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International Transgender Day of Visibility

Someone holds a small whiteboard that reads "Hello, my pronouns are"
Credit: Sharon McCutcheon

March 31st is the International Transgender Day of Visibility so it’s important that we stray our efforts to support and understand Trans people all over the world.

First of all, what does it mean to be Transgender? Transgender people are people whose gender identity is different from the gender they were thought to be at birth. Treating a transgender person with respect means that you treat them according to their gender identity, not to what their sex was identified at birth. Gender identity means that it’s the person's internal knowledge of their gender. Gender expression is how a person decides to express themselves to the outside world based on behavior, clothing, hairstyles, or body characteristics. Some transgender people identify as neither a man nor a woman, nor as a combination of male and female, and may use terms like non-binary or genderqueer to describe their gender identity. Those who are non-binary often prefer to be referred to as “they” and “them.”

An illustration of a gender-bread person that explains components of gender, sex, and identity
Credit: Sam Killerman/

It’s important to use respectful terminology and treat transgender people as you would treat any other person. This can be done by using the name the person has asked you to call them, not their old name, as well as the pronouns they want you to use. If you aren’t sure what pronouns a person uses, ask politely.

How can we be an ally? The most important thing to support a transgender person is to listen and try your best to be respectful. There is no way to be a perfect ally or know everything about the subject if you’re not living it. The Canvas Student app allows you to change your pronouns under the edit profile option, this is one way you can demonstrate your support! You don’t have to understand someone’s identity to be able to respect it. The biggest thing transgender people fear is not being accepted by friends and family. The best we can do is respect their decision and keep trying to understand.

You can’t always tell if someone is transgender simply by looking at them. Many people expect that they’ll “just know” when someone is trans and may be surprised to learn that this isn’t always true. Since there is no single transgender experience, there is no single way for transgender people to look, either. Continuing to educate yourself is one of the simplest ways to be a strong ally and by taking your education into your own hands. It’s important to have conversations with the trans people in your life, but it’s also important for you to seek out resources and information on your own.

Some Transgender activists include Sylvia Rivera and Sir Lady Java. Sylvia was known as the most important activist for non-binary people. Rivera criticized gay rights activists who wanted to exempt queens and trans women from gay rights laws and fought for representation of people across the gender spectrum in mainstream LGBTQ groups and activities. Rivera's understanding of her identity was fluid and changed over her lifetime. Often she described herself as a woman. Sir Lady Java is known as a Trans Civil Rights Warrior and for her protesting L.A.’s Rule No. 9 which made cross-dressing illegal. She worked at the Redd Foxx Club where she worked as a female impersonator. Java claimed that Rule No. 9 affected her income, so it was believed that her protesting efforts eventually made laws such as Rule No. 9 disappear.

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