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Berkshire trans community focusing on joy, acceptance, and solidarity on Transgender Day of Visibility

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On this International Transgender Day of Visibility, members of the transgender community in Berkshire County say they’re looking for acknowledgement and acceptance.

Since 2009, the day has offered a moment to celebrate a community that receives a disproportionate amount of discrimination.

“In November, we have Trans Day of Remembrance, which actually came first and was a day to honor the people who had lost their lives or been taken from us," said North Adams city councilor Ashley Shade. "But Trans Day of Visibility is so important, because it's the positive day, it's the day we get to celebrate the people who are still here, and the people in our community, and the people in our lives.”

In 2021, Shade made county history by becoming the first openly transgender person to be elected to political office in the Berkshires.

“Part of it is being seen and acknowledged for who we are," she continued. "I think the other part of it is having a platform, having the ability to be heard. Visibility is so much more about being acknowledged as human beings and respected for who we are, and being treated just like anybody else who has ideas and thoughts and opinions, and being able to contribute.”

Shade says that while she’s seen Berkshire County come a long way over the last decade, the community is facing a critical moment on the national stage.

“We're at this crossroads where, for a while, we were being kind of left alone to our own devices, and then people started catching on," she told WAMC. "And now we're kind of the new marginalized group that people use to attack and campaign on, basically just because they can raise money off of fear and hatred. It's the same cycle that happens every decade. There's always a new marginalized group to go after, to raise fears and suspicions and take advantage politically of. And unfortunately, right now, that's the trans community. And it's at a point where this isn't just people picking on us. Children's lives are at stake. There are states that are taking away the medical choices and the ability of people to seek medical treatments for being trans or existing as a trans person. And so, these laws are not only becoming, targeting discriminatorily, but they're literally putting lives on the line. They're endangering people's lives.”

Shade offered her three-part guide to standing in solidarity with the transgender community.

“The first is to show up and be there," she said. "The second is to uplift the voices of the community that's being attacked or that you're trying to ally for, which in this case would be the trans community. And then the third is to call out ignorance, to actually speak up and say something about ignorant things or myths, misconceptions, and try to educate people, try to call out when people are hateful or rude or disrespectful. Call out blatant discrimination. That's really what we need right now. We need people willing to stand with us and fight for us, and to call things out and to lift up other trans voices and to show up for us. That's where we're at in this country right now. We need it desperately. Because there's not enough of us to win this fight on our own. We need your help. We need everybody to be a part of that.”

Ray Garnett of West Stockbridge described a sense of cold comfort that Massachusetts is comparatively a haven for the transgender community next to other parts of the United States.

“Trans Day of Visibility is an opportunity for the focus for trans people, for once, to be on just trans people going about whether it be our regular everyday lives or people making strides or doing different things in their in their life and in their community, instead of the usual news, which is too often either a tragedy or us desperately trying to keep our rights,” he told WAMC.

Garnett, who owns Yellow House Books in Great Barrington, has lived in the Berkshires for the past eight years.

“Most of the time when you see transgender people in the news or hear about something, it's one of those two things," he continued. "So, it's an opportunity to have a positive portrayal and a positive view of transgender people just as members of the community. So, here in the Berkshires, some people may not may not have folks in their personal life who are trans. Maybe it's an opportunity for them to sort of look up and look around and realize that there's quite a number of us here in the Berkshires.”

Garnett organizes the peer support organization Berkshire Trans Group. He says it’s been a source of joy and light for a community often overburdened by bigotry and marginalization.

“Sometimes people come with concerns or questions, but there's a lot of moments when people come and share something really fun, or they've learned something about themselves and just really excited," Garnett told WAMC. "And it's really great, those moments when people learn about themselves and learn how to say it to another person. It's exciting and joyful, just to be like, hey, I know something about myself that I didn't know before. And I think that's a sort of personal and sometimes spiritual journey that a lot of people have, and it's just one aspect of that that trans people have, and it's really personally affirming and joyful to be able to articulate that and share it with the people you love.”

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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