Addressing a crowd from the courthouse steps, Chardonnay Merlot extended her hand to a person in a rainbow-printed bandana and asked, “What’s your name?”
“And what pronouns do you identify with?”
“They, them, their,” Birdsey answered.
Merlot clicked the timer button on her phone and looked up at the crowd. She shook Birdsey’s hand and repeated the gesture: Her name is Chardonnay Merlot, she said, and she responds to feminine pronouns.
The whole exchange had taken 13.24 seconds. That was Merlot’s point.
“So if anyone says they don’t have time for it, they have time for it,” Merlot said to a smattering of laughs.
Merlot’s exercise came as part of a rally and march for transgender rights outside the Elm Street state Superior Court Tuesday evening. Organized by the Party for Socialism and Liberation, the rally was the second this week aimed at protesting a possible appearance by CitizenGo’s “Free Speech Bus,” a bright orange vehicle emblazoned with message: “boys are boys ... and always will be”/“girls are girls ... and always will be”/“You can’t change sex ... respect all.”
The bus turned out to be a no-show; it is in Boston tomorrow and Thursday, but has sent out social media announcements that it may be back in the Elm City on Friday. No time has yet been given.
The pro-LGBTQ rights protesters had a second reason for demonstrating Tuesday, organizer IV Staklo said at the beginning of the rally: March 28 is the date on which 17-year old Gavin Grimm‘s case against the Gloucester County School Board was originally scheduled to be heard by the Supreme Court. An openly trans teen in Virginia, Grimm was barred fro using his school’s boys’ bathroom in 2014. Not long after that decision, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took up his case, which had (and still has) potentially national ramifications for protection of transgender students and bathroom access in federally-funded schools.
Instead of hearing the case as originally scheduled, the Supreme Court sent it back to the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals on March 6.
Leading chants of “Trump says get back/ We say fight back!/ Supreme Court says get back/ We say fight back!/ Pence says get back/ We say fight back,” Staklo urged the crowd to use their voices—and frustration at the Trump administration—not just to call legislators, but to show up at rallies, protest loudly, and “build a movement.”
Helping Staklo lead that charge were speakers like transgender youth and family advocate Tony Ferraiolo and WORD (Women Organized to Resist and Defend) organizer Cassandra Cuddy. Ferraiolo said government decisions — for instance, the Trump administration has dropped an appeal to a previous Obama executive order allowing trans students to choose their bathrooms — pose a threat to the trans community, and specifically to youth who may consider suicide.
“What do you say to them [trans youth] when they ask: ‘Why is my government against me?’” he said. “How do you bring peace to a child who screams: ‘My school isn’t on board with this. I just want to use the bathroom’? And what can you possibly say to comfort them when they say: ‘This is getting way too hard for me ... I don’t think I can hold on much longer’?”
“I remind them that they have the power to believe in themselves,” he said. “I talk to them about owning themselves and of the strength of this community. And that we will not stop fighting for them.”
Taking the mic after Ferraiolo and a spoken word piece from Voke Spoken Word at Yale (listen at the bottom of the article), Cuddy took that message further, reminding those who identified as heterosexual that “tomorrow, it could be all of our rights.”
“Look around,” she said. “Look at your neighbor. What are you doing to protect your neighbor?”
Hoisting signs that read “CT Stands With Trans Youth,” members of the crowd like Luther House Ministries’ Kari Keyl waved, cheered, and joined in chants of “When trans rights are under attack/What do we do?/Stand up fight back!” while soaking in the call for a coordinated community effort to support not just trans rights, but also worker’s rights, women’s rights, people of color, and victims of mass incarceration and solitary confinement.
That message blanketed the crowd throughout the rally. Criminal-justice reform advocate Beatrice Codianni and Black and Pink Technology Coordinator Reed Miller argued for improved treatment of trans-identifying women in prisons—beginning with the fact that they aren’t always sent to women’s prisons. Speaking on behalf of both Planned Parenthood of Southern New England and Unidad Latina en Acción (ULA), Jesús Morales Sanchez urged members to support Connecticut House Bill 6695, banning gay conversion therapy in the state, and called on attendees to support paid family leave and reproductive choice as another way of supporting trans rights. Calling up activist and “Stonewall survivor” Kenia Armstrong, Merlot told the group to prepare for a long haul.—and that he would be there “as long as you will.”
Ninety minutes into the rally, Staklo had one more exercise for the group: a march through downtown New Haven. Led by attendees hoisting a painted banner that read “Trans Rights Are Human Rights,” demonstrators walked from the courthouse through the New Haven Green and onto Chapel Street, remaining on the sidewalks as they hooked around on York and headed back to the courthouse on Elm. Once there, Staklo offered a final message before the group dispersed into the chilly night.
“Your life is priceless,” they said. “I love you all so, so so much. I will fight for you until I’m gone.”