Historic march for trans youth sweeps Florida city

Photo: Lexi Webster / CCR

A historic march for transgender rights took place in Orlando, Florida, on Oct. 7. Organized by a trans-led, ad hoc coalition of groups and individuals from across the country, the National March to Protect Trans Youth and Speakout for Trans Lives drew hundreds of people from across the state, from Georgia and Louisiana, and as far away as California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana and New York.

Young trans people, parents and families of trans youth, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and allies rallied outside Orlando City Hall. Under blazing blue skies, they marched through downtown Orlando’s Seneff Arts Plaza, waving Trans Pride and Progress Pride flags, holding protest signs, and chanting, “DeSantis says get back, we say fight back!” and “HRT, HRT, over the counter and all for free!”

Miss Major. Photo: Lexi Webster / CCR

“Rallies like this are important to us,” declared Miss Major Griffin-Gracy (she/her), a veteran of the Stonewall Rebellion and a lifelong fighter for trans rights. “We need each other. We have gone through this before. We’ve gone through it time and time again. And we’re not going to give up now. 

“Whatever you do, don’t give up,” she urged. “We’ve got to fight, fight, fight!”

SLL photo: Sharon Black

It was the first national mobilization against the current wave of anti-trans hate to take place in one of the states at the epicenter of the attack on trans lives – Florida, where Republican governor and presidential candidate Ron DeSantis has signed numerous laws and administrative measures aimed a driving trans people from public life and depriving them of health care, especially targeting young people.

Orlando-area activists expressed great enthusiasm for the march, welcoming trans and cis activists from across the country to stand with them. For many, it was a welcome act of solidarity, in contrast to mainstream LGBTQ+ nonprofits and liberal figures that have urged people to flee or stay away – something many people, especially youth, simply cannot and don’t want to do.

We keep us safe

Women in Struggle-Mujeres en Lucha, the initiator of the march, together with several protest organizers and speakers, was the plaintiff in a lawsuit seeking emergency relief from Florida’s so-called bathroom ban, which makes it illegal for trans people to use the restroom that aligns with their gender in public buildings and facilities, including airports, rest stops, libraries, schools, and colleges. 

The Center for Constitutional Rights and Southern Legal Counsel attorneys represented the plaintiffs. A federal court refused to grant a hearing before the march, dismissing the case on procedural grounds at 5 p.m. the night before. Nevertheless, organizers said the case brought attention to the protest and helped build excitement for Saturday’s march.

“We filed the case in the middle district of Florida,” said CCR attorney Zee Scout (she/her). “Last night, we learned that a judge disagreed with our case and dismissed our appeal for emergency relief.

“That doesn’t mean we’re done. Today’s march is everything, but above all, it is a message that this movement will continue.”

In the days leading up to the march, the event was targeted on social media by anti-trans hate groups. Organizers of the National March prepared a robust people’s defense plan to keep the pro-trans crowd safe. 

Only a handful of bigots actually showed up to counter-protest, and they were effectively blocked by protest signs and members of the Umbrella Brigade, an Orlando-area abortion-rights group, wielding their rainbow umbrellas. A few locally known white supremacists who showed up to menace the crowd were chased off by the security team.

“The security preparations for the rally and march were very comprehensive,” Anaïs Kochan (she/her) told Struggle-La Lucha. “I was proud to join the group securing the march. But the most useful aspect were the incredibly talented people, local groups and organizations, who came to us with their skills and intelligence, ready to help us pull off a safe event. I loved working with them.”

‘I can’t leave’

The Oct. 7 rally and speakout was co-chaired by Samira Burnside (she/her), editor of The Queer Notion, from Tampa, Florida; Andie Albanito (they/them) of the Umbrella Brigade in Orlando; Tsukuru Fors (he/they) of Red Berets for Queers, from Los Angeles; and Sally Jane Black (she/her) of the Louisiana Women’s Action Committee, based in New Orleans.

Seventeen-year-old Samira Burnside was a leading organizer of the National March. She said: “There are buses that take kids up north to safer homes. There is a new class of political migrants. Every day, another one of my friends resolves to flee. Most folks I know at least have escape plans. Many have abandoned their in-state dream colleges for the ability to live their lives. 

“To be trans and to not be an activist is to live in a burning house and to ignore the smoke. I can’t leave all the people who can’t leave. I can’t leave all the people who can’t get their medicine. I can’t leave all the poor trans people who could never just pack up and go. I can’t leave all the people like me who have known and loved this place since they were born.  

“And it’s in this resolution that I contend with this simple fact: That Ron DeSantis and those like him are trying to steal my future and trying to steal yours too.”

Another Florida activist, Lindsey Spero (they/he), works to support trans youth. In February, they boldly injected their testosterone hormone therapy during a protest in front of the Florida Board of Medicine. Spero said: “Despite the hostility that brings us here, I am surrounded by some of the most brilliantly kind and beautifully bold humans this world has to offer. 

“Each person in this space is changing the world simply by breathing. Every day of life, you are defying a state that says you should not exist. 

“Trans liberation is a collective goal we share as we seek to heal our bodies, nurture younger generations, and build healthy, lasting communities while we pursue bold, creative love. But we still gotta fucking pee! Access to bathrooms is a basic human right.”

‘Trans people are part of the working class’

Melinda Butterfield (she/her), a member of Women in Struggle and co-editor of Struggle-La Lucha, said: “We aren’t alone in our struggle. Many other communities are being targeted. We have to work to create unity, solidarity, and cooperation. That’s why the demands of our action aren’t limited to those issues specific to trans people but include the fight against racism, for reproductive rights, for workers’ rights, against censorship. Trans people are part of those communities. We are part of the working class. 

“We are health care workers, service workers, teachers, tech workers, sex workers. We are Teamsters and Auto Workers, Amazon delivery drivers and Starbucks baristas, screen actors and screenwriters. All too often, we are underpaid and unemployed. We live the reality of intersectionality every day. 

“Standing up for trans people is an act of self-defense for all workers. An injury to one is an injury to all.”

Christynne Lili Wrene Wood (she/her) is a trans woman who was targeted by a national hate campaign that started earlier this year in the San Diego suburb of Santee. 

She asked the crowd: “How would one go about destroying a civilization? Here’s what I would imagine: Destroy legitimate public education and dedicated teachers and administrators who have sworn their lives to the ethical and honest portrayal of history, whether it hurts certain feelings or not!

“Point number 2: Replace qualified and ethical medical professionals with ‘doctors’ that shouldn’t even be allowed to attend to houseplants much less human beings, and then threaten the legitimate medical professionals with imprisonment for speaking the truth!”

Photo: Lexi Webster / CCR

‘We have a common enemy’

Emmett Santisi (he/him) of the Teamsters National LGBTQ+ Caucus said: “Connecticut, where I come from, is seen as a safe space for trans people, and I’m seeing a lot of people moving there from places like Florida. But this is a false sense of security, as we are seeing a steady increase in transphobic and fascist propaganda cropping up all over the state. 

“Any rights that the queer community has enjoyed were won as a result of grassroots organizing over the course of decades, involving huge numbers of ordinary people like you and me, who refuse to stay in the closet.”

Santisi announced that the Pride Caucus of Teamsters Local 1150 was holding a simultaneous trans rights rally in New Haven.

The same capitalists who are funding DeSantis here are funding Jeff Landry’s gubernatorial campaign in Louisiana,” explained Sally Jane Black. “The same people who fund them are also funding the Democrats across the country. The same people are funding the anti-trans laws, the anti-abortion laws, the attacks on our immigrant siblings, and they’re attacking all of our social programs and all workers’ rights, which we’ve won over the years. And the same people are responsible for endless war and climate change.

“We all have this common enemy, the capitalist class,” she said. “They’re very organized, and so far, they have been successful at keeping us divided. That’s the purpose of these laws and the attacks upon us: to make us hate each other instead of standing united against them.

“But there are more of us than there are of them. We outnumber them greatly. Today we’ve shown them: We’re certainly outnumbering the fascists here today. Today has to be the start of building a movement that remains united,” Black concluded.

Adria Jawort. SLL photo: Gary Wilson

‘DeSantis is the snake’s head’

Adria Jawort (she/her) is an Indigenous Two-Spirit trans woman from Montana and executive director of Indigenous Transilience: “People asked: Why are you going all the way down to Florida? Because DeSantis is like the snake’s head of anti-LGBTQ and transphobia. Whatever happens here is like a contagious disease; it starts spreading out to all the other states, including my state, Montana.

“I love giving lectures on Indigenous LGBTQ Two Spirit history,” Jawort said. “I got an email from the library where I was scheduled to speak at the start of Pride Month saying, ‘We have to cancel your lecture over the new drag law.’ I had testified against the anti-drag bill, saying this law could be used to target trans people. The proponents said, ‘Oh no, it won’t.’

“I knew there had been complaints about my lecture the week before. I figured it was white nationalists. Sure enough, they posted on Reddit, ‘After our campaign of complaints we got this event canceled.’ So the county catered to the whims of actual Nazis. When your policies are on the side of Nazis, you’re on the wrong side of history.”

Tsukuru Fors said: “When we talk about states like Texas and Florida, we Californians sometimes say things like, ‘Oh, they are horrible states,’ but they are not. Coming here and interacting with all of you, I see this is a beautiful place. It’s just that there are people who want to rule by fear and hate. 

“In my antinuclear work, I’ve worked with many displaced people. No one should be displaced. This is your home. You should be able to live here, be safe, be loved, and pursue dreams as who you are. That is why we fight.”

Laura Rodriguez and Gina Davila of the Tampa 5. SLL photo: Gary Wilson

Other speakers included: Andrea Montanez, an immigrant trans woman from Colombia; Gina Davila and Laura Rodriguez of the Tampa 5, student protesters facing felony charges; youth organizer Zander Moriczon; Tatiana Quiroga, executive director of Come Out With Pride Orlando; Simon Rowe, a young trans member of Teamsters Local 79 in Tampa; and Jamila Nicole, Orlando for Gender Equality.

Also: Serena Sojic-Borne, New Orleans Real Name Campaign; Joseph Rosenzweig, Workers Voice Socialist Movement; Lizz Toledo and Gregory E. Williams, Socialist Unity Party; and Karla Correa, Party for Socialism and Liberation. Musical performances were given by Leo Roger and Milo Paul.

“I met a young trans woman who traveled to Orlando by bus from the small Florida town where she lives,” Melinda Butterfield told SLL. “It was her very first protest. She stayed the whole day. When I spoke to her again at the end of the rally, she was very enthusiastic and grateful for the sense of community she found with us. Her bravery was so inspiring to me. 

“Providing hope and solidarity to the next generation of fighters is everything. That’s the guarantee that we will win.”

Join the Struggle-La Lucha Telegram channel