What Happened To The Trans 100?

The Trans 100 launched in 2013 to recognize “excellence in service to community by trans people and for trans people.” Through an annual national listing and event, it offered a one-of-a-kind opportunity to bring the trans community together. Unlike other acknowledgments, it wasn’t a “top 100” list, rather a way for the trans community to celebrate our collective accomplishments.

From 2013-2015, the event took place on Transgender Day of Visibility (March 31st) and was the only occasion of its kind. Thousands of people watched the annual event and even more read the list. While the larger LGBTQ community has the annual OUT 100 and The Out List, trans people were still left behind. The Trans 100 offered a sense of community that we never had before. The list included lesser-known trans activists alongside now household names like Janet Mock and Laverne Cox.

“Sometimes we’ll be approached by trans children at events who say [the list] encourages them. They’ll tell us, ‘Maybe I’ll be on the Trans 100 one day,’” says former co-director Crispin Torres.

The selection process was unusually accountable: a ballot system reviewed by over 30 people from across the country. They made sure it was truly about contributions to the community rather than a popularity contest. The Trans 100 received 400 nominations in 2015. However, despite the success, popularity, and excitement about community-building, it has been inactive since that year, largely without explanation.

The Trans 100 was co-founded by Jen Richards and Antonia “Toni” D’Orsay in 2013. Richards asked Rebecca Kling and Crispin Torres to co-direct following her move to Los Angeles and new involvement in media in 2015 (Richards, an actress, writer and director, co-created, starred in, and wrote the Emmy-nominated series Her Story the following year).

Kling was highly dedicated to the production and event planning for the Trans 100, while Torres was more involved in the community engagement. Together, they expected to continue nurturing and growing the organization. Trans activist D’Orsay, however, expected to begin working as the sole owner right as the Trans 100 was set to expand that year.

“Toni absolutely had a role in creating the Trans 100,” Kling says. “However, an anti-transgender bill in Arizona kept her from fully participating in the 2013 Trans 100. That’s understandable, but Toni did not actively contribute to the list creation or live event in 2014 or 2015 either. Yet, as Crispin and I were completing the 2015 list and preparing for the live event, Toni unilaterally decided she would be returning to The Trans 100 as the executive director, beginning as soon as the 2015 Trans 100 was complete. Given her multi-year absence, Toni taking over as executive director wasn’t realistic.”

Without an adequate organizational structure, the program was unsustainable. This turned into a struggle of betrayal and broken promises when determining who would be leading the organization itself. Kling and Torres wanted continue as co-directors while D’Orsay wanted sole ownership. This led to a public conflict on social media that eventually caused Kling and Torres to walk away from the Trans 100 altogether.

D’Orsay was adamant about the structure of the Trans 100.

“Rebecca and Crispin did a good job, and I feel nothing but respect for them,” she tells INTO. “We just had differing ideas of how the 100 was assembled.” Now the sole director of the Trans 100, D’Orsay reported spending much of 2014 dealing with an illness that claimed the life of her husband. She says this kept her from having time to put together the lists for 2015-2018, among other conflicts. In 2017, there was an event scheduled that was cancelled at the last minute.

“I would actually love to do it again in Chicago but, as an individual, I don't have the capacity or the skillset to pull it off,” she told The Windy City Times in 2016.

Still, she expresses remorse for not having been able to pull it off. “Nothing has haunted me more in the last few years,” she tells INTO. “Not even my husband!”

D’Orsay says that she has every intention of restarting the list.

“My continuing regret over not being able to hold an event and put together a new 100 continues to drive me, and my life,” she says, “and I welcome aid in building the capacity and structure to solidify and give strength to the Trans 100 moving forward, with full effort on my part to restoring it in 2019, be the event in Chicago or Palm Springs or Phoenix, in and under the mission that guided it originally.”

D’Orsay put a call out for board members in 2016 but says she didn’t receive any responses.

Torres suggests that the struggle for control over something so personal has led to an inability for the Trans 100 to continue. But he also believes this isn’t specific to their organization.

“This isn’t just the Trans 100, this is an issue that happens across the board–particularly with LGBT organizations or activists,” Torres says. “We want to keep our values as close to possible to what we do.”

The Trans 100 didn’t have the structure that made it possible to continue when there was intra-organizational conflict. These fights are very common within queer and trans nonprofits and must always be accounted for beforehand. Many people want all the recognition, even when something is a collective effort. While D’Orsay claimed that she was the rightful owner of the Trans 100, as registered it in Arizona, neither Kling nor Torres could locate any documents accounting for this. The organization remains in limbo over ownership or directorship.

Due to D’Orsay refusing to hand over leadership to anyone else, there will not be an event this year.

“We have been waiting three years for Toni to gather support using the many resources and tools that we willingly handed over to her and yet nothing has happened,” Torres says. “Every year since we stepped down, she has posted on the website or social media that the list will be released and an event will follow with a ‘coming soon’ tagline. Every year, she posts around this time of the year saying that it has not happened but next year will be the year[] I wish the Trans 100 were still around but honestly, I think that unless Toni is willing to pass the leadership along to someone else―which she made abundantly clear in 2016 that was absolutely not an option)―the project will never exist again.”

The future of the organization remains uncertain. To Kling, continuing it looks like creating a network of transgender people around the country.

“The tagline of the Trans 100 was ‘celebrating excellence,’” Kling says. “I wanted to ask how do we shift from ‘celebrating excellence’ to ‘fostering excellence.’”

To Torres, it looks like centering trans youth.

“I would love for it to be youth-run,” Torres says. “I would love for youth to lead it who are involved in efforts already.”

To D’Orsay, it looks like international recognition.

“The long term goal, for me, of the event, was and remains the idea of a traveling event, one that moves from place to place, and that recognizes more than merely Americans,” she says.

As a community, we need to figure out new ways we can celebrate one another whether through an organization or network. No matter what, we can’t just let the Trans 100 fade away.

Eli Erlick

Eli Erlick queer trans woman, PhD student, and director of Trans Student Educational Resources.


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