It was hardly the smoothest of debuts, but if you happen to be transgender, that’s a relatable feeling.
NY Governor Andrew Cuomo instructed the Port Authority to light the One World Trade Center spire in the colors of transgender pride (blue, pink, and white) for the very first time on March 31st, 2017. Almost nobody saw it.
March 31st is an annual International Transgender Day of Visibility. November’s Transgender Day of Remembrance is set aside for mourning (seven trans women have been murdered in 2017 so far), but TDOV is for showing love, affirmation, and collective strength by trans people and allies alike.
New York City and State have a proud history of welcoming huddled masses yearning to breathe free, with beacons piercing through the sky.
The Governor seized an opportunity to make an unequivocal statement recognizing our state’s transgender citizens, as well of those across the country and world. New York City and State have a proud history of welcoming huddled masses yearning to breathe free, with beacons piercing through the sky. Their efforts go far beyond symbolism.
In February Governor Cuomo issued a directive to the state’s educational facilities maintaining protections for transgender students that were rescinded federally by the Trump administration. In 2015, he was the first state executive to set regulations prohibiting discrimination based on one’s transgender status. In 2016, he banned non-essential state travel to North Carolina over their infamous HB2 bathroom bill targeting trans individuals.
I pitched lighting One World Trade to my connected friends in the LGBTQ community, who I have met through the Democratic Party, Pride festivities, and rallies outside the Stonewall Inn. I had other buildings in mind first, but OneWTC was suggested as a focus. It is the city’s tallest, and as a Port Authority development, reports to the Governor. I received contact information for David Contreras Turley, Cuomo’s LGBTQ liaison.
I wrote that now was the time to say loud and clear, that New York sees and supports trans people. A bright orange anti-trans hate bus painted with the words "It's Biology: Boys are boys… and always will be. Girls are girls… and always will be. You can't change sex. Respect all,” chose our city for the start of an east coast tour.
The kicker was North Carolina. On March 30th, they upped their ante on transphobia by passing HB142. While superseding HB2 in name, it maintains a moratorium on local anti-discrimination legislation and explicitly names the state as arbiter over toilet access.
Other than the short notice, it was not a hard sell. More calls and emails followed, from both sides of the Hudson, including two personal role models: Melissa Sklarz of New York, and New Jersey’s Babs Siperstein, who have been trans activists and trailblazers since before I was born. We knew the Governor was busy with the final stretches of budget negotiations, but I urged Mr. Turley to push the issue as best he could. He did, and we waited patiently on March 31st for a thumbs up or down.
There is an ironic symbolism to a day of visibility that could not have been any less visible. It is something special to exist and persist undaunted, no matter how foggy the world feels.
It was the perfect storm, literally. A drenching rain, high winds, and thick fog covered the city, but the decision was to proceed with the TDOV. Radar said the storm might pass. Once I got off the phone with Mr. Turley, I had the honor to “break” the story on Twitter, a full minute before OneWTC’s account confirmed.
Regretfully, the storm didn’t clear as hoped, so our story didn’t gain traction as it might have. It was impossible to see the spire at all without being directly beneath it. I caught some grainy photos, which the Governor later circulated, because I went down to Chambers Street knowing exactly what I was looking for. There breaks in the clouds if you waited. Few would have seen this by happenstance. The city — seemingly except me — was indoors staying dry.
There was also another breaking story on Friday that the LGBTQ beat was covering. Gilbert Baker, gay rights movement pioneer and creator of the rainbow pride flag, passed at age 65. I met him once in 2015. He was a sweet man, and proud to have made his mark on a movement that triggered others, including the push for trans rights. He now lived in New York, and would have been thrilled to see transgender colors, as first designed by Monica Helms, atop a skyscraper. His rainbow design has graced OneWTC since it opened in 2013, as well as countless other buildings including the White House.
There is an ironic symbolism to a day of visibility that could not have been any less visible. It is something special to exist and persist undaunted, no matter how foggy the world feels. Trans people often live in secrecy, fearing backlash and rejection from revealing themselves, or from coming out at all. We had hoped a sign in the sky would encourage someone out there, particularly among our youth, to hang on just another day.
Flying our colors high reminds those who try to deny our existence, call us broken, or paint us as predators, that we don’t just crawl back under a rock the next 364 days. As long as Governor Cuomo is in office, we have a fighting chance. If you missed the TDOV lighting display — and you probably did — it will come back. Until then, every day is a Trans Day of Visibility.
Hannah Simpson is a transgender advocate, writer, educator, comedian, marathoner, traveler and unabashed nerd based in NYC. She speaks to schools, businesses, and even military bases on embracing trans and nonbinary identity. You might have seen her as a guest on Melissa Harris-Perry on MSNBC, or on WNYW Fox 5’s Good Day New York. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter @hannsimp, or Instagram @hsimpso.