By Miriam Mimi Madrid
A student-led walkout and march organized by six Transgender high school students brought a crowd of about 80 supporters to Civic Center Park on Feb. 27, 2017.
Students, parents and allies with posters and Trans pride flags stepped off from Sunken Gardens Park and marched northbound on Broadway Boulevard towards the State Capitol. They held signs that read, “Respect Existence or Expect Resistance” and “Trans Rights are Human Rights.” Noor Neri one of the student organizers said, “Trans folk deserve bathroom rights, that should be a given and [administrators] should be fighting for us.”
Organizers’ original plans to demonstrate at the Capitol were deterred when they learned about a pro-Trump Rally organized by Spirit of America taking place at the same time. Immediately organizers changed their route in stated fear of violence and a desire to keep the group safe and protected.
Student organizers instead headed towards the amphitheater at Civic Center Park to continue planned programming. Nezahual Coyotl also a student organizer said, “We didn’t want to put people in danger by engaging with the Trump rally. They have a reputation for violence.”
Retired teacher from La Junta,Colorado, Betty Blanco, is listed as the event organizer for the pro-Trump Rally. On Facebook the event page reads, “This event post is for adults and Trump supporters only.”
The students’ decision to organize followed President Trump’s actions on Feb. 22, to reject his predecessor’s position on nondiscrimination laws. Those laws require schools to allow protections for transgender students to use bathrooms that match their gender identity in schools.
Title IX, the federal law that protects students from sex discrimination, issued guidelines in 2014. The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights formalized the guidelines which included transgender students as those protected from discrimination in schools.
That same day a group of friends who all identify as Trans lined the halls of their school with posters and messages that read, “Protect Trans Students” saying that they hoped to educate the student body about issues of safety impacting Trans students.
Knowing that most of the posters would be ripped down students taped a message to the wall behind the original posters that read, “You’ve committed a violent act of transphobia.” The students said that their actions were a subversive way to further drive the importance of solidarity with their struggle. Some administrators expressed disapproval with their actions saying that the messages were too political for school.
In response to this experience, Neri and Coyotl’s group of friends including Theo Henderson, Lucien Herzog, Timothy Carter, Lili Phetteplace and Robyn decided to take their organizing to the streets.
Students from Greeley and Boulder also walked out in order to join the Denver students. Jesse Pallister and Hannah Duran who both travelled from outside of Denver said they thought the most powerful part of this action was that it was created and organized completely by students.
Pallister who identifies as a Transmasculine gender-non-binary person and uses the pronoun “they” said that because they pass as feminine, they are comfortable using the women’s bathroom, but were there in support for other Trans folks who were not. Pallister expressed a desire to be a “voice of support.”
The march had resounding support and solidarity from family members and other community organizations such as Black Lives Matter, Survivors Organizing for Liberation, Buried Seedz of Resistance, American Indian Movement – Colorado Chapter and others.
Similar walkouts, rallies and actions have been reported in Dallas, Washington D.C. and New York City. On Sunday, a group of LGBTQ activists and their supporters held a Queer dance party outside of the Trump Tower in New York City in protest saying that they wished to “hold joyous space for each other in times of isolation and hate.”
Celebrities across the nation have also voiced their support for Trans students’ rights including Lavern Cox, Ellen DeGeners, Sia, Alica Keys and Lady Gaga among others. The celebrity Beyoncé took to social media the day after President Trump’s decision to share her support. Her tweet read, “#LGBTQ students need to know we support them.”
In Colorado, Transgender students are still protected under an anti-discrimination law that was expanded in 2008. Under Senate Bill 200 the expansion added both “sexual orientation and transgender status” to the identities protected under the law.
Coyotl said that even under state protection Trans students are still a target for violence and discrimination. To other Trans young people he advised to keep resisting and more importantly to keep each other safe. “If we don’t keep each other safe there will be no one left to fight. If there’s no one here to fight, this oppression will not change.”
Last year marked the deadliest year for Transgender people in the US with a total of 27 reported murders. The majority of victims were trans women of color. Seven trans women of color have been murdered in just the first two months of 2017.
Survivors Organizing for Liberation (SOL), a LGBTQ support organization, runs an English and Spanish 24-hour Hotline for any LGBTQ survivors to report violence or discrimination. SOL connects callers with resources for safety and wellness. The hotline number is 1-888-557-4441.
In concluding the action, Neri said that for Trans youth, “It feels like the world is falling apart and that you won’t make it. But we will. I have your back. Thousands of people have your back, I promise you. That’s from one Trans kid to another. We will make it.”