Outside the Allen Street gates, more than 30 people gathered in Friday night’s slow drizzle, waving pink, blue and white striped flags and affixing signs supporting trans rights to the gates.
The outdoor event was for International Transgender Day of Visibility, hosted by the Centre LGBTQA Support Network. Throughout the hourlong event, people led chants, gave speeches and held a moment of silence for a community member who had recently passed.
The event was attended not only by trans and nonbinary people but also those who love and support them, like Nico Geier, a transgender man, and his father Chuck. Nico, who is a freshman at the State College Area’s Delta Program, said he feels at home in his school and his community.
“It’s very supportive,” Nico said “Anybody is allowed to do anything. And honestly, I feel like we could come to school painted green and everybody would be happy about it.”
Centre LGBTQA Support treasurer and founder Kerry Wiessmann said events like these help to support the trans community, especially as the community has come under heavy scrutiny in recent years across the country.
“When we first started years ago gay people still needed a lot of affirmation, a lot of support,” Wiessmann said. “But what we’ve found in the last five years is it’s trans people who are being attacked like crazy.”
Violence against transgender and gender non-conforming people is on the rise, with the trans community at the spotlight of national discussions on sports and education. The American Civil Liberties Union is tracking 435 anti-LGBTQ bills across the country — including three in Pennsylvania — with many of them targeting trans people and gender affirming care.
Board member Katie Nurmi, who is nonbinary and goes by she/they pronouns, said this year’s event was a celebration and a fight against renewed anti-trans sentiment.
“There’s a lot of legislation leveled that’s weaponizing fear and the legal system against teachers and parents to take away the rights of people to decide their own identity,” Nurmi said.
Many of the bills target trans people under age 18 and access to gender affirming care. Gender affirming care is treatment that aligns outward physical traits with gender identity and can come in many forms such as therapy, hormones or surgery.
For Cecil Houseknecht, a trans man and volunteer for Centre Support, said gender affirming care has had an overwhelmingly positive impact on his life. Gender affirming care has been seen to reduce suicidal ideation and provide mental health benefits, being deemed a life saver for many in the trans community.
“When we talk about gender affirming care, it’s not something that happens all of a sudden,” Houseknecht said. “It’s a whole process for family members and friends, mental health care providers and medical professionals.”
The increased conversation surrounding trans people and gender identity has positive aspects as well, educating non-trans people on the discrimination many people face and providing wider access to resources and education.
“It is easier now for folks to talk about it because the vocabulary is there,” Nurmi said. “I spent many decades of my life thinking I was a failed woman. I am not a failed woman. I’m not a woman. I’m a perfectly wonderful nonbinary person.”