A Trans Solidarity Rally is set for Saturday in downtown Pittsfield.
Berkshire Pride is organizing the rally. Ray Garnett of Berkshire Trans Group says it’s a rare opportunity to come together.
“When we meet in South County, it’s quite small," said Garnett. "I don’t think we’ve ever — I think we had one meeting with five people. People come in and out, so there’s a lot more individual folks who have come, but they don’t come at the same time. Up in Pittsfield, we’ve had as many as 12 folks.”
Garnett says trans people are often isolated from friends, family and the community.
“So being visible is really pointing out to folks, hey, we’re already part of your community, we’re already here. And it’s just really nice to — a lot of time people don’t recognize, they think, I don’t know anyone who’s trans, and you probably do,” Garnett said.
“I don’t know the exact number of trans people that live in Berkshire County, but I can say from organizing events and being out there and meeting the community that I have really seen that there is quite a large trans and gender non-conforming community in the Berkshires,” said Kenneth Mercure. Mercure is a co-chair of Berkshire Pride, and a lifelong resident of the county.
“It’s one of those situations where people probably make assumptions that it’s not a very large community but it is in fact is," Mercure said. "It’s simply that it’s — these people are living their lives and going to work and going out to the movies and being themselves and it’s not always a situation where people, that’s the first thing that they’re leading with when they meet you.”
Berkshire Pride is holding a belated celebration of International Trans Day of Visibility, recognized annually on March 31st.
“Trans visibility means a lot of things, but vitally it’s important for those that can’t be vocal, that can’t stand out, that can’t express themselves openly to see people who’re better doing that, and to see the people that love and care about them standing with them,” said Mercure.
Berkshire Pride is calling it a Trans Solidarity Rally.
“The first part of the event is a rally, we’re going to do a stand out at park square in Pittsfield. It’s the community coming together to stand with trans and gender non-conforming community members to show their support and their love. That’s from 4 to 5. And then from 5 to 6, we’re going to transition over to St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church where we’re going to have social and networking time and some cookies and coffee and tea,” said Mercure.
Garnett says the community gathering is a change of pace for many people who struggle to fit in because of their identity.
“The everyday thing is just the assumption of gender, all the time, everywhere," said Garnett. "That’s the simplest answer. There are more complicated answers that are about accessing health care, and accessing other services, get more complicated. Things about assuming that you’ll have a birth certificate that matches a drivers license where it says sex, and all sorts of different issues can pop up.”
“When you’re looking at the Berkshires as a whole, what we’re really looking at is a patchwork of communities, some that are more liberal than others," said Mercure. “So would I say that it’s a trans acceptance paradise here in the Berkshires? No. Are there communities where trans people are living openly and honestly to their friends and neighbors and are able to just be themselves? Yes of course. But it really depends, down to where you’re living in the county and how you’re — and even where you live in a certain part of a city here.”
Trans people face discrimination and threats of violence at disproportionate rates — even more so for trans women of color. In January, Christa Steele-Knudslien, a transgender community advocate in North Adams, was murdered.
For Garnett, the goals of the rally are simple.
“Just to have a space for everyone’s best intentions for how our community can be and how we can support each other. And do that loudly and visibly and have a home for everyone,” said Garnett.