A special event on International Transgender Day of Visibility could herald even more good things to come for Cincinnati.
On March 31, the city raised the trans pride flag at City Hall for the first time in Cincinnati's history in recognition of Transgender Day of Visibility. The flag features horizontal pink, blue and white stripes to symbolize people who identify as women and men as well as those who do not have a defined gender, are transitioning or identify as intersex.
Since 2009, International Transgender Day of Visibility celebrates transgender people and raises awareness about trans discrimination, crimes against the trans community and other trans experiences.
Cincinnati officials gathered with representatives of LGBTQ+ organizations to raise the city's flag, acknowledge the progress that has been made and the work that still needs to happen to protect and affirm trans individuals, including language in Cincinnati's non-discrimination codes.
"Here in Cincinnati and across the world, fear, unfortunately, particularly in our transgender community, still exists," Cincinnati mayor Aftab Pureval said. "Our transgender neighbors have faced generations of hate, discrimination and violence, and yet they have remained dedicated in the face of oppression to push for a better life for the generations to come."
Reggie Harris, a Cincinnati City Council member who worked with other municipal departments to organize the flying of Cincinnati's first trans pride flag, said that a positive change in the city's non-discrimination municipal protections is coming soon.
"Cincinnati was a leader in our 'non-discrim code,' but that was a while ago. Things have changed," Harris said. "We know that our concepts around gender identity and expression have changed and evolved, and we need to reflect that."
Harris said that municipal code language will be updated to directly protect transgender, non-binary and other LGBTQ+ individuals. The new legislation is expected in the coming weeks or months, he said.
"We have to do both symbolic gestures and policy gestures, and that is the way we move forward," Harris said. "I think it's wonderful to be an openly gay council member and know that the administration that runs our beautiful city is with us every step of the way."
Vice mayor Jan-Michele Lemon Kearney said that there were at least 45 murders of trans or non-binary people across the United States in 2021, with Black transgender women the most frequent target. She called out Ohio and other states for passing or considering a variety of anti-trans legislation.
"There are more than 20 states across our country that have passed laws to criminalize gender-affirming care. I want you to look out for Ohio House (of Representatives) bill 454, because that is in the pipe. It's coming down, and we've got to fight it," Lemon Kearney said. "And even though the American Medical Association and the American Pediatric Association have said that these laws endanger the health and well-being of our youth, we are still looking at fighting a House bill here, right on our turf."
"And note that receiving gender-affirming health care has been associated with a 60% lower odds of moderate or severe depression and a 73% lower odds of suicidal ideation and suicide itself," Lemon Kearney added.
HB 454, titled the "Enact the Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act," would prohibit offering minors any kind of gender affirming treatment, from hormones to surgery. The bill also puts the onus on healthcare providers by defining that treatment as “unprofessional conduct” for state licensing boards and making “actual or threatened violations” of the bill grounds for a lawsuit. Ohio Republicans Gary Click and Diane V. Grendell are the primary sponsors of the bill, which was introduced in October, has about two dozen Republican co-sponsors and has been referred to the Families, Aging and Human Services committee.
"Despite the advances we've made both nationally and in this city in LGBTQIA equality, we find ourselves beating back a barrage of anti-LGBTQIA legislation around the state, and specifically legislation that targets and seeks to erase trans people," Harris said. "Now, we know historically any effort made to erase and to oppress and discriminate (against) any group of people does not end well. And so we find ourselves at this crossroads, this juxtaposition of progress and fear, progress and regression."
"What we are here to do today is take that symbolic step in saying while the rest of our state may be interested in moving backwards, here in Cincinnati we are moving forward," Harris continued.
Sheryl Long, assistant city manager, concurred.
"While today is about celebration, it's also about the work still needed to save trans lives. In Cincinnati, we have added gender identity as a protected class, and as an employer we cover gender-affirming procedures. But there is always, always more work to be done," Long said. "In 2022, across the U.S., there are dozens of cities and states considering legislation that adversely affects transgender youth and the LGBTQIA+ community. I'm a mom, and I can tell you that breaks my heart to think of those parents begging and pleading to their legislators and school boards to protect, not target, their babies."
Elliot Kesse, board member for the Transgender Advocacy Council and Heartland Trans Wellness said that members of the trans community — particularly the youth — indeed are at risk.
"Visibility without protection is a trap," Kesse said. "It requires us to risk harm and harassment without the guarantee that our cisgender — or cis — parents won't disown us, our cis bosses won't fire us, our cis doctors won't refuse to treat us or our cis politicians won't pass laws that kill us."
Kesse shared ways in which cisgender allies can reduce harm to members of the trans community:
- Stop assuming you know a person's gender.
- Stop assuming anyone knows your gender.
- Write your pronouns after your name.
- Introduce yourself with your pronouns.
- Ask if you and your kids' social groups are affirming and inclusive.
- Recognize that you can offer respect even if you don't fully understand.
- If you have the means, donate to organizations that support the trans community, like the Transgender Advocacy Council and the trans emergency fund.
"It's a beautiful moment in a person's life when they're able to acknowledge their authentic self. No one should live their life pretending to be someone else, but when that authentic self is different from the societal norm and coming out carries risks not just of personal rejection but potential violence, that takes courage," Jeffreys said. "As we've approached these discussions with Emery, we've done it wrapped in love and seeing them for who they truly are."
Moments before the trans flag was hoisted into the air, Harris took a breath and glanced at those around him, remarking that he didn't expect to feel as emotional as he had.
"I do feel a bit of emotion because my colleagues raised facts and experiences of LGBTQIA folks that, typically when you are part of a community you feel the burden of saying, 'This is everything we need to know.' And to know that I don't have to do this alone, to know that my vice mayor knows the statistics, our mayor understands what this all means, there's a deep moment of gratitude that I have," Harris said.
Watch Cincinnati raise the transgender pride flag on Facebook.