks about the trans community. “I’m visible in the community as a speaker and activist because when a person can put a face and a name to a word like ‘transgender’—when they can hear me be vulnerable and ask me questions, they’re more likely to open their hearts and minds,” she says.
With 12 transgender employees, four of which have become managers in six of her El Pollo Loco restaurants, Michaela is giving visibility to the trans experience within the workplace by promoting trans-friendly job conditions and advocating for trans folks so that they are able to find employment, social acceptance, and the encouragement to start raising families of their own. “If we really want social justice, we have to lift up the lowest common denominator—so that means giving trans people of color more jobs and opportunities. We all have to evolve with the change or we’ll be left behind,” she says.
Michaela has also brought visibility to the trans experience in media by consulting on the television show “Orange is The New Black.” While she recognizes how Laverne Cox, Janet Mock, and Caitlyn Jenner’s stories have raised awareness of the transgender community, what she really hopes for is that organizations like Trevor can offer more education about the trans experience on YouTube, in schools, and public places. “What opened my mind was hearing The Trevor Project’s Youth Advisory Council talk about the intersectionality of the trans experience and seeing how many gender nonconforming identities existed. I remember feeling so much pressure to be a certain way as a woman, and that obsession became another box that made my experience worse. This new generation is different and it’s so exciting to see gender nonconformity become a part of our future. People are recognizing that they can accept they are blends and they don’t need one gender to label themselves,” she says.
Eli Erlick, Youth Advisory Council Member of The Trevor Project
Steering the gender nonconformity conversation as the director of Trans Student Educational Resources is Trevor’s YAC member Eli Erlick, who became a transgender activist when she was 15 years old. After organizing an LGBT Conference, she founded Transgender Student Educational Resources, became a media ambassador for GLSEN, and now serves on the YAC to inspire young people to take collective action for the LGBTQ community, especially intersectionally marginalized groups such as young transgender people. “Youth are not only our future, but also our present, and we’re leading movements right now,” she says.
Through Transgender Student Educational Resources, Eli and her team created Trans Youth Leadership Summit, the only national program fostering the activism of young transgender people through collective organization, with applications open now till May 1. At the summit, participants will design activist art, build community, and collaborate on ways to create action around issues affecting young trans people. “Few people know that the most influential uprisings in the LGBTQ community were incited by young gender nonconforming and transgender people of color. Sylvia Rivera was only 17 and Marsha P. Johnson was only 23 at the time of Stonewall. We must get out into the streets. Visibility is not just being seen as an individual… it’s working together to transform society,” she says.
During Transgender Day of Visibility, celebrate transgender people who are making a difference by participating in #MoreThanVisibility events in your community. You can also help support transgender leaders by sharing the donation page of the Trans Youth Summit and consider becoming a part of the confidential, safe, supportive transgender community on TrevorSpace.org. “The more that youth connect on TrevorSpace.org, the more emboldened they’ll feel to be visible as themselves,” Michaela says. “Transgender Day of Visibility is a day of empowerment and getting the recognition we deserve,” Eli says.
The Trevor Project supports all on Transgender Day of Visibility. We are here for you 24/7 at 1-866-488-7386 and thetrevorproject.org.