More than 100 Cornell community members united on Monday to hold an impassioned rally where transgender, nonbinary and gender nonconforming people and their allies supported each other as they expressed their fears and hopes about the future of their community.
The rally, titled “We Will not be Erased,” was in response to a Trump Administration memo obtained by The New York Times saying that the administration is working to change its definition of gender to being determined “on a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” This would exclude the transgender, nonbinary and gender nonconforming community. About 1.4 million Americans who do not identify as cisgender would be affected by this, according to The Times.
A coalition of trans, nonbinary and gender nonconforming individuals organized the rally. One of the members, Tina Mitchel ’21, opened the event by talking about the lack of response from the Cornell community concerning the proposal.
“We all looked for this rally two weeks ago, looking on Facebook, waiting to hear something and we did not find it,” Mitchel said. “We are here because we are choosing to exist loudly on this campus.”
Leo Almada-Makebish ’22, expressed his initial fear and uncertainty about his future when he first heard the proposal, afraid it might become a reality.
“What will happen to my medical care if gender dysphoria is no longer recognized by my doctor?” Almada-Makebish said. “What will happen to my friends who paid hundreds of dollars for their new documentation? Are people openly allowed to discriminate on us now? What does that mean?”
Almada-Makebish emphasized, however, the importance of escaping misinformation and learning to overcome biases. He talked about his own racist and transphobic opinions he used to hold and how he was able to grow from them.
“People are not born with their full repertoire of empathy and understanding,” Almada-Makebish said. “If one doesn’t make efforts to free themselves from misinformation, they remain vulnerable to the tactical fear and continue to live engulfed in hatred and close mindedness.”
He also spoke about the importance of not being in an “us versus them” mentality and reaching out those who remain misinformed.
“In a country where our president uses the trans and LGBT communities as a scapegoat in fear mongering tactics, we the trans community of Cornell, of the United States and of the World have to continue to hold each other up while being the few that have the courage, power and knowledge to reach out to the other side,” Almada-Makebish said.
Lilah Rosenfield ’20 spoke about the political aspects of transgender rights and those who are not ready to see transgender people gain rights.
“We represent a changing world to those who don’t want to see the world change,” Rosenfield said. “Right now they are afraid that trans people are gaining new rights in a country, in a political system that ultimately is built on patriarchy, on sexism, on homophobia, and is reified by this system.”
A representative from Movimiento Estudiantil Chican @ de Aztlan, an organization that focuses on Latinx and Chicanx culture, spoke about the necessity to center discussion of trans issues around transgender people of color and disabled transgender people. They asked to go by the name Mar G. ’19, as the person feared retaliation if they were identified. They spoke about how the “largely white-centric LGBT community” lack representation of voices from other perspectives.
“As conversations around the trans community pick up, it’s our duty to bring to the forefront trans people of color as they are disproportionately affected by anti-trans violence,” they said. “Since January 2018, 22 trans people have been victim of homicide, at least 14 were black trans women.”
“Violence against this demographic is nothing new, but trans people of color, especially black trans folk, are consistently written out of the narrative,” they continued.
Another issue Mar G. called out was the “deafening silence” regarding trans issues from communities of color.
“If we are not explicit in verbalizing our support for trans folks and our condensation of all that inhibits them from thriving, we are complicit in the violence against trans people,” they said. “The liberation of black and brown folks cannot be achieved if we are excluding trans folks from discussion of justice.”
Meanwhile, Janie Walter ’21 offered words of support to the transgender, intersex, gender-non conforming and non binary individuals at the rally.
“I want to take a minute to say that we are loved, that we are supported and that we are not alone,” Walter said. “I think it is very easy to feel alone on this campus, especially as a trans person, but there are more of us here than any of us know individually.”
Naiara Bezerra ’21 told The Sun that she believed it was necessary for those who hold “power and privilege” to utilize it.
Alan Polyak ’20 believed the rally was helpful because they previously had not been very aware of the transgender, nonbinary and gender nonconforming community on campus.
“I thought it was important to attend because I identify as nonbinary and genderqueer,” Polyak told The Sun. “I am not very aware of my community on campus because their voices are so suppressed.”
Mitchel closed the rally reminding the queer community that in resources and support are available at Cornell and there is a community of people who also have fun and socialize.
“We exist on this campus and we are doing the most radical thing we could possibly be doing — thriving,” Mitchel said.