After the Trump administration announced it would roll back Obama-era guidelines that required public schools to let transgender students use the bathrooms of their choice, thousands of LGBTQ New Yorkers and allies rallied in front of the Stonewall Inn in support of transgender rights.
The crowd, which stretched along Christopher Street and filled Christopher Park, cheered as transgender students and activists delivered speeches demanding equal rights and protections for transgender New Yorkers. Several local elected officials, including U.S. Representative Jerrold Nadler, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, and Council Member Carlos Menchaca, also made brief, passionate speeches.
Between call-and-response chants, speakers urged demonstrators to channel their anger into a sustained political movement against bigotry.
"This is a call to action," said Mel Wymore, executive director of the trans rights group TransPAC and one of the event hosts. "We must stand up. We must come out and rally. We must march. We must sign petitions. All those are important, but we need to do more to organize and focus on electoral politics."
Wymore urged the crowd to knock on doors, make phone calls, and vote for leaders who support equal rights for all Americans. He also encouraged attendees to connect with friends and family across the country who may not have personal interactions with transgender individuals.
"Pick up the phone and call Aunt Daisy in Iowa and tell her what it means to have a transgender experience," he said. "Call Uncle Bob in Arizona and tell Uncle Bob, 'You have to stand up for my kids' rights.'"
Nadler compared the struggle for transgender civil rights to other moments in the LGBTQ rights movement, like the fight for gay marriage. He said he hoped that in the face of a hostile Trump administration, existing federal civil rights law would enable transgender individuals to secure some rights in court.
"It's the same tradition that we will fight and defeat and crush," Nadler said. "The courts will prevail and that little man in the White House will go slinking home."
Throughout much of the rally, a young transgender girl named Sadie stood on stage and raised a handmade sign that read "Please let me use the girl's room." Several people held signs condemning Donald Trump and Mike Pence. "Trump, Pence and cronies—how about transitioning into decent human beings?" read one. Many others carried black signs that simply said "Resist."
Bailey Pope, a hairdresser who identifies as a trans woman, told Gothamist, "My girlfriend is a cis-woman, I have a cis-daughter, and we went to the Women's March, but I feel like I have to keep fighting every version of my fight. It takes an effort to roll back protections and when you make the effort to take rights away, it's even worse than doing nothing."
Spencer Washington, who wore a "Black Trans Lives Matter" t-shirt under a denim shirt, shared his perspective as a high school senior who identifies as trans man.
"As a person of color, a person that's trans, I just want to pee," Washington said to laughter and applause. "But it's not just the bathroom, it's feeling safe in my school."
New York has legal protections for transgender individuals, including guidelines for how schools should ensure the rights of trans students, transgender and gender nonconforming youth. (Despite these protections, though, this population stillcontinues to suffer widespread harassment in schools.)
In New York City, all city-owned buildings, including public schools, are required to have gender-neutral bathrooms.
City officials have said they are committed to protecting this right. "We affirm the right of every New Yorker to use the bathroom that fits their identity. A new president will not change our values," Mayor de Blasio tweeted Wednesday, in anticipation of the formal release of the new rules.
"Rights can be taken away from us at any time," Duane said. "We're seeing that happen to people across the country now and we have to fight back against it.
Justin Vivian Bond, a cabaret singer and artist in their 50s, recited a list of struggles that the LGBTQ community has overcome in the past few decades. They said the bigotry of the Trump administration will only invigorate younger activists.
"None of this is new, but right now it's a wake-up call for people who have never been through this before," Bond said. "Again, people are forced to fight for their lives, their health, their right to love who they want and the right to go to the bathroom where they want. We're fighting for the most simple, basic, human needs."