On Wednesday afternoon, several dozen people gathered around the Bell Tower, laughing and drawing with chalk. Passer-bys were welcomed with bright cartoon frogs and trans pride flags as the Students For Trans Awareness and Rights’ rally kicked off.
“I’m here because I’m here,” said Ava Grassi, a freshman computer science major. “Because I am queer. And I like having rights. And also, come on, they have like chalk, they have good music. My friends are here.”
Students for Trans Awareness and Rights, a student organization aimed at advocating and creating a community for queer students, held a rally for the Trans Day of Action at the Bell Tower on Wednesday. Students gathered at the event to listen to speeches from fellow students, activists and political candidates, and march across campus to show the strength of the trans community.
“Honestly, it means a lot because it’s like until this moment, I never really truly got to be out myself in public like unapologetically and very loudly,” Grassi said. “I remember being in turmoil with my gender for a while, and this is the culmination of that, I am truly myself. I am out, I am proud. No one can take it from me.”
Kal Brown, a senior psychology major and a member of STAR, spoke at the event about how he was unsure how to be himself and was uncertain about his life’s trajectory.
“And coming to Temple has really shown me that there is a community and space for me, that there’s support for me to be myself, to have friends and true allies.” Brown said. “And I live my life, do basic things like ‘Hey, I want my name to be Callahan!”’
Elijah Wagner, senior social work major and member of STAR, also spoke about the positive change the trans community has made in his life.
“Once I found my trans people, my life got so much better,” Wagner said. “I felt so much happier. I felt so much more confident in myself and my body and the way that I present myself and it’s truly been like a life changing experience.”
Students and community activists discussed fighting against discrimination and division and expanding rights for LGBTQ+ people while finding queer joy and community.
Candidates for office, including Temple Student Government candidate Eryal Szyszko and candidate for City Controller Alexandra Hunt (D). Both spoke about their intention to be allies to the trans community if elected.
“Transness could never be eradicated or uprooted because our roots are deeper in the ground than any man could ever reach,” said Jackson Burke, and STAR’s president. “There is no future without trans people. If you killed every trans person on this planet today, another one wouldn’t be born tomorrow, and a dozen more next week, and hundreds more within a few days, because we are a part of nature.”
The rally was important to Burke because students need to show their collective power by gathering and protesting in the face of anti-trans legislation.
Especially in Philadephia, students need to come together and take a stand for the trans community to create a better world, added Burke, a senior ceramics major.
Kendall Stephens, trans advocate and senior studying public health and social work, also spoke at the rally where she highlighted the importance of trans visibility.
“This is what visibility means,” Stephens said. “Visibility means that no one can take away your power, your thunder, your will to live, your will to survive, survive and thrive.”
Stephens called for more gender-affirming bathrooms, menstrual products in every bathroom and greater recognition of trans people within the university.
Stephens and Burke led the crowd in a march around campus, chanting for trans rights, health care and pride.
A group of friends held hands during the march, while others waved pride flags. Then, the rally returned to the Bell Tower and dissipated, leaving the chalk art behind. Some stayed behind to draw more, expressing joy in their shared identity.
As the event came to a close, Charles Schiffer, a sophomore political science major, reflected on its impact.
“It’s nice to just be able to see like trans joy and like trans and non-binary and queer people just showing up and just having fun and having a good time and covering the bell tower area and chalk, which is delightful,” Schiffer said. “And I just think it’s cool. Like people get to see that we’re still here. We’re not going away. We’re not being scared.”
Burke closed the rally with the words of a trans woman the community recently lost to suicide.
“So in the words of Eden Knight” Burke said, “‘I hope that the world gets better for us. I hope our people get old. I hope we get to see our kids grow up and fight for us. I hope for trans rights worldwide.’”
STAR will be hosting their next event, an annual art show in honor of Trans Day of Visibility, from March 27 to April 4 at Tyler School of Art and Architecture.