Transgender choirs unite to celebrate the brilliance and resilience of their community in historic and heartfelt concert

Choir members wearing t-shirts with a heart on in the colours of the trans flag

Trans Day of Resilience – observed alongside Trans Day of Remembrance – will this year see an unprecedented concert staged by six trans-affirming choirs.

On Trans Day of Remembrance, we remember and honour the transgender siblings who we have lost this year.

Founded in 1999 by Gwendolyn Ann Smith, a transgender woman, to memorialise the murder of Rita Hester in Allston, Massachusetts, it’s since evolved into a day on which all trans people lost are remembered, and on which attention is drawn to transphobic violence.

Counting the number of trans people lost in the previous year is one way of doing this. Vigils are held by trans communities around the world. The names of those killed – overwhelmingly trans women of colour – are read out.

We mourn and remember them on a day that, sadly so rarely for a trans-related day, is usually respected by wider society. Not always – last year, three politicians tried to organise an anti-trans event at the Scottish parliament featuring transphobic speakers on TDOR – but usually.

In recent years, there’s been a shift from a day of remembrance to one also of resilience. Originally coined in 2015 to celebrate trans artists of colour, by a youth group in New Orleans called Breakout, the idea has gained traction.

This year, a new and unprecedented event in the US wants to celebrate the resilience of the trans community. It’s called ROSES: The Past, Present, and Future of Trans Resilience, and will see six trans-affirming choirs join together to create a live virtual performance on November 21.

Made up of THEM Youth Ensemble in Arizona; shOUT: Minnesota’s Trans and Gender Diverse Voices; Trans Chorus of Los Angeles; Phoenix: Colorado’s Trans Community Choir; Spectrum Singers (Spokane, WA); and the choirs of Transpose PDX (Portland, OR), the event is free but accepting donations, which will go to trans-led, trans-serving community organisations Black and Pink and the Okra Project.

PinkNews spoke to Nicky Manlove, the director of THEM Youth Ensemble, ahead of the historic Trans Day of Resilience performance.

PinkNews: Is this the first time all these choirs have joined up for this event to celebrate trans resilience? How did that come about?

Nicky: This is the first time that so many trans-led, trans-affirming choirs have joined for a project like this. Our collaboration really got started from the basic idea that all of our virtual programming made it possible to build connections and work together in ways that wouldn’t have been possible if we had all been rehearsing in person.

I think it also came from the desire to do something generative and life-giving in the middle of a number of crises that have emerged in the past few months. I think we all share a belief that moments of intense challenge can be powerful opportunities to build stronger connections with each other.

What can attendees expect?

We are so thrilled that our performance has so many performance types. All of the performers submitted videos for two “virtual choirs”, and then each choir submitted a performance video of their own.

We’re also joined by stand up comedians Jaye McBride and D’Lo, and will have a number of spoken-word performances by members of the different ensembles.

Connecting with community is so important, especially this year – could you talk a bit about how you’ve made this event as accessible as possible?

Access is such an important pillar of queer/trans events, and one that we have taken very seriously. The entire performance will have closed captions in English and Spanish. All new material (videos that were made specifically for this performance and aren’t replays of existing material) will also have on-screen ASL interpretation.

Also, because we chose to stream this event on YouTube rather than another concert platform, there’s no cost to attend the event. We’ve seen a discouraging trend of (sometimes high) ticket prices for queer/trans events that leave a lot of people out, and we are committed to the value of having this event be for and by queer/trans people.

Why is it so important to celebrate trans resilience?

I think that learning anything about our history pulls us into a profound celebration of trans resilience. In the very introduction to the concert I talk about Marsha P Johnson, whose middle initial stood for “Pay it no mind”. Marsha faced so many intense challenges as Black disabled trans woman, and still the iconic image of her that we have is one where she is crowned in flowers, and one can almost hear her saying: “Pay it no mind!”

Marsha was a revolutionary organiser and her work demonstrates what I think is at the heart of trans resilience: brilliant creativity, radical hospitality with our chosen family, and abundant joy in spite of hostile conditions.

In an interview with Black and Pink executive director Dominique Morgan, which will air during the performance, she says: “No candidate [for US president] is going to have Black trans women at on the list of people who matter.” She goes on to say that our response to this reality is to build solidarity and community with one another so we can protect and care for each other as we always have.

Are there other events, organisers or organisations that you drew inspiration from for the event?

For me personally, so much of the inspiration for this performance concept (and the name itself) came from Miss Major’s famous quote from a few years ago: “Give us our flowers while we’re still here.”

As a team and as a large group of trans performers, we talked about what it means for us to celebrate our own brilliance, even as many of us are struggling more intensely than ever with financial challenges, and also struggling with some of the same systems of violence that have existed for centuries like white supremacy and heteropatriarchy.

As a part of our event, we’re raising donations to cover our costs and all proceeds will be delivered to two Black trans-led, Black trans-serving organisations Black and Pink and The Okra Project.

We’ve been so honoured and excited to learn about these two orgs and have some conversations with them and we think the best way we can demonstrate trans resilience in action is to actively share some resources among our community.