Randolph T. Holhut/The Commons
Jillian Hundson holds a sign at a Feb. 23 rally in support of transgender Vermonters at the Brattleboro Municipal Center.
BRATTLEBORO—About 75 people filled the steps in front of Brattleboro’s Municipal Center on Feb. 23, rallying in support of the transgender members of the community — especially trans students.
As the sun set on the warm late-afternoon, participants waved signs, held banners, and chanted, mostly in call-and-response:
“When trans students are under attack, what do we do? Stand up! Fight back!"
“We’re here! We’re trans! We’re fabulous! Don’t mess with us!"
Teenagers, parents with children, and adults young and not-so-young cheered every time a passing car beeped in support.
The biggest roar from the crowd came after a tractor-trailer driver smiled, waved, and sounded his horn.
HB Lozito, executive director of Green Mountain Crossroads, the Brattleboro-based organization serving the rural LGBTQ community, convened the rally the morning after learning about the Trump administration’s reversal of protections for transgender students.
On Feb. 22, the Justice and Education departments announced Title IX, the federal law that “prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex in any federally funded education program or activity,” doesn’t extend to trans students seeking access to the restrooms and locker rooms that match their gender.
This represents a reversal of the Obama administration’s May 2016 direction that Title IX includes protecting trans students’ rights.
“Title IX remains in full effect, not even the president has the power to dismantle Title IX. The protections for trans students do not come from the executive guidance, they come from the power of Title IX and from the Constitution,” Lozito said in written correspondence with The Commons.
“On March 28, the Supreme Court will be hearing arguments in Gavin Grimm’s court case. He’s seeking access to restrooms and other gendered spaces based on his gender identity. That case may do more to shape trans rights and equal access for trans students in the U.S. than this guidance but that remains to be seen after the Court’s decision,” Lozito wrote.
“After Obama issued his ‘Dear Colleague’ letter in 2016 providing guidance of trans students’ access via Title IX, 13 states sued the U.S. Earlier this year, the Trump administration said they were going to stop fighting that lawsuit and now with this rollback announced yesterday are sending the message that while Title IX may still be the law of the land, a Trump DOJ doesn’t intend to enforce that section of this law.
“The ACLU (who is representing Gavin Grimm), The Transgender Law Center, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, and millions of trans activists and our allies around the world say differently,” wrote Lozito.
“It’s very exciting to me that I can put the word out at 9 a.m., and about 100 people will show up [at 5 p.m.] and say, ‘Trans people are really important,’” Lozito said.
Lozito had a strategy in mind when choosing to convene the protest at 5 p.m. in front of the municipal building: to reach Brattleboro residents likely to participate in town governance.
An hour after the rally began, the Brattleboro Selectboard candidates’ forum started on the second floor of the building. Those running — and those possibly voting for them — could avoid the protest only by entering through the back door of the municipal center.
“The folks with 350.org contacted Green Mountain Crossroads about questions we had for the Selectboard candidates,” Lozito said. One of them, Lozito said, is, “When this Title IX roll-back happens, what will you do to protect trans students and trans people in Brattleboro?"
Lozito believes holding the rally just before the forum will encourage the candidates to “take our question seriously."
“Seeing people’s faces is a lot harder to ignore,” said Lozito.
Luna Rachelle, a trans-identified person who moved to town in January, said attending the rally is “an obligation” she and the town have toward the youth in the community. “It’s not just about me seeing” locals gather in support of trans-identified people, “it’s what kind of message this sends for the future,” she said.
“As a child, it wasn’t okay to be out” as a trans person, Rachelle said. “To know children have the opportunity to grow into themselves is important,” she said, adding that it’s important to normalize the transgender experience.
“The outcome of these decisions affects the future,” she said.
Five Vermont Academy students attended the rally, accompanied by four faculty members, including history teacher Carly Fox, who also serves on the Green Mountain Crossroads Board of Directors.
When asked why she packed her colleagues and students into the VA van, making the trip from Saxtons River on a school night, Fox said, “to show support for my trans students and all trans students."
“As a history teacher, it’s important to me to come out and protest when people’s civil rights are under attack,” Fox said.
Allie Vogt, a student of Fox’s at the Saxtons River school, took the bullhorn about 15 minutes into the rally and led some chants.
Referencing Betsy DeVos — the controversial Secretary of Education nominated by President Trump despite her lack of experience in the field — Vogt led this chant: “Hey Betsy, what do you say? Trans kids were born this way!"
After she passed the bullhorn to another attendee, Vogt told The Commons, “I’m from Washington, D.C., and I’m really glad the protests are happening here and not just in cities.” She noted the importance of “people in small towns showing their support for trans people."
“I want to put a stop to the negative aspects trans people face,” Vogt said. “They need more support. It’s not just about clothing, and [misusing] pronouns is not a joke. This is important."
“Trans people have always been here, and we’re not going anywhere,” said Lozito.
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