Members and allies of the transgender community are gathering in Pittsburgh on Thursday to raise awareness about transgender issues.
Events celebrating Transgender Day of Visibility are taking place across the state, including the Steel City at 6 p.m. at the Persad Center in Lawrenceville.
Members of the local transgender community are planning to share their personal stories and how they’ve been affected by discrimination.
"I think that this is a chance for people to really come together," said Daye Pope, transgender rights coordinator with Equality PA. "It can be a teachable moment. If people are curious and they want to learn more and they want to learn how to be a good ally to the community, then they should definitely come and listen."
Pope said the only comparable large-scale holiday is the National Transgender Day of Remembrance, which focuses on violence against the community. This event, which began in Michigan in 2009, is much more uplifting, Pope said.
"We don't have enough chances to celebrate the resilience of the transgender community," she said.
The rallies come as a critical LGBTQIA issue is being debated in several states: the use of bathrooms.
In North Carolina, Gov. Pat McCrory said he has protected his citizens' privacy and used "common sense" by signing into law a bill that prohibits local anti-discrimination ordinances and obligates transgender people to use restrooms matching the gender on their birth certificates.
The law was the product of a special session Republicans called to override a City of Charlotte ordinance allowing transgender individuals to use bathrooms matching their gender identity. McCrory and his aides focused on provisions requiring people to use multi-stall bathrooms of the sex matching their birth certificates at state agencies, schools and universities.
The American Civil Liberties Union is suing the state over the law, and state Attorney General Roy Cooper called it "unconstitutional" and said he will not defend it. The Obama Administration has also condemned the law.
Pennsylvania state and federal laws prohibit landlords, employers and others from discriminating based on race, religion, sex and other characteristics — but not gender identity or sexual orientation.
Pope said that discrimination often goes unnoticed.
"So it's really important for us to shine a light on the issue and show people there's a vibrant transgender community all across the state," she said. "These are people who are willing and ready to work hard but they're not being given a fair chance to do so."
In Pittsburgh, former pastor and Concordia University bioethics and theology professor Scott Stiegemeyer will give a lecture on transgenderism and traditional gender identity April 8 at the University of Pittsburgh's Cathedral of Learning. The event, supported by the Lutheran Student Fellowship, Cornerstone and the Catholic Newman Club, has been criticized as an affront to the transgender experience.
Pitt research assistant Taylor Paglisotti, who is transgender, plans to lead a protest next week. Paglisotti said that by discouraging trans people from getting surgery, Stiegemeyer is encouraging self-harm.
“For me this is a very moral issue, especially as a religious person, to hear that there are (other) religious people telling trans people to do things that would adversely affect their health. I just can’t stand for that.”
Organizers of the Stiegemeyer lecture did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The University of Pittsburgh recently settled a lawsuit brought by a transgender student who said he was wrongfully expelled from its Johnstown campus after a dispute over his use of a men's locker room.
The university now says people are welcome to use "any restroom that correspondents to their gender identity."
Pennsylvania Physician General Rachel Levine will guest speak at the Transgender Day of Visibility event in Harrisburg. Other rallies are planned in Philadelphia, Erie and Pittston.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.