A recently leaked memo, obtained by The New York Times, revealed that the Trump Administration, in conjunction with the Department of Health and Human Services, has plans to roll back Obama-era protections for trans people and institute a policy that narrowly defines gender as “male” or “female” based on a person’s assignment at birth through biological determiners such as genitalia. In response, the Party for Socialism and Liberation CT issued a call to action to say that the trans community will not be erased.
On Oct. 27, various groups and people from the New Haven, CT, area came together for a rally at United Church on the Green to speak out against this cruel new policy proposal and show support for trans and intersex people. Roughly 200 people packed into the room to listen to the event speakers.
PSL CT member and Trans Lifeline volunteer Chardonnay Merlot kicked off the event with a passionate speech. She began by detailing the fear she felt that morning upon hearing of the memo. “I happened to click on something in one of my news feeds on my computer, and it was The New York Times. And they were talking about this memo. This memo that basically said you are a non-person. You’re not American. We don’t even think you’re human. We are going to erase you from our schools, from your workplace, you will not get health care. Simply put, you don’t exist, unless you exist the way we say you do, and since you’re not going to do that you don’t exist. I was scared.”
But after she spoke of the fear she felt, she went on to talk about how through volunteering at Trans Lifeline and meeting with other people in the trans community at the New Haven Pride Center she found others who were just as scared and angry, and who were ready to fight back. “In case you didn’t get our memo, we will not go quietly into the night. We are here, and we are not going away,” Merlot said.
Co-chair IV Staklo spoke about the services that Trans Lifeline provides and how this organization helps members of the trans community deal with attacks on their personhood, such as the one being proposed by HHS. “When I heard about this memo, my first thought was, ‘How is my immediate trans community doing? How are we holding up?’ And then my second thought was ‘Oh no, we’re gonna get a lot of calls.’ And then my third thought was, ‘No, this is good that we’re gonna get a lot of calls.’” They stressed the importance of community and preventing isolation and trans suicide through trans unity in the face of these struggles.
Church Deacon, Lisa Koskelowski, came with a message of self-love: “Being transgender, being non-binary, or intersex does not make you less valuable. At times people have used God as a justification for their bad behavior. If anyone has offended you in God’s name, I’m sorry. I’m sorry for the hurt, I’m sorry for the pain. I’m sorry for them having you feel that you are less of a person. I’m sorry for having you feel that God could love you any less. God loves you just the way you are.”
Trans at Yale speaker Kellyn took a moment to acknowledge the indigenous Quinnipiac lands where we stood and called on cis allies and white trans people alike to show up for the Two-Spirit community and trans people of color.
Paige, a youth LGBTQ rights organizer, wanted to highlight some of the positive things going on for the LGBTQ community in spite of much of the negative. “For the first time in my life, I’ve seen really intentional discussions about important topics like identity, tolerance, intersectionality, and injustice happening in schools.”
Sophia from the Waterbury Mutual Aid and Defense Network made a call for more people to be active in their communities throughout the state, not just in big cities, and said that we need to build a system that works for all of us.
Patrick Dunn of the New Haven Pride Center, who is co-organizing the upcoming Trans Day of Remembrance, let the crowd know that the Pride Center stands with them and that the doors are always open for input from the trans community.
Emmett, an organizer with Socialist Action, gave some insight into ruling-class fears of trans people. “Members of the ruling class seek to silence our identities because they know that we are empowered by the recognition and affirmation of these identities.”
People’s Congress of Resistance delegate and trans rights activist Maia Leonardo talked about street movements born from struggles against oppression and their power to make real change.
Reid Miller from Black & Pink, an organization that fights for the rights of LGBTQ prisoners, spoke about the plight of trans prisoners and efforts being made to help them such as offering pen pal support and pushing for prisoners’ rights legislation.
Raven Matherne, Stamford’s first transgender elected official, spoke about their views on voting: “As a politician, I know it’s kinda my job up here to say stand up and vote. But I view that as a minimum requirement for participating in this society. Voting isn’t enough.” They encouraged the crowd to become leaders in their community not just by voting, but by knocking on doors and speaking to people.
Leah Juliette, founder of March Against Revenge Porn, detailed many of the oppressive laws and policies that are imposed on the trans community throughout the country, and encouraged trans people to get elected to office to fight these bigoted laws.
Patrick Comerford from CT Equality called upon allies to amplify the voices of the trans community and non-gender conforming people within organizing.
PSL CT member Chardonnay Merlot closed out the speaker portion with a few more words on class unity. “Do not let them divide you with this memo. Instead, we have to send the memo. And the memo we’re going to send is simple. We will unite. We will stand together. Teachers, doctors, lawyers, the working class of this country.”
The organizers allowed a few minutes for people in the crowd to come up to the microphone and share their experiences and encouraged people to make connections with others before leaving.
Mass movement needed
While this event was a success, New Haven’s trans community isn’t stopping here — groups are committed to building a mass movement in support of trans and intersex people. That movement includes demands for housing, jobs, and a complete dismantling of these violent systems of oppression. On Nov. 20, PSL CT will be co-sponsoring a Trans Day of Remembrance rally in New Haven, CT, with the New Haven Pride Center. The rally will be the final event in a week of events celebrating trans resilience. Trans Day of Remembrance is a day observed annually to mourn the loss of trans lives as a result of transphobic violence.