Nearly 1,000 people gathered outside the State House on Saturday and spoke with one voice: We will not be erased.
The rally, organized by many community groups, was designed to defy the Trump administration’s efforts to define gender as determined by genitalia at birth. The Obama administration broadened the legal concept of gender, recognizing it largely as an individual’s choice.
Now the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is trying to establish a legal definition of sex under Title IX, the federal civil rights law that bans gender discrimination in education programs that receive aid from the federal government.
At the State House, the crowd was a study in diversity, with parents supporting their transgender children; gay, cisgender men and women standing up for their transgender friends, and transgender individuals speaking on behalf of marginalized communities across the country.
The Rev. Donnie Anderson, a transgender woman who publicly transitioned this summer, drew some of the loudest cheers when she said, “I’m Donnie. I’m trans. I’m queer. And I’m going nowhere.”
Anderson, executive minister of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches, said, “After 69 years of confusion, dysphoria and shame, no one is going to erase me.”
There are members of the faith community who love and support transgender people, she said.
“I understand your anger and your hurt,” Anderson said. “Don’t let it ruin your life. Love is always stronger than hate.”
Ryan Welsh, the 2018 Mr. Gay Rhode Island, said there is not only power, but safety, in numbers.
“It’s important that we show ourselves,” he said. “I’m here to show support for a community that is under attack.”
Speaker after speaker described how their rights are being undermined by the Trump presidency.
Ethan Huckel said, “I don’t feel lucky today. I feel weary and anxious and emotionally drained.” But Huckel said the Trump presidency has become a rallying cry in the struggle to survive, and that struggle unites queer and transgender individuals.
Nora Kaplan, another speaker, said fascism is the common thread that links the hatred against transgender individuals and the mass murders of Jewish congregants in Pittsburgh last week.
“A central tenet of Judaism is to repair the world,” Kaplan said. “You don’t have to finish the task. But you can’t give it up.”
Payton James, a member of Rhode Island Pride, led the crowd in a chant that embraced every marginalized group.
“We won’t be erased!” James said.
“Indigenous trans people will not be erased,” James continued. “Black trans people will not be erased. Disabled trans people will not be erased. And people of color will never be erased.”