The Trump administration’s bashing of transgender students—rescinding President Barack Obama’s federal guidance that allowed them access to bathrooms and locker rooms consistent with their gender identity — sparked a massive militant protest on the evening of February 23 at the birthplace of the modern LGBTQ movement, Stonewall Place.
More than 1,500 community activists and allies — many new to street protests in the wake of the Trump assaults on the rights of women, immigrants, and LGBTQ people — filled the site of the Stonewall Rebellion of 1969. While that rebellion turned violent against police raiding the Stonewall Inn, the anger Thursday was focused on Trump, his bigoted attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and what we now know is his spineless education secretary, Betsy DeVos, who bowed to Sessions’ determination to roll back transgender rights.
Joann Prinzivalli, a transgender woman, lawyer, and activist, said, “This is a temporary setback. Justice will prevail.”
She and many others are hoping the Gavin Grimm case set to go before the Supreme Court on March 28 will establish once and for all that discrimination against transgender people is sex discrimination under Title IX of federal education statute so that Grimm can finally use the boys’ restroom at his Virginia high school and transgender people everywhere will be protected from discrimination by any federal law barring sex discrimination.
New York City has explicitly prohibited discrimination based on gender identity and expression since 2002. And Governor Andrew Cuomo enacted such protections statewide by executive order that took effect in early 2016. But Prinzivalli and others are demanding that the State Senate — still in Republican hands despite their minority status because of Democrats defecting in the leadership vote — stop blocking GENDA, the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act, which has repeatedly been passed by the Democratic-led Assembly. Linda Rosenthal, a Manhattan assemblymember and a longtime sponsor of the bill, said that during the annual debate on the measure, “all Republicans talk about is where people will go to the bathroom.”
Mel Wymore, a transgender man who leads the new political action organization TransPAC, one of the many groups who pulled together the protest, is also working with the recently-launched United Through Action group that is focused on taking back progressive power in New York State by going after Democratic Senate defectors in the so-called Independent Democrat Conference (IDC) who take perks from the Republican minority they empower. The group also aims to win some Long Island districts in 2018 now represented by Republicans.
“This is a call to action,” Wymore told the crowd. “We must stand up, come out, and we really need to organize and focus on electoral politics and elect officials who will stand up for every child.”
Jillian Weiss, leader of the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund and herself transgender, said she was there “for our trans kids” and noted that while city law and state policy protect their rights, “trans youth often have to sleep on the streets, can’t find jobs, and are hungry,” so there is much work to be done right in New York.
“We must never take things lying down,” Congressmember Jerry Nadler, a West Side Democrat, told the crowd. “We must fight—and it won’t last long if we do — to resist the assault on transgender youth.”
He added, “Title IX will prevail!”
Bryan John Ellicott of Staten Island, who described himself as “one of the first trans men to work in the New York City Council” for out gay Brooklyn Councilmember Carlos Menchaca (who also spoke), said, “We are here to tell the federal government that we New Yorkers are fighters!”
Also speaking were Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, Chelsea Assemblymember Dick Gottfried, out Councilmember Jimmy Vacca of the Bronx, and out West Village Assemblymember Deborah Glick, who said, “First they go after transgender youth, then all LGBT youth.”
Former State Senator Tom Duane, with Glick one of the earliest out LGBTQ elected officials, said simply, “Trump is a goddamned liar,” having tried during the campaign to sound as if he was okay with transgender people accessing appropriate bathrooms (except when he wasn’t).
Sasha Washington, a trans woman with Community Kinship Life, castigated “all these non-profits that use us to get their numbers and won’t even get us the housing and jobs and living we need.”
Lorenzo Van Ness, a trans man and human rights specialist at the City Commission on Human Rights, said, “I am saddened our civil rights are left to the states,” but emphasized that New York City has one of the strongest and broadest human rights laws in the country.
Queer activist Andy Velez, a veteran of ACT UP, said, “I’m here because we do not have to send for whom the bell tolls, it tolls for us.”
Progressive activist Daniel Roskoff, a longtime ally of the LGBTQ community, said, “We will not be silenced by Trump-Pence bashing and bigotry. We all have to resist.”
Chris Cooper, a longtime gay activist who is African-American, said that letting the states decide how to treat transgender students as the Trump administration says “sounds reasonable” to some until they remember that America used to “let the states decide what water fountain to drink out of” in the days of legal segregation.
Erin Joenk, 28, of Brooklyn, held a sign reflecting that sentiment, and said she was there because she “heard that our government was attacking children. I have friends who are trans. I don’t know why people are so upset about bathrooms. It makes zero sense.”
I was pulled aside by the Henners — Gail and Howard, married 55 years and Village residents — who wanted me to know why they had joined the protest.
“Everything this man [Trump] is doing is a re-enactment of Hitler,” said Gail Henner, who was very heartened by the energy of the rally.
Adam Younger, 24, an NYU graduate student, said, “I came out as gay a year ago” after ending a relationship with a woman. He has now thrown himself into the LGBTQ movement through the new Rise & Resist and other groups, learning about ACT UP from veterans such as Alexis Danzig. He was conscious of the leadership role transgender people played at Stonewall 48 years ago.
Thomas Krever, the CEO of the Hetrick-Martin Institute for LGBTQ youth, posted on Facebook after the rally that it had been “an emotional day... so deeply sad to see how an administration can focus its energy on bias and bigotry; on fear and ignorance... on preying on our most vulnerable of our country... children... But tonight I stood with thousands in solidarity for our transgender and gender liberated youth. Tonight I was heartened to see my community –– and those who are allies –– rise above, and come together, in support and solidarity. This is the America I was taught to believe in... this is the America I will stand for.”