Speaking on the steps of the Rhode Island State House Saturday morning, Payton James, a member of Rhode Island Pride, instructed hundreds of protesters to hold the hands of the people standing next to them. The group had gathered to demonstrate support for transgender rights amid recent news that the Trump administration is considering redefining gender as the “biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth,” the New York Times previously reported. Such a decision would limit the protections transgender people could receive under federal civil rights laws.
Coordinated by trans rights advocacy groups and allies from Rhode Island and surrounding areas, the rally featured speeches from several trans rights activists and allies as well as song and poetry performances. Organizers also invited attendees to speak on protecting trans rights.
The speeches delivered during the rally included a broad range of perspectives from community organizers, writers, artists and parents of trans youth. In addition to articulating the current fears of many transgender people, the speakers addressed other issues such as the importance of voting, the rise of violence toward other marginalized communities and the meaning of strong allyship. They also highlighted how trans people have displayed resilience.
While leading the crowd in a chant of “We will not be erased,” James said the rights of trans people, disabled people and people of color could not be taken away despite the challenging political climate.
“Queer and trans people have long been a community bound together by struggle and survival,” said Ethan Huckel, board president of the TGI Network of Rhode Island — a nonprofit dedicated to serving the transgender, gender-diverse and intersex community.
Though trans people experienced progress after events like the implementation of a statewide educational directive to support transgender students in Rhode Island, Huckel added that “the progress that we have realized is not etched in stone. It is vulnerable.”
Referencing the Trump administration’s ongoing discussions to legally define sex under Title IX, Huckel said, “Conflating sex with gender is factually inaccurate.”
Huckel also pointed out trans peoples’ history of having to advocate for their rights by making psychological, scientific and legal cases for their identity. “Our rights have not been handed to us, we have fought for them,” he said.
These discussions intend “to dismantle those rights by denying us of our humanity,” Huckel added.
TC Rogers, the chair of Options — a Rhode Island-based LGBTQ+ community magazine — spoke about the power of voting to secure long-term progress and safety for marginalized communities.
“Nothing is more important than making sure the human rights of the most marginalized people of this nation are served,” Rogers said.
“The consistent marginalization and dehumanization of people needs to end,” Rogers added, noting that placing trans advocates at the forefront of the trans rights movement would help center their narratives.
Alongside the speeches, several attendees sang and recited poetry. One activist, Justice Gaines ’16, recited a spoken word poem comparing President Trump’s abuses of power to the card game Spades. Pointing out a close resemblance between the administration’s politics and the lying, bluffing and power plays of the game, Gaines said, “When I think of Trump, I think of Spades … (and) how (the administration) would rely on chance instead of strategy, how they would react instead of plan.”
Wendy Grossman said she attended the event to “protest the hate being put forward.”
Grossman referenced her Jewish identity and added that she saw a “connectedness in all of our fights for our human rights.”