Today, Friday, March 31, a “Free Speech Bus” sponsored by CitizenGO will stop in New Haven. Having started in New York City, the bus is on an East Coast tour aimed to describe gender as fixed and immutable, and calling any deviation thereof a lie. The bus broadcasts this obviously transphobic message saying “Boys are boys … and always will be. Girls are girls … and always will be. You can’t change sex. Respect all.” A previous version of this campaign also drove through Madrid, Spain, flaunting a slogan stating “Boys have penises, girls have vulvas. Do not be fooled. If you are born a man, you are a man. If you are a woman, you will continue to be one.”
Let’s be clear: The Free Speech Bus is a disguise for a group that feels anxiety, disgust and hatred toward gender-variant individuals. The bus riders’ cisgender identities feel threatened by the notion that someone can feel different from the sex they were assigned at birth. CitizenGO’s Free Speech Bus cloaks antagonistic feelings toward marginalized individuals with the flimsy facade of the First Amendment.
Joseph Grabowski, the leader of the Free Speech Bus, believes that transgender people have a mental disorder and that bathroom-goers should alert business owners when they see a transgender person using a restroom of their preference. Grabowski also thinks transgender people threaten sexual societal norms, and that civil society should exclude transgender identities in public settings.
Unfortunately, the arrival of this tour coincides with other setbacks in the fight for transgender rights. The Supreme Court recently declined to hear Gavin Grimm’s case for bathroom accessibility to transgender high school students in Virginia. The Trump administration has also undone similar President Barack Obama-era policies that allow transgender students equal access to facilities under Title IX. Just yesterday, North Carolina repealed the “bathroom bill,” legislation granting municipalities the right to limit bathroom access in government and public buildings, which includes schools, post offices and courthouses.
While political liberty is a bedrock principle of the United States Constitution, the aggressive prejudice that it masks can incite physical violence and cause extreme emotional damage. Some of transgender individuals then rely on desperate acts of survival or self-harm to cope with a profound emotional burden. Look no further than the fatal fact that two out of five transgender individuals will have attempted suicide in their lifetime. This happens to our community because organizations like CitizenGO — comprised of people who treat our authentic identity as filth — marginalizes us to economic, political and social deprivation.
Personally, I am all too tempted to vandalize the Free Speech Bus. In New York City, protesters spray-painted its orange sides and dented its windshield. But that’s not what our movement is about. Inflicting harm onto others — even bigots like Grabowski — runs antithetical to our group goals. Meeting violence with violence fuels a twisted narrative claiming that the trans community stands on a bedrock of reckless irrationality. Instead, both trans individuals and their allies need to remember that the opposition is, at surface level, a bunch of foolish protesters who rally against people they’ve never met before. On a deeper level, however, these so-called “protesters” are raging cowards perpetuating a fatal message to thousands of vulnerable citizens.
Students of Yale and residents of New Haven have the capacity and moral imperative to stand against this destructive injustice. On Tuesday alone, more than a dozen groups, including Yale’s Luther House and Voke Spoken Word, stood in front of the New Haven courthouse, chanting poetry and affirmations of transgender rights into a megaphone. Today, Trans at Yale will host a Day of Visibility on Cross Campus from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. The Free Speech Bus plans to park close to campus, so we will protest its presence in conjunction with local New Haven groups.
Ultimately, history will be the judge of CitizenGO’s pit stops along the East Coast. Until then, we’ll continue to spread messages of love and develop a grassroots organized machine that relentlessly pushes for rights at the state and national level. This entails establishing caucuses in congressional districts that vote against legislators who support transphobic policy. It also entails higher quality media campaigns and extensive donor lists that draw money from rich liberal elites and average-income citizens alike. Lastly, it entails building a network of caretakers who look after LGBTQ+ youth alienated from their families.
Although it will be frustrating for trans people and our allies to watch this hateful troupe roll through our Elm City, we can take comfort in acknowledging the profound insignificance of this bigotry. This bus is an irritating setback in a larger movement for civil rights defined by unwavering resilience.
Isaac Amend is a senior in Timothy Dwight College. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org .