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Chicago Has A Thriving Transgender Community

Some of America’s most prominent transgender people live here—and they helped make Trans 100 a hit in Rogers Park.

Laverne Cox at Trans100   Photo: Ratko Radojcic

Write a list of some of the most prominent transgender people in the country and you’ll find a great many Chicago names—film director Lana Wachowski, mixed martial arts fighter Fallon Fox (based in Schaumburg, Illinois), ESPN.com baseball writer Christina Kahrl and Against ME! punk rocker Laura Jane Grace, among others.

Given that pedigree, it makes sense that the Trans 100, an annual event celebrating the contributions of trans people in various fields, took place for a second straight year at Mayne Stage in Rogers Park Sunday night.

“Chicago’s really unique in have a large, vital thriving trans community. We’re a major city but we have a Midwestern attitude,” says Jen Richards, who co-founded the event with fellow trans activist Toni D’Orsay last year. “We like to collaborate.”

Richards first got the idea when D’Orsay wrote a whimsical Facebook post about how she’d be number 99 in a top 100 list of trans people last March. “I got on Facebook added some names, went back to bed and then all of a sudden popped back awake and had this vision of what the trans 100 could become for the whole community,” says Richards, a tall, lanky 38-year-old who lives in Albany Park and founded the trans support group site wehappytrans.org.

She called D’Orsay and wehappytrans.com’s web editor and together they came up with a rudimentary nomination site. Within the next 48 hours, they received more than a hundred nominations and the Trans 100 was officially born. Richards and her co-director for this year’s event, Asher Kolieboi, received more than 248 new nominations, and with the help of 25 curators, curtailed the list down to 100.

Last night’s attendees included the writer Janet Mock—whose tense interviews with erstwhile CNN talkshow host Piers Morgan went viral, and billionaire Jennifer Pritzker. The awards show kicked off with a showgirls revue featuring a raucously received lipsync of Beyonce’s “Drunk In Love” and featured musical performances by rapper Kaycee Ortiz.

Former Georgetown University Division One basketball player Kye Allums and Orange is New Black actress Laverne Cox delivered the keynote addresses. (In an interview last night Cox rhapsodized about Chicago’s trans community: “The sense of community and authentic love and support that seems to be happening here in Chicago something that I’ve never seen and I’ve been all over the country. I contrast it with a city like New York, everyone is working so hard, so it’s so hard to see your friends anyway, we have community there but it’s hard to see.”)

Members on the list this year included CeCe McDonald, the transwoman who was recently released from prison after defending herself from an attack and former RuPaul’s Drag Race contestant turned model and actress Carmen Carrera. “We’re so often pigeonholed by media as being a murder victim or a prostitute or a tragedy,” says Richards. “We want to show how much more we are. We’re writers and bloggers and game creators and musicians and doctors and lawyers.”

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