Hundreds rally for trans troops in Royal Oak

James David Dickson
The Detroit News


Royal Oak - What started Wednesday morning with a set of tweets from President Donald Trump announcing that transgender people would no longer be welcome in the U.S. military, led to a rally of hundreds in support of transgender troops in downtown Royal Oak on Sunday.

Rachel Crandall-Crocker, executive director and co-founder of Transgender Michigan, speaks at a rally outside of the Royal Oak Public Library Sunday, July 30, in response to President Donald Trump's tweets that said he would ban transgender people from the armed forces.


Outside the city's public library, members of the transgender community, their allies and several local politicians showed their support for affected troops, making it clear any transgender ban in the military wouldn't proceed without a fight. 

Attendees carried signs and wore shirts with messages such as "You can pee next to me," "Human rights are for all humans," and "Imagine being told you're not good enough by a weak draft dodger with no courage."

The noontime rally was organized by TG Detroit. The organization, founded by Samantha Rogers, holds quarterly nights on the town, during which groups of trans people visit bars and restaurants and take part in nightlife while also enjoying strength in numbers.

"For most of us, the good old days sucked, didn't they?" Rogers said. "Filled with fear and pain. Well, I am no longer going to live in fear. We are behind you. We have your backs."

Trump's tweets raised fears in the transgender community that a group of people historically easy to ostracize are again being made to feel unwelcome. While military leaders have said that only an official order would change things for transgender troops, the same man who sent the tweets could send the official order.



Royal Oak Mayor Michael Fournier said the rally took place in a context of "discontent, confusion and sadness that transgender troops have not been treated equally at the highest levels of government."

Several speakers referenced then-President Barack Obama's decision to repeal the Bill Clinton-era "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" policy in July 2011. They expressed fears that the six years since the policy was revoked have been a departure from the norm. They also noted, in the past, the military has not been tolerant of those who see their gender differently from their birth certificate.  

"Nobody wants to be transgender," Rogers told The News before the rally. "Nobody wakes up and hopes to be different."

TG Detroit hopes to smooth out those differences by first drawing attention, by traveling to venues in a crowd - "we always catch people's eye," Rogers said - and then by extending kindness to people who approach or show interest.

Nicole Burtonelli, 56, embraced the transgender community within the last three years, and joined TG Detroit.

Burtonelli didn't used to go out at all. Now, when she goes out, she's gotten in the habit of saying - to waitstaff, to kind strangers, to whomever  - "Thank you for being kind to me."

She hopes, through TG Detroit, to help make Detroit "the most trans-friendly city in America." Her message: "There's no reason to hate us."

A recurring theme in the rally was, to quote Ferndale Mayor Dave Coulter quoting Michelle Obama, "when they go low, we go high," which is to say that ralliers shouldn't return scorn with scorn, but respond to it with love, and action.

No one heckled any of the speakers on Sunday. Had that happened, said TG Detroit member Chelsea Charles Alvarado, 40, the plan was for everybody to turn their backs on the heckler, returning scorn with indifference.

The Human Rights Campaign reports more than 15 trans people have been violently killed in 2017, and 22 were killed in 2016.

Should Trump's tweets become policy, Jay Kaplan, attorney for the ACLU of Michigan's LGBT Project, said litigation would result.

"We have a little thing in the U.S. Constitution called the equal protection clause," Kaplan said. "Rest assured, should that tweet become policy, the ACLU and other organizations stand ready, willing and able to take it to court and to challenge it."