Northwest Arkansas community members will gather Saturday to celebrate Transgender Day of Visibility with keynote speeches, panel discussions, guided meditations, trans-exclusive pool time and giveaways of gender-affirming clothing at the Jones Center.
The Transgender Equality Network, a local nonprofit, has partnered with Interform and The Transition Closet to organize the event, which will be the first all-day Transgender Day of Visibility gathering in Northwest Arkansas, said Joel Manning, president of TEN.
Manning, who uses they/them pronouns, wants the event to be a safe space for trans individuals and allies to have fun, celebrate their identities and make connections with other trans people in the community, they said.
“It’s just an all-day space where trans people can come exist, be visible in their community, be visible to each other, and see that trans people do live in Arkansas, and they do belong in Arkansas, and they can exist joyfully and safely,” Manning said.
After a 1 p.m. kickoff, the largest-yet iteration of NWA’s annual TDOV event will feature keynote speeches, panel discussions, pool and gym time exclusively for trans attendees and their invited guests, guided meditations, Zumba classes and a massage station.
Community leaders including Stephanie Ho from Vector Health and Evelyn Rios-Stafford, Washington County Quorum Court justice of the peace for District 12, will be part of a panel discussion entitled “Politics of Trans Visibility.”
Jewel Hayes, the founder of Northwest Arkansas Electrolysis, and Phoenix May, the co-founder of the Equality Crew, will also give keynote speeches.
There will also be workshops on community healing and “radical self-compassion through the lens of transness,” Manning said.
Serving the trans community is one of the main values of Interform, the nonprofit organization responsible for presenting NWA Fashion Week every year, chief of staff Cedric Fonville said. The organization’s leaders partnered with those of TEN last year to host events for Transgender Day of Remembrance.
“(TEN) is basically trying to create this space for the trans population where they can connect with others and learn about health and mental challenges associated with being in the trans community,” Fonville said.
Amare Roush, founder and CEO of The Transition Closet, who uses they/them pronouns, thinks the annual TDOV gathering is important to highlight the size and strength of the trans community in Northwest Arkansas, they said.
The Transition Closet offers free masculine, feminine and gender-neutral clothing, as well as trans-specific undergarments for people transitioning, Roush said. They started the closet in June 2021 after considering how expensive it can be to transition.
“You have to get a whole new wardrobe when you transition,” Roush said. “There are sometimes specialty undergarments that are very expensive. The closet is just a good way to love on the people hurt by the recent legislation they’ve been trying to pass in Arkansas.”
The Transition Closet, which has two locations — one at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and one at the OMNI Center for Peace, Justice, and Equality — will be at Saturday’s gathering to offer free clothing to members of the LGBTQ community.
The event will also include trans-and-allies-exclusive pool and gym sessions, aiming to offer trans individuals the opportunity to swim in a non-judgmental environment — a privilege many cisgender people take for granted, Manning said.
“Swimming is not typically something that trans people get to do without having to be very hyper-aware of who they’re going to be around, if it’s an accepting place, and if there are going to be people there not okay with them just existing in their bodies in a swimsuit,” Manning said.
There will also be a “Trans 101” information session aimed at offering cis individuals guidance from trans people on learn how to be better allies, Manning said.
Manning thinks the most important part of the TDOV celebration is simply allowing trans people to see their peers living joyfully, they said.
“Visibility saves lives,” Manning said. “To look out in the community and see other people who look like you living a similar story to yours and finding joy in their existence and navigating the challenges you’re intimate with — that can literally be the difference between life and death sometimes. To be able to say, ‘If that person is living this life and living it well, so can I.’”
Those interested in attending Saturday’s event must register online and provide proof of full COVID-19 vaccination to enter. Some of the keynote presentations and panel discussions will also be streamed live via the TEN YouTube channel.