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On Trans Day of Visibility, USU students gather for community, learning and support

Jacey Thornton stands at the podium to give her speech. She's wearing a shirt that says "protect trans youth" and shoes in the trans flag colors.
Duck Thurgood
/
UPR
Jacey Thornton presents her keynote speech.

With the recent wave of anti-trans legislation in Utah and across the country, visibility is a complicated experience for many trans people. But at USU’s Trans Day of Visibility event on Friday, visibility meant community, not scrutiny.

The room was comfortably filled with students, faculty and community members eager to learn and share—and because everyone present was either queer or familiar with queer issues, they could skip the tutorial and get down to the important topics they cared about most.

The keynote speaker, Jacey Thornton, who uses she/her and they/them pronouns, is the executive director of Project Rainbow, which does flag campaigns on significant dates like Utah Pride Week and Trans Day of Visibility. The funds from these campaigns and donations go to queer organizations, projects and events through a community fund.

Several small trans flags line a sidewalk.
Ted Eytan
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Flickr
The Anti-trans bathroom bill has been controversial since its adoption.

Thornton spoke openly about their personal journey with gender, one that spans decades and still has farther to go, and the ways she’s worked to make that process a safer one for her three children.

“We always ask our kids when we go into new spaces, 'What are your pronouns?' because they change,” Thornton said. “And I think that is normal, because gender is a spectrum.”

Her children came to the event, and Thornton talked about how proud she is of them and how they’re already loving and defending those around them.

One story was of their child Sydney in second grade, who saw people verbally attacking a child perceived as a boy for wearing a dress. She stepped between them and said that he could wear whatever he wanted because “clothing is clothing.”

“And she came and told me that, she said, ‘Mom, they didn’t even understand it. The girls were wearing pants.’ As a second grader!”

“For me, these are the blessings of the trauma,” Thornton continued. “These are the things that I've learned from that experience, that it's so worth it. I can go on and on about the amazing impact it's had on me, when reflected back to me other visible people.”

Thornton also talked about the history of trans visibility, which she said traces back to ancient times, when trans and nonbinary identities and expressions were common around the world. When discussing recent history, there was an emphasis on some of the people who have led the fight for queer rights but are often left out of queer conversations, including drag queens, trans women, sex workers and people of color.

“We still struggle with the stigma for people with mental health diagnoses. We still struggle with unsheltered people in our movement. People that have justice involved in their backgrounds, there's no visibility on them in Utah, there's very little. And so, how do we make those changes?”

Thornton also discussed what visibility means to her and how important the concept and this day is to the trans community.

“Trans Day of Visibility was created to celebrate ourselves, and in an authentic way to also acknowledge the pain, the hardships, the fear of being trans,” Thornton said. “That's the thing I think that we never need to leave out. We should be authentic and true to the struggle, but then also celebrate the power of our community, the power of our resilience to overcome things as community.”

Jacey Thornton speaks at the podium. Cut off is the projected slide which has the Sylvia Riveria quote she's quoting.
Duck Thurgood
/
UPR

Being visibly trans right now, however, can be frightening and dangerous. Social stigma, anti-trans laws and fear of backlash are all considerations that have to be taken in account when considering both physical and social transition. Thornton acknowledged this and offered some powerful advice from late trans activist Sylvia Rivera.

“There's all kinds of concerns that we have to weigh of like, am I ready to come out? But I love what Sylvia Rivera said: ‘We have to be visible. We should not be ashamed of who we are. We have to show the world that we are numerous.’”

With the mental, physical and financial struggles that can come from being trans in unaccepting or ignorant areas, Thornton said one of the most important things is to have community. The more we lean on each other, they said, the more powerful we are.

With community in mind, the keynote ended with an open mic for people to share their own stories.

A projected slide of the Trans Day of Visibility keynote presentation. There's a picture of Jacey Thornton with her kids at a march and another of Jacey and her wife laughing. At the bottom it says "Let's get vulnerable!"
Duck Thurgood
/
UPR
Jacey Thornton encouraged audience members to come up and "get vulnerable" at the end of the presentation.

“I just want to say that I am so proud to be me," Nicole said. "If there’s anything I would say, is just be loud and be proud and don’t take s— from anybody.”

“We’re here and we can be queer. I try to be visible because of that. I want students to feel safe and like that they can be themselves," Marissa said.

“Remember that even on the hard days, it’s okay to take a deep breath," Onyx said. "Remind yourself that you are loved, even if that love is only coming from inside, because you deserve that.”

“Thank you for coming up and doing this. It was amazing. Thank you all for coming up and showing up and being visible," said Mel Payne, who's on the Logan Pride board of directors.

USU also has a Queer Student Alliance and a page with trans resources including USU gender policies and local trans-friendly healthcare providers.

Duck is a general reporter and weekend announcer at UPR, and is studying broadcast journalism and disability studies at USU. They grew up in northern Colorado before moving to Logan in 2018, so the Rocky Mountain life is all they know. Free time is generally spent with their dog, Monty, listening to podcasts, reading or wishing they could be outside more.