Demonstrators rallied outside the White House on Monday to protect transgender rights in response to reports that the Trump administration was considering a proposal that would narrow the definition of gender and roll back civil rights protections for the LGBT community.
Over a hundred people waved pride flags and held signs, while protesters chanted, “Stand up, fight back!” and a slate of speakers addressed the crowd.
The rally was organized in response to an unreleased memo obtained by the New York Times that reportedly details an effort by the Department of Health and Human Services to define sex under Title IX, a federal law that bans gender discrimination in education programs receiving government funds. The proposed definition would outline gender as either male or female, unchangeable and based on a person’s genitalia at birth.
The proposed definition would eliminate federal recognition of transgender and nonbinary Americans who do not identify with their assigned gender. Such people were recognized under several Obama-era policies, and a potential new federal definition could mean they would be excluded from civil rights protections under the statute.
Reaction to the report in The New York Times was swift. The hashtag #WontBeErased spread quickly across social media Sunday as transgender and nonbinary people and community allies voiced their resistance to the proposed definition and advocated for transgender visibility and rights. A rally also took place in New York on Sunday evening.
The D.C. demonstration, which was held around lunch time, was organized by a coalition of LGBT rights groups including the Human Rights Campaign and the National Center for Transgender Equality. Speakers from several organizations shared personal experiences and vowed to fight against the administration’s policies.
It was an emotional event for many transgender people and community members who have seen several attempts by the Trump administration to limit transgender rights. The administration moved to ban transgender troops from serving in the armed forces and has revoked an Obama-era directive that allowed transgender students to use the locker rooms matching their gender identity.
Nicola van Kuilenburg, who lives about an hour outside of D.C., attended Monday’s rally. She has a transgender son and is active in several Facebook groups about transgender and LGBT rights. She says she watched as her son was denied bathroom and locker room access as he was growing up.
Van Kuilenburg says that on Sunday she saw Facebook posts from parents expressing that they wished they could attend the rally with their transgender children. So she offered to write the children’s names on a poster board and bring the sign to the event. By Monday morning, when she left her Frederick, Maryland, home to travel to the rally, more than 800 people had responded.
Van Kuilenburg spread the names over several posters, which she and other demonstrators carried. She said she did it to “bear witness that you cannot get rid of our kids.”
Paisley Grahl, a 27-year-old transgender man and activist, carried one of the signs.
“I knew I had to come down here and be here for everyone else that couldn’t be,” says Grahl, who is from Hagerstown, Maryland.
Speakers, organizers and attendees also emphasized the importance of the Nov. 6 midterm elections.
“We can be outraged, and we can turn that outrage into action. Nov. 6 presents the perfect opportunity,” said Jay Brown, acting vice president of programs, research and training for the Human Rights Campaign. “We can take our anger, we can take our concerns, and we can take them right to the voting box.”