Visibility is so very powerful. Seeing individuals who reflect and represent you and your ideas and identities is so very important. I would argue it is as vital to the transgender rights movement as it is to the gay and lesbian movements. We at Metro Trans Umbrella Group value visibility. We value opportunities to be seen and to be possibility models for emerging trans persons; to take up space in our community; to be valuable and visible contributors to our community.

That is why we chose to invest our time and money and human energy in marching in Pride this year. We struggled with this decision. There was some strain in our relationship with Pride last year, and we were worried that bad feelings would once again resurface. But we were optimistic that the organizers of Pride St. Louis would see us as reasonable individuals who are just so very sick and tired of feeling like the butt of the joke, feeling like second class citizens in our own community and tired of always being at the end of the line when it comes to resources and visibility - tired of not being seen and valued.

We debated for months about marching in the parade. Our board is diverse in narrative and relationship with Pride and we all listened to each other and our perspectives. I dug deep to find my feelings. You see, the young lesbian in me remembers. I remember vividly my first parade in the Central West End. I was in my teens and seeing all those possibility models of real life queer adults gave me the little bit of connection I needed to keep on living... to literally keep on living. It pierced through that wall of isolation I felt in the 1980's when all I saw around me was death and fear. Pride really did give me that rainbow of hope. I got that familiar lump in my throat for years as I would watch the parade glide by. Everyone so proud and visible! Taking up space in such a colorful and sweet way; chanting and declaring that we are entitled to take up space!! For many years my life was based on the Pride year calendar: "If only I can make it to the next Pride, I will get that recharge again!" I did make it back for many years.

As I emerged as a transgender man I once again looked to Pride for that support. That need and desire to not feel alone, that shot in the arm of community and positive visibility. I did not see it. In fact I was met with inappropriate questions when I first took up space there as a trans person, but it charged me up and I decided to insert myself firmly. This is why, two years ago, several dear friends and I formed the Metro Trans Umbrella Group and dove right in.

We volunteered at Pride last year, joined in with the Center and took up some space. We were somewhere in the middle of the parade; visible, but not front seat. We had our flags, but were "in addition to" instead of the main group. It felt ok, but I believe we all wanted more.

So we processed for weeks and decided to march in Pride again this year. We decorated cars, we made signs and umbrellas, we tried to balance celebration with accountability. Times are changing and we wanted to find a balance of honoring the deep breadth of diversity of the trans movement. We encouraged our support group QTPOC (Queer and Transgender People of Color) to take up space. We believe the brave and mighty young folks of QTPOC created a visibly stunning and appropriate way to carry the message deep within the strict guidelines of Pride. We agreed to follow the rules, we geared up to take up space, without violating Pride's guidelines. We were excited, and a little nervous, but most of all, we were ready.

We arrived early at around 8:00 am on that lovely Sunday morning. I was one of the first people to register. We lined up and waited... and waited and waited. I was deep in denial when folks would approach me and say "Hey, Sayer, are they going to put us in the back of the parade?" No, I thought. Pride wants us. I know we have had our struggles but deep down I believe(ed) that Pride wanted us... Wants us... Wants trans people to be seen.. Wants to honor our past our roots of activism and claiming space. You know, Stonewall was a riot after all. Plus, I had told our Pride liaison that we were going to behave, that we were going to follow the rules. We were there to celebrate, be seen, and raise awareness. Pride even promoted us and put some trans education in their guide. Pride wanted us!

We still waited.

We were almost last in the parade. From starting out near the very front of the parade, at least eight other groups were shuffled ahead of us, one right after another, from both sides of the street, until we were practically bringing up the rear. That was hurtful and insulting. Intentional or not, it clearly sends a picture. It sends the picture of how we are valued, or in this case, clearly NOT valued.

I am a human and activist who believes deeply in calling people in rather than calling them out. This is also the philosophy of MTUG. "Community, Visibility, Advocacy, and Education". That is our rallying cry. We WANT to work together. We want trans people to have a place at the table but let me be very clear; not a TOKEN place. Not a place at the end of the table, or at a special small table just for us, but at the community table. What I am no longer willing to do is play the political game when it hurts my soul. When it hurts my friends and family. I am no longer willing to sit by and keep getting pushed to the back of the line.

This is another invitation to Pride to engage in meaningful dialogue. I believe we can still have a party and celebration but be aware of the struggle; to honor our past and embrace the future and hold space for each other, especially those of us emerging and trying to find our way.

Pride was a heck of a party. No doubt. It was fun and colorful and celebratory. Bravo. But let's not forget why the party exists. It was built on the back of our collective struggle. The struggle that is far from over. I challenge and encourage not only Pride St. Louis, but EVERYBODY, whether you are in the LGBT community or not, to keep that in light. Keep it in mind. Hold space for the struggle, and for those of us still waiting to take up space.

MTUG wants to work with with Pride St. Louis. It is our fond hope that they take us up on the offer. We could accomplish so much more together, than we ever could separately.

Sayer Andrew Johnson is the president and co-founder of the MetroTrans* Umbrella Group.

[Editor's note]: This op-ed was written in response to MTUG and QTPOC's experience at Sunday's St. Louis Pride parade and PrideFest. Further reading can be found in this open letter to the Pride St. Louis board published on social media. QTPOC has also released their own statement. According to accounts, members of QTPOC were later removed from festival for chanting and carrying signs which are against PrideFest rules. Pride St. Louis issued the following statement earlier today:


In response to the open letter to Pride Saint Louis, Inc. Dear St. Louis Community - First, thank you for...

Posted by Pride St Louis on Friday, July 3, 2015

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