The Fire’s performance against St. Louis CITY SC on Saturday might be termed a “statement win” – about how the team could play against a rival, about how it would play under interim Head Coach Frank Klopas, but it didn’t take 90 minutes on the pitch for a statement to be made at Soldier Field.
Five words on a white overhead banner, in black along with the pale blue and pink used in the most recognizable transgender flag, sent a powerful, optimistic message in support of trans people in the moments before the match started – and optimism was by design, according to Meredith Miklasz, a St. Louis native and Chicago Fire supporter.
Miklsaz, who is non-binary, says they conceived of the banner just two weeks ago while texting a friend from St. Louis – a St. Louis CITY SC supporter – about the lack of visible support for the trans community amongst soccer supporters in this country, even as a number of states have enacted or proposed anti-trans policies recently, including their birth state of Missouri.
“Last week, ahead of the game, legislation was passed [in Missouri] that effectively bans gender-affirming care for trans kids and bans them from participating in sports,” Miklasz explained, “laws that would basically just not allow [trans] people to be themselves,” noting that the bills – now on the desk of Missouri Gov. Mike Parson, who has expressed support for the legislation – come on the heels of actions by Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey that severely restrict access to gender-affirming care for trans people in his state, children and adults, despite opposition to such actions from medical groups including the American Medical Association.
“I was determined to do something about it,” they said, and the idea for the banner came quickly. “I’ve done design work in the past for groups, for soccer and activism, and I try to pull from old protest slogans and queer ancestors for wording, but [my friend] Hannah directed me to a piece that was commissioned for the Trans Day of Remembrance in 2019 by an artist named Kah Yangni and a poet Via E.”
“And I really liked the message in it, which is: trans freedom is adventure, is endless. Even though things feel really bleak and hopeless right now, I think it’s important to retain optimism and a fighting spirit and celebrate the beauty of being trans and the resilience and strength that comes along with being trans.”
Content decided, Miklasz went to work, but the initial plan was for a smaller banner. “I contacted my friend Marty [Tomszak] from WB05 [Supporters’ Group], and he was like, why don’t you just do an overhead tifo? Like, go big. And I was like, ‘Yeah, let’s do an overhead tifo,’ not realizing what I had signed up for. I knew what an overhead was, but seeing one and making one is a different thing.”
Creating the tifo was a team effort. Tomszak told Miklasz how much fabric they’d need – 90 yards, making the tifo just shy of 1000 square feet – and arranged for space at Metropolitan Brewing for painting. Miklasz and fellow supporter Nicole Hack approached Carrie Alldredge, Director of Finance for Section 8 Chicago, the Independent Supporter’s Association, who arranged for a donation link through Section 8’s website to defray the costs of fabric and paint.
“We managed to raise the funds in just a few hours. It was people from Chicago, people from outside of Chicago, people from St. Louis. It wasn’t just a Chicago effort, it was a soccer community in the US effort, which is really great to see,” Miklasz said.
Painting would take place over the course of one evening, with many hands involved. Photos of the process make the sheer size of the banner clear in a way that it isn’t in a massive stadium. They were thankful of those that showed up and helped, including “Carrie [who] sewed it all together, Marty, his brother Jake, Jake Campbell from Redline Supporter’s Group, Nick Mann from Black Fires [SG], a really wonderful young kid named Harrison and his mom, they were so sweet.” The process, according to Miklasz, stretched to 1:30 in the morning.
Since the tifo went up – visible in pregame coverage on Apple TV – the response, Miklasz says, has been overwhelmingly positive despite a few reactions from “trolls and reactionaries,” as Misclasz termed them. “The Fire community has been overwhelmingly positive and supportive, because it empowers us to do more things like this in the future, knowing that the community has our back when it comes to trans rights. We’ve gotten positive support from St. Louis CITY supporters, trans people and organizers in Missouri, so it’s just been an outpouring. I’m happy we’ve been met with such a positive response, back in St. Louis, and made an impact in Missouri as well. I hope Andrew Bailey saw it himself.”
Their message, in the end, is “they want members of our community who are trans, future members of our community that are trans to know that we as a supporters community, have their backs in the stands.”