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Washtenaw County Reflects On The Importance Of Raising The Transgender Flag

Earlier this week, Washtenaw County raised the transgender flag to show support for the transgender community.  The act of inclusion was well-received by those who attended a special ceremony.  89.1 WEMU's Jorge Avellan was there and has the story.

"I think that visibility for everyone is really important, and everyone should be accepted."

Thirteen-year-old Rachel Blough from Ann Arbor is transgender.  The seventh grader smiled as a group of more than 20 community leaders and residents cheered as the transgender flag was raised.  It has five horizontal stripes, two light blue, two pink and one white in the center.

"That was really great to really reinforce that the community really cares about transgender people," said Blough. 

This is the second year that Washtenaw County has decided to raise the transgender flag.  Washtenaw County Commission Chair Jason Morgan said a few words during the ceremony.

"Really, what we are here to do is make sure that everyone in our community knows that Washtenaw County is a welcoming and accepting place," said Morgan.

For Rachel’s mom, Julia Blough, the raising of the flag provides comfort to the transgender community.

"And I think it’s really important, especially for young people to see a message of hope.  I think a lot of gatherings around transgender people are remembrance, and that’s important too, and I know how much pain and sorrow transgender people have gone through, but I think it’s important to show our kids that’s not necessarily going to happen to them.  And that there are so many people locally, across the county and across the country who support them," said Blough. 

The Jim Toy Community Center in Ann Arbor is among organizations that support the transgender community.  Travis Radina is the president of the board of directors for the center.  He says they provide a safe environment where individuals can ask questions without being judged. 

"The Jim Toy Community Center’s 'Know Your Rights Project' partners with the Outlaws of the University of Michigan Law School, and, a couple of times a year, we’ll put on a free clinic dedicated to addressing challenges with name changes for transgender or gender non-conforming people.  And then we’ll also do some other kinds of partnerships throughout the year.  I know when the county rolled out their first county I.D., we did some work around that as well," said Radina. 

Radina says there are no official statistics when it comes to the number of transgender people who live in Washtenaw County.  But he explains a national study from the Williams Institute UCLA School of Lawthat may give somewhat of an estimate.

"Just under 1% of adults, and almost 2% of youth, identify as transgender.  So with about 360,000 people living in Washtenaw County, we can be talking about thousands of people throughout the county," added Radina. 

Washtenaw County Commissioner Jason Morgan says, through community partnerships, local governments can help the transgender community become more visible. 

"We take for granted just how warm and accepting we are as a community.  But it’s not perfect for everyone.  It’s not always the case.  For me for example, as our first openly gay commissioner that we’ve had and our first openly gay chair we’ve ever had, representation and visibility matters.  I don’t talk about these things often because they’re not all of who I am, they are only a part of who I am, but on days like this, I think it’s really really important to be proud of who you are," said Morgan.

Back at the flag-raising ceremony at the county’s administration building, Maggie Madagame, who was among the spectators, gets emotional as she thinks about her transgender son Holden.  In part, the opera singer decided to move to Germany over concerns about safety for transgender people in America.

"Well, I wanted to cry because I feel like he needs everyone’s support.  The family is great, but he needs community, family, and to feel like, I belong," said Madagame. 

The county plans to make the raising of the transgender flag an annual event.

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— Jorge Avellan is a reporter for 89.1 WEMU News. Contact him at 734.487.3363 or email him javellan@emich.edu

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