In the middle of the #WontBeErased rally on Friday, Alex Bacchus ’21 invited the 200 attendees to dance. Lady Gaga played on the speaker as students and a few faculty, staff and community members danced together on Proctor Terrace to protest a memo from the Trump administration’s Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
Bacchus explained that part of the inspiration for incorporating a dance party into the protest came from the organization Werk for Peace, which was co-founded by several Middlebury alumni, including Firas Nasr ’15.
“Dance is a non-violent expression that has so much power; it can even be used as a tool to heal,” Bacchus said. “I wanted to include movement as a piece to today’s rally because of its great versatility. The fight for trans and intersex rights has been an ongoing battle, and this week’s news triggered a range of reactions: anger, hatred, frustration, sadness, fright, and I felt movement was an appropriate medium.”
The leaked HHS memo, released on Oct. 21, detailed the department’s plan to require government agencies to adopt a uniform definition of gender as determined by biological sex. This decision would revoke legal recognition and thus remove protections for transgender and intersex individuals, undoing several Obama-era policies that had widened the definition of gender.
In the wake of the memo’s release, Queers and Allies (Q&A) and the Trans Affinity Group (TAG) co-organized Friday’s rally to protest the threat of government erasure of transgender and intersex people. Ami Furgang ’20, one of the co-presidents of Q&A, said they decided to center the event around transgender and nonbinary voices. Three students spoke at the rally, and members of Q&A read two anonymous submissions they had received prior to the event.
Leif Taranta ’20.5 spoke about their personal experiences with their gender identity, and emphasized the interconnectedness of many different groups struggling against erasure.
“We must stand with together and support Indigenous people, women, people of color, refugees and immigrants, disabled people, poor people, and all other marginalized people,” they said. “Trans people facing oppression on many fronts should be the central focus of our movement.”
Speakers at the rally also focused on what students can do to support transgender and intersex communities going forward. Lee Michael Garcia Jimenez ’20, co-founder of TAG, spoke about their experience presenting a list of demands to the administration to improve the on-campus experience of transgender and nonbinary students.
“Demands were both long term and short term including creating a faculty position for managing queer and trans life on campus, creating a web-page describing the resources available to transgender members of the Middlebury College community and creating and implementing a plan to stop gendering public restrooms,” they said in an interview with The Campus.
Garcia Jimenez said that one good way for students to get involved in supporting transgender, non-binary and intersex rights on campus is by advocating for more gender neutral restrooms.
Speakers also shared ways to donate money to help transgender and intersex people.
“There are a lot of movements nationwide that are campaigning for trans and intersex rights but limited by lack of funds,” Bacchus said. “If you have the financial capacity, please donate to organizations fighting for trans and intersex rights and awareness.”
Furgang named the Trans Lifeline and the Marsha P. Johnson Institute as two such organizations. They also pointed out that students and community members can donate directly to online fundraising campaigns set up by transgender or intersex individuals.
Lastly, multiple speakers mentioned how important it is for attendees to educate themselves on trans and intersex issues.
“Learn about our history, our diversity, our richness,” Bacchus said. “There’s more to it than trans man, trans woman and intersex individual. It’s not our job to be educators when every day we wake up knowing we are rejected by society and we have to fight to live authentically.”
Bacchus said that one step in the right direction would be for cisgender people to be better about asking what pronouns someone uses.
“I have a lot of friends who consistently misgender me, and I’m sure none of it is intentional or out of malintent, but it’s painful and emotionally draining to have to experience being called ‘he’ so frequently,” they said. “Cis people, when you meet someone for the first time, ask them their pronouns. Trans, gender non-conforming, non-binary and intersex people don’t need to wear labels or pins or present themselves differently to receive the affirmation we deserve.”