Perseverance, strength and power were on display Thursday at Philadelphia City Hall, where the transgender flag was raised amid celebrations of trans triumphs and calls for continued resistance to oppression.
The third-annual ceremony included remarks by city officials and organizers of the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference. Director of LGBT Affairs Amber Hikes read a city proclamation marking Thursday as Trans Flag-Raising Day, and heralding the conference, now in its 16th year.
Hikes noted that the event was begun by trans women of color and, in its first year, had five presenters and 70 attendees; this week's event features more than 250 workshops, drew 4,500 participants and is the largest conference of its kind in the world.
Many attendees marched in unison to the ceremony from the conference.
Avery Dickerson and Felicia Francois had just been at a panel on trans history. The North Carolina residents said they were impressed by the trans-friendliness of the city, and are thinking of moving here.
"I think people can bring back knowledge and information on how to affect their home areas," Francois said about attending PTHC and the flag-raising ceremony, "especially in places like North Carolina."
"People in the Bible Belt actually do feel the way it's portrayed," Dickerson added.
Philadelphia was the first city to raise the trans flag at a municipal building, and many speakers remarked on the city's history as a trans-inclusive place.
Hikes noted that the city's nondiscrimination law has been inclusive of gender identity since 2002 and recalled recent legislative efforts like the municipal gender-neutral bathroom law and the trans-affirming Philadelphia School District policy.
"Philadelphia is a city that values trans people," said PTHC co-chair Janis Stacy. "With this flag, we're making a statement and we're going to do it boldly and openly."
"Philadelphia is a city of activists," added Mayor Jim Kenney, "and trans people have always led that charge. I want you to know we stand behind you. We see you, we hear you and we love you."
Following the ceremonial raising of the flag, which will remain flying through the end of PTHC on Saturday, Hikes welcomed special guest Gavin Grimm.
After being banned from the boys' bathroom at his high school in Gloucester, Va., Grimm filed suit. His case reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which earlier this year punted it back to a lower court, citing recent guidance from the Trump administration that overturned protections for trans students.
"Had I lived in a town that was as affirming as Philadelphia or had laws that were so trans-friendly as here in Philadelphia, I would not have had this problem," Grimm said. "If we had a mayor like Mayor Kenney, I would not have had this problem, and neither would trans youth in Gloucester or in conservative areas."
Despite the SCOTUS setback, Grimm noted that the case is "still alive, still ongoing."
"The trans community will not be held back by this administration," Grimm said. "We are powerful, we are colorful and we are many. We will absolutely persevere."
Resisting Trump's trans-restrictive moves was a theme echoed throughout the event.
"Together we are strong and no one can drag us apart," Kenney said. "I don't care who he is and what he says; we're going to fight every step of the way. I've never liked a bully and I'm not going to stop now."
"We have a long road ahead of us but we are fighters," added Naiymah Sanchez, trans-advocacy coordinator at the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania. "We've been on the front lines since day one, fighting not just for our rights, but for everyone's."
Hikes led the crowd of about 125 in a chant of "We will resist."
"Number 45 is launching attacks on our community, people of color, women, immigrants, poor people, people with disabilities and trans people too. Honey, he's messing with the wrong ones," Hikes said to applause. "He's trying to bring hard times; does he think we don't know about hard times? We say, 'Bring it.' We've come through every single hard time that's ever been thrown at us stronger and tougher than ever before. Don't back down."