The transgender community weighs in on billboard fiasco

. August 18, 2015.

On August 3rd, Denny Schaffer, radio talk show host of Star 105.5 FM was the subject of a billboard at 5020 Monroe St. across from Franklin Park Mall, depicting a parody of Caitlyn Jenner’s infamous Vanity Fair July 2015 cover. The billboard showed Denny Schaffer dressed in drag with the slogan, “Transition to 105.5,” and the tagline, “and don’t call me Caitlyn.”

Sparking a citywide debate and gaining attention from national news outlets, including popular blogger Perez Hilton, the billboard was a catalyst for members of the transgender community to vocalize thought on why billboard is harmful and the effects it could have on transgender youth.

Gaining local perspective

In an interview with local news channel 13 ABC, Lillian Briggs, a 29-year old trans-woman from Toledo made her thoughts of Denny Schaffer and the billboard quite clear.“When I first saw the billboard, I felt hurt. But even more, I felt fear for younger transgenders.”

According to statistics, more than 50% of transgender youth will attempt suicide at least once before their 20th birthday. Lillian Briggs notes that the billboard did not come off as a joke— instead, she believes, it promotes bullying within the younger transgender community.   

For Briggs, being a strong voice in the community is nothing new. She’s been a part of the LGBT Homeless Initiative for the last 5 years, continuing to promote acceptance through public speaking. According to Briggs, personal stories are the key to educating the public on the struggles of minorities, in particular the LGBT community. Adding that, “Telling our stories is what works best. It is usually what people can relate to the most. I love when people ask me questions about my experience, it’s like, I’m so glad you asked that,”

Briggs’ activism displays a different way to communicate about the transgender community through better understanding. Briggs says, “Serve as an acting ally. Be supportive without trying to fully experience their life. Ask how they identify and what pronouns they use. If nothing else, there is a plethora of internet resources to use.”

Reaching beyond Toledo

The billboard caused quite a stir in Toledo, and perhaps more importantly, people nationwide have seen it, commenting on how it reflects on Toledo and our citizens.

Britt Couturier, a 21 year old trans-man from Kennebunk, Maine saw the billboard and commented, “When I first saw this billboard, I thought to myself how desperate this radio station must be to gain listeners if they have to resort to bullying as an advertising tactic. When you advertise Caitlyn Jenner, you are also advertising the trans community because Caitlyn is speaking and representing the many voices that are far too often ignored.”

He continued to say, “I understand that a joke is “just a joke” and this is supposed to be funny, but the life that transgenders have to endure, isn’t. Just think about how transgender youth would feel when they saw that billboard. Just think how any child who sees adults bullying other adults may feel. We preach to children to be themselves and treat others the way they would like to be treated, but yet we tend to practice differently.”

“Caitlyn Jenner, the transgender community, and I, don’t transition for anyone’s entertainment. Transitioning isn’t a science experiment, it’s us being brave enough to be ourselves in this harsh and uneducated society. People fear what they don’t understand, and that has shown tremendously when it comes to the treatment towards the trans community, including Caitlyn Jenner.”

Couturier is a college student at the University of Maine at Farmington and an active member of the trans community there. Annually, he creates and hosts a presentation titled “In Transit” which helps educate those who may not be informed about the trans community.

Its time to start a new conversation with the transgender community. Instead of trivializing their lives for attention or entertainment, we must educate ourselves and serve as acting allies for a community that is ready and willing to open up and show that they deserve and appreciate the same respect as everyone else.