Last year, hundreds of attendees gathered together at Pilsen's Union Park for the first-ever T.G.I.F. rally, battling a surprise summer rain to be there. Standing for "Transgender, Gender Non-Conforming, Intersex Freedom," the event sought to bring together these three groups for their own pride event. The event often got the misnomer of "Trans* Pride," but it was more than that. The day saw speakers, musicians and a performance of What's the T? from About Face's Youth Theatre, which looks at the intersections of race, class and gender in Boystown through the eyes of youth. The event was families and communities coming together to organize, to dialogue and to celebrate their togetherness. This was a day for everyone.
Chicago performer Jacquelyn Carmen Guerrero at T.G.I.F. 2012
They say that lightening doesn't strike twice, but that won't stop T.G.I.F. organizer KOKUMO from trying. She wants the event to become a yearly "incubator for leaders, artists, activists, as well as community members" and an "asylum" for those who need it:
"Because in lieu of CeCe McDonald, a young black transwoman in prison for self-defense, we are forced to combine power with pride," she said. "We have to navigate this current movement of T.G.I. media visibility to political might. No more T.G.I. youth of color or otherwise should have to worry about their lives being stolen from them by bigots or the government."
Last year, KOKUMO laid the groundwork for a yearly event. This year she wants to take the opportunity to move the conversation further. "T.G.I.F. 2013," will play up themes of community and celebration. However, KOKUMO is looking to move beyond your typical pride celebration. For T.G.I. groups that are often marginalized in the larger queer umbrella, KOKUMO wants a moment of visibility and mobilization; to go from a place of awareness to movement. KOKUMO believes we need a T.G.I. Stonewall:
The T.G.I. community started the Gay Rights Movement but had it co-opted from us and renamed due to white and male privilege. We were the ones who started the Compton Riots and Stonewall Uprising. So I find it interesting that it took us 30 years to get to a place societally where honest and intentional conversations around T.G.I. experiences are finally being listened to. What's happening now is what should have happened when the fight to end AIDS began 30 years ago. The T.G.I. sex workers who were also dying in droves were completely ignored or disrespectfully counted as male-identified people. And that is why T.G.I.F. is happening. The time for patiently waiting for somebody to save our lives is over. TGI people are doing the work for themselves. That's the thing about courage, you don't know you have it until you're left with no choice but to use it.
Photo of KOKUMO singing with Chicago's Queer Choir
KOKUMO wants this year's event to include DJs, performers from Cyon Flare to Angelica Ross and keynotes from co-organizer Alexis Martinez, Nick Kay and Pidgeon Pagonis. Also included will be services from SAGE Community Health, Test Positive Awareness Network (TPAN) and Transformative Justice Law Project, which will hold a clothing drive and a name change mobilization effort for attendees who need assistance in navigating the process to legally alter your birth name to your chosen name.
However, events don't pay for themselves. KOKUMO also has to secure a stage, equipment and pay for the park deposit -- which lept to $3,075 this year. Movement building doesn't come cheap. You need to be able to afford the tools. That's why KOKUMO is asking for $10,000 to put together this year's event, which will cover most of the $13,340 budget. Although KOKUMO initially wasn't sure whether or not to ask for that much money, organizers decided that they needed to put it all out there in their ask. This weekend, the T.G.I.F. team put together a campaign video for the 2013 gathering (planned for Union Park on July 28), which organizers call "Transcending Pride, Evolving Movements."
In a Saturday meeting (that WBEZ got an exclusive invite to), organizers argued that the event needed to "go big or go home" this year. As a friend, KOKUMO asked me for my opinion of the fundraising campaign's prospects. She was concerned she might not reach her goal. I responded with something that my mother used to tell me as a kid, whenever I felt like I couldn't do something: "If you don't believe in yourself, no one else will." She needed to believe that the movement could rally behind her. I believe it will.
T.G.I.F.'s Indiegogo campaign will launch next Tuesday on the fundraising platform. To me, it's the ultimate demonstration of community. Although Chicago's mainstream pride events are attended by sweeping cross-sections of the community, with everyone from shirtless club kids to old ladies, babies and dogs attending, the event is bought and paid for largely by corporations. As much as the Pride parade is a yearly reminder of togetherness, it's a celebration of capitalism -- of beer advertisements and discarded trash. The trash that lines the sidewalks of Halsted every year after Pride is a symbol of the negative externalities of fundraising. Hannah Arendt once coined the phrase "the banality of evil." Call this instead the "banality of business."
Instead of littering the community with outside cash, KOKUMO's mission is to have an event built for the community, by the community -- by asking them to chip in. She wants to make celebrating T.G.I. togetherness sustainable by building a movement of friends, supporters and allies. In her fundraising video, KOKUMO explains that this event isn't just about cash. It's about building a space for people to go and giving them a platform where they can have their voices represented and recognized. It's about taking the next step. According to KOKUMO, "when the most oppressed people began to save themselves, that's revolutionary."
At the end of the video, KOKUMO puts it with her trademark directness: "The revolution will be T.G.I. The question is: Will you be ready?"
This article was originally posted on WBEZ.