Vocal members of Muncie community gather at city courthouse for International Transgender Day of Visibility rally

Sam McCollum holds a sign while he listens to speakers at Muncie OUTreach's "We Are In This Together. A gathering of support" event March 31 at the Muncie Courthouse.  Hannah Amos, DN
Sam McCollum holds a sign while he listens to speakers at Muncie OUTreach's "We Are In This Together. A gathering of support" event March 31 at the Muncie Courthouse. Hannah Amos, DN

TRIGGER WARNING: Comments of suicide are mentioned in the below article

Clouds shadowed over a group of over nearly 100 protesters and supporters at 5 p.m. March 31 at the courthouse in downtown Muncie. The rally was organized to celebrate and draw awareness to International Transgender Day of Visibility, recognized March 31.

The event was largely attended by those in the trans community, as well as allies and supporters including political figures such as State Representative Sue Errington. Attendees formed a circle of flags and posters to showcase their support for the trans community, and their discontent with the recent legislation in Indiana such as Senate Bill 480, which would prevent gender transition procedures for minors. 

The bill is set to go to Gov. Eric Holcomb, who will make the decision to pass or veto the bill.The bill comes just over a year past a time when, according to an article by the Associated Press, Gov. Eric Holcomb vetoed a bill regarding transgender females from participating in womens school sports.

A major part of the event was the sharing of personal stories from those in attendance. One such attendee was River Freeney, a 19 year-old trans man, who shared his experience of being transgender.

“To live authentically as myself and not as someone who has put on a mask every day for years is perhaps the most liberating thing I have ever experienced,” Freeney said. “I would rather be struck dead by lighting today knowing that I lived even the shortest amount of time authentically myself than to live another 30 years pretending to be that poor girl that didn’t know who she was.”

Beyond his own experience, Freeney works with Muncie OUTreach to support and watch over children in the community. He said it was painful for him to watch them be afraid of the recent changes in Indiana.

“It doesn’t impact me directly, but it impacts my friends and the kids that I work with, and we’re all so scared,” Freeney said. “For a lot of us, it is about seeing each other’s names on lists that we wish we wouldn’t. Knowing that, if it were us, would we still be here? We gotta fight because they’re coming for adults next.”

Tiffany Erk speaks on her experience as a parent of a transgender son at Muncie OUTreach's "We Are in This Together. A gathering of support" event March 31 at the Muncie Courthouse. Hannah Amos, DN

There were also different perspectives beyond the usual image of transgender youth, as speakers and several attendees came from a variety of age ranges. One speaker, Paige Hendricks, spoke about her experience living through a time when being trans was not as much a part of the national conversation.

“Growing up, I didn’t know what transgender was,” Hendricks said. “40 years plus later, I’m living a life that has felt more natural and more balanced than anything my early oblivious self had known.”

Hendricks also took the time to argue the power of gender affirming care as it pertains to her own life.

“How is that possible? … Coming within a day of actually unaliving myself, and then coming into the person that I was meant to be?” Hendricks said. “I’ll tell you how: gender affirming care.”

Though all their stories were different, a common thread through many of the speakers was about the turnout of the rally itself.

“I am so grateful to stand here and say that I made it past when I thought my expiration date could be,” Freeney said. “Seeing all these people and to feel how loved we are here, that we get to live and be who we are … it’s so freeing and I wouldn’t give it up for anything in the world.”

One of the attendees was Chelsea McDonnel, founder and treasurer of MADvoters, an organization that promotes voting registration and works to explain and be a watchdog over legislation in Indiana. She said the event was just the beginning. 

“Tonight's event was just a small speck in a much larger charge,” McDonnel said in an email interview after the event. “Tonight's event had a great turnout, especially for there being a threat of poor weather. There were even two people running for City Council there, and that is very important for the youth to see that people who want to be our elected officials are going to support them.”

She also echoed a phrase repeated several times at the rally: “go vote.”

“An informed voter is an empowered voter, and empowered voters show up to the polls,” McDonnel said via email. “And that's what Indiana needs, we have terrible voter turnout. If we could get people to show up, we win. Democracy wins.” 

Contact Abigail Denault with comments via email at abigail.denault@bsu.edu.