Despite consistent rainstorms, over 300 people gathered in the Parish House of the United Church on the Green for a speakout and rally in solidarity with trans+ and intersex community members on Saturday.
The event followed New York Times reporting that a leaked memo from the Department of Health and Human Services indicated the Department’s intent to define gender as an immutable biological trait under Title IX. The federal civil law protects against sex discrimination in education and other federally financed programs. Under the Department’s proposed definition, gender would be solely determined by one’s genitalia at birth.
“There’s actions happening all across the country right now in response to this Trump administration’s HHS memo, around trying to legislate trans and intersex people out of existence,” said IV Staklo, a co-chair of the event and staff member at Trans Lifeline, a trans-led community aid organization and hotline. “In the New Haven trans community in particular, we have a spirit of not just mourning when we’re attacked, but also fighting back and really celebrating our resilience.”
The New Haven Party for Socialism and Liberation, which seeks to further the cause of socialism, and over 30 partner organizations organized the speakout and rally. Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, Unidad Latina en Acción and True Colors, a Hartford-based nonprofit that provides social services to sexual and gender minority youth, were among other sponsoring organizations.
Yale students also attended in solidarity, and Kellyn Kusyk ’20 spoke on behalf of Trans@Yale — one of the partner groups. Trans@Yale is a student group dedicated to serving the trans+, gender nonconforming and gender questioning students at the University.
Originally set to take place on the steps of the New Haven County Courthouse, the action was relocated indoors to the parish house due to severe weather conditions. At the event, representatives from the organizing groups discussed the implications of the proposed redefinition of gender, as well as the the importance of community unity and action.
“We will resist. We will fight back,” said Chardonnay Merlot, co-chair of the action and organizer with the New Haven Party for Socialism and Liberation. “We will do what we need to do to secure the things that this country promised all citizens. It promises all citizens that no one should be denied equal protection under law, that everyone has rights under law. We are going to hold this nation to the highest promises.”
Merlot and Staklo said that the rally was an opportunity for people to connect with peer resource and support organizations. According to Staklo, calls to the Trans Lifeline hotline have quadrupled over the past few days — in the wake of the Department of Health and Human Services’ leaked memo. Merlot also said that she felt like an “un-person” after reading the document.
Both co-chairs emphasized the necessity for people and groups of all identities to come together.
“We’ve never been able to win anybody’s rights or protect any of the victories that we’ve won in the past divided,” said Staklo. “We need to have a united community in order to defend our rights and expand them and really protect the most vulnerable amongst us.”
CJ, another organizer of the event and member of the New Haven Party for Socialism and Liberation, said that the party has been and plans to continue organizing around trans+ rights — including for the recent Transgender Day of Remembrance. CJ also said the Trump administration’s most recent move to establish a narrow legal definition for gender is “the beginning of something” that the community needs to “confront” early on.
Alex Flynn, a West Haven resident who attended the event, said that it is “unacceptable” for “mostly cis, white men … to define a whole population out of existence.”
Merlot also likened the memo’s proposed policy of genetic testing to arbit disputes about any individual’s gender to Nazi eugenics, calling the memo’s contents “draconian.”
Trans@Yale and the Yale Office of LGBTQ Resources have been organizing community events and directing resources to support the trans+ community this past week as well. Lola Hourihane ’20, president of Trans@Yale, said that the student group has been making posters and creating spaces for “processing and decompression.”
In a statement to the News, Hourihane also said that it was “comforting to … hear people speak about the memo and reaffirm our power to resist it.” However, Hourihane also noted that the crowd at the rally seemed to be smaller and to have more white attendees than at previous rallies.
“We trans+ communities need to ask ourselves why so much of our leadership positions are occupied by white people,” Hourihane said. “We cannot as white trans+ people fail to address and dismantle our own white privilege … It is necessary for the people with the most privilege in a community in a given circumstance to give what they can, acknowledging that trans+ people of color and disabled people may not have the same luxury of time and resources to contribute.”
Merlot also said that the event addresses “the fundamental question” of whether or not our country and communities are “for human rights, or not.”
“There is no in-between,” Merlot said.
The United Church on the Green Parish House is located at 323 Temple St.
Ruiyan Wang | firstname.lastname@example.org .