Nearly two years ago, a man was televised on stage across the nation. He boldly said, “As your President, I will do everything in my power to protect our LGBTQ citizens from the violence and oppression of the hateful, foreign ideology, believe me.” To massive applause, he said, “And I have to say, as a Republican it is so nice to hear you cheering what I just said. Thank you.” The man was Donald Trump, and he later became the 45th President of the United States.
Moving forward to the present, a group of people yelling proudly and loudly gathered together in a park filled with fun disco and pop music. On Saturday, October 27, the New Orleans Transgender Rights rally kicked off. The rally was organized by the New Orleans Workers Group which describes itself as a “socialist organization of revolutionary workers fighting back against oppression and exploitation in New Orleans.” Held in Lafayette Square off Saint Charles Avenue, the “Stop the Attack on Trans People” event was filled with colorful costumes, strong supporters of transgender rights, and plenty of excitement.
The event came together as a response to an attempt by the Trump administration to “disappear” transgender people by rewriting the laws concerning gender and discrimination. According to documents acquired by The New York Times, the Department of Health and Human Services writes: “The sex listed on a person’s birth certificate, as originally issued, shall constitute definitive proof of a person’s sex unless rebutted by reliable genetic evidence.” Transgender people see this as an attempt to curtail their hard-fought-for rights, and they’re right. If adopted, the proposed definition could exclude transgender people from civil rights protections in access to health care, education, and employment.
According to Dylan of the New Orleans Worker’s Group, “Trump is trying to legally erase the trans community. He’s trying to make it so that sex and gender exclude anything besides male and female based on male and female genitalia, and this completely denies the rights of 1.4 million Americans, and that’s why we’re out here today.” They added, “An attack on one of us, is an attack on all of us.”
Toni, one of the organizers and main speakers leading the demonstration of the event said, “Today we’re out here protesting a recently leaked memo from the Trump Administration. The memo basically revealed that the Trump Administration has plans to remove all definitions from the legal definitions of transgender people that have existed.” She added, “We have heard from the Justice Department that the Trump Administration had talked to the courts and recommended that the courts don’t acknowledge that discrimination against trans people is legitimate.”
I asked Toni if she was surprised, given Trump’s speech two years ago. Toni made it clear she was not.
“Not really, not at all, knowing Trump’s policies. In general, it seems like he is trying to build a base that is Christian Fundamentalist and far-right, so the fact that he doesn’t respect the rights of other people isn’t a surprise at all. I would say the support he showed for the community at the time was more of a fluke than anything.”
Later, Toni and Sally took to the stage in the park, with the statue of slave-owner Senator Henry Clay of Kentucky at their backs. Although Clay spoke negatively of slavery, he retained slaves his entire life and even fought in court against his slave Charlotte Dupuy. Clay won a ruling enforcing her permanent servitude. Sally, one of the other organizers addressed the crowd. “I am standing the shadow of a vile white supremacist, and we’re working on getting that to come down, too,” she said referring to the statue.
“We will not be erased!” Sally added, “I woke Sunday morning, and I saw the news, and my first thought was, ‘They are trying to put us back in the closest.’ I spent 20 years in the closet and I refuse to go back.”
Soon the rally moved from Lafayette Square in a group of at least a hundred people chanting, dancing, and singing. Blocking the entire street, they made their way to Jackson Square, eventually ending near the Moonwalk. Big Easy Magazine filmed the event live; you can see that video here.
While more speeches were made, Dylan summed up the gathering best. “We’re here so that trans people don’t feel alone. So no one feels alone. And so that community works in solidarity with one another.”
Michael David Raso has worked as a writer, editor, and journalist for several different publications since graduating from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. If you like this piece, you can read more of his work here.