January 20, 2019 at 11:22 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro, Jr. and James Wellemeyer
Trans women play visible role in Women’s March
Women's March, gay news, Washington Blade
The National Women’s March on Washington on Jan. 19, 2019, drew thousands of people from across the country. (Washington Blade photo by Lou Chibbaro, Jr.)

Two transgender women gave rousing speeches on the main stage at a rally for the National Women’s March on Washington on Saturday.

The third annual Women’s March and rally took place one day after march organizers released a sweeping 68-page Women’s Agenda document that includes strongly worded support for LGBT equality, including a call for Congress to pass the LGBT rights bill known as the Equality Act.

Organizers said the Washington march was one of more than 300 marches and related events held on Saturday in U.S. cities and abroad in which hundreds of thousands of women and their allies participated.

Due to predictions of inclement weather organizers moved the location of the Washington march and rally from the National Mall to Freedom Plaza in downtown D.C. A shortened march route began at Freedom Plaza and traveled east on Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., to the Trump Hotel at 11th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue before returning to Freedom Plaza.

Thousands of participants filled the street for several blocks and created a scene of a sea of people carrying colorful signs with a wide range of messages, many of which were critical of President Trump. “Abort Trump in the first term,” said one sign. “The Warden is coming,” said another.

Most, however, promoted women’s rights, with many calling for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment.

“We drove down from New York last night because I can’t imagine being anywhere else today,” said a woman who identified herself as Morgan and who was with her friend Michelle.

Both identified themselves as lesbians.

“It was just really important for us to be here,” said Michelle. “We weren’t just going to sit down and let this all happen.”

Most observes familiar with the first two women’s marchers said Saturday’s event drew far fewer people in D.C., New York and Los Angeles than the 2017 and 2018 Women’s Marches. Some observers said the smaller turnout could have been due to a controversy surrounding allegations of anti-Semitism among members of the national Women’s March organization.

But the two trans women speakers at the rally and LGBT participants in the Washington march praised march leaders for bringing together what they called a diverse coalition of progressive organizations and individuals, including Jewish, African American and Latino leaders who strongly support an agenda of intersectionality.

Among the marchers on Saturday was D.C. lesbian activist Robin Kane, who said she has been part of the Women’s March movement since the first march in 2017 and has found it to be welcoming to everyone.

“I’m committed to this intersectional movement,” she said. “We’re at a crisis point in American democracy and this is the alternative, the beautiful intersectional alternative where we’re working together to create the future that we want.”

Harmony, a lesbian who came to the D.C. march from Cincinnati with her friend Abby, said she was hesitant to come at first after hearing reports of possible anti-Semitism among march leaders.

“But I came to the original Women’s March in D.C. in 2017,” she said. “And I’m still marching for those same beliefs, like equal rights for everyone. I think everyone who is still marching and still participating is still for those same principles,” she said.

The two trans speakers, Jewish community activist Abby Stein and Bamby Salcedo, who serves as president and CEO of the TransLatin@ Coalition, were selected along with two lesbians to serve on the Women’s March’s 31-member Steering Committee.

“I’m a trans woman and a Jewish queer,” Stein told several thousand people assembled for the rally at Freedom Plaza and surrounding streets. “I’m here today with my Jewish family and with my LGBTQ and transgender family,” she said.

“Together we are screaming that we are here with every part of who we are,” she said. We are who we are.”

Stein was among a number of Jewish community leaders that urged Jewish women not to withdraw their participation from the march amidst some allegations that one of the march’s national leaders declined to disassociate herself from Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who has made anti-Semitic and homophobic statements in speeches.

Jewish activists supporting the march noted that march leaders, including the one who at one time praised Farrakhan for uplifting African American men but said she strongly disagreed with his anti-Semitic and anti-gay remarks, have spoken out strongly against anti-Semitism and have welcomed Jewish women into the leadership of the march.

“A lot of people out there, a lot of people in the media are trying to divide us,” Stein said at the rally. “But we have stuck together…We’ve stuck together despite our differences,” she said. “What brings us together is our differences.”

Stein concluded her remarks by inviting the audience to join her in a chant denouncing different forms of prejudice and oppression by shouting, “Let it go.”  

“Anti-Semitism,” Stein began the chant, with the crowd shouting, “Let it go!” Her litany continued with, “Transphobia, let it go! Homophobia let it go! Racism let it go! Islamophobia, let it go! Xenophobia, let it go! Ableism, let it go!”

Salcedo, who was accompanied by several other trans women, began her remarks in Spanish before switching to English. She noted that the organization she heads provides services to the transgender community in Los Angeles.

“Today is a historic day not just for me but for many trans women,” she said. “Today trans women are visible to the whole world. We have to proudly raise our voice and say that trans women are women,” she said, drawing loud applause.

“No one, not the government, no individuals, no companies or institutions get to dictate who we are as individuals,” she said. “My truth is that I am a woman and that I belong here…and I thank the Women’s March for honoring that.”

Several other trans women followed Salcedo to the podium and introduced themselves as trans women, saying they too were grateful to be a part of the Women’s March.

Salcedo then concluded her remarks by inviting the audience to join her in another chant, which the crowd enthusiastically joined: “Trans women are women! Trans Women are Women!”

In a gesture that LGBT activists are likely to view as encouraging, members of the audience began their own chant as Salcedo and the other trans women walked off the stage.

“We see you, we love you!” the crowd shouted in unison. “We see you, we love you!”

Other speakers, including Johnnetta B. Cole of the National Council of Negro Women, expressed support for LGBT rights and lesbian and trans women.

“We stand in solidarity with our sisters of all hues,” Cole told the crowd. “We stand with all lesbian, bisexual and trans women.”

At least eight LGBT advocacy organizations, including the National Black Justice Coalition and the Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, signed on as partners of the Women’s March.

The Women’s March Agenda document covers a wide range of progressive causes, including efforts to curtail climate change and the adoption of a Medicare for All approach to a national healthcare system.

Its LGBT rights platform takes an expansive view of LGBT equality.

“We firmly declare that Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Gender non-conforming, and Non-Binary (LGBTQIA+) rights are human rights and that it is our obligation to uplift, expand and protect the rights of our gay, lesbian, bi, queer, trans, two-spirit or gender non-conforming siblings,” the document says.

“This includes access to nonjudgmental, comprehensive health care with no exceptions or limitations; access to name and gender changes on identity documents; full anti-discrimination protections; access to education, employment, housing and benefits; and an end to police and state violence,” it says.

In addition for calling on Congress to pass the Equality Act, which would ban discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity in the areas of employment, housing, and public accommodations, the agenda document calls for Congress to repeal two existing laws regulating prostitution.

“We call for an end to the criminalization of voluntary sex work by adults under federal law, including repeal of the Stop Enabling Sex Traffickers Act (SESTA) and the Fight Online Sex Trafficking Act (FOSTA) in recognition of the fact that sex work offers an important means of survival for some within the LGBTQIA+ community,” the agenda document says.

“Adopting this policy proposal will enable LGBTQIA+ people to lead safer, more fulfilling lives by reducing the extent they are targeted within the criminal justice system and brutalized within the system of mass incarceration,” it says.

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