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Required Reading: ‘Book Bloc’ Defends Trans Rights

Chelsey Sanchez Oct 31

Hundreds of people rallied in Midtown on Monday in response to a planned rollback of transgender rights on the part of the Trump administration.

In a Department of Health and Human Services memo, originally obtained by the New York Times earlier this month, the department reportedly implored several government agencies to adopt a definition of gender that would adhere to the biological sex one has at birth. The assigned gender would be fixed. Any dispute over the matter would be resolved over genetic testing.

If adopted, the policy would strip the country’s 1.4 million self-identified transgender people of the federal government’s recognition of their gender. It would also reverse hard-fought for policies implemented under the Obama administration that extended civil rights protections to the transgender community in the arenas of housing, education and healthcare.

“Trans people, along with all other oppressed groups, are in a war for survival against the far-right,” said Alexandra, a transgender woman and a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

Organized by 10 organizations, including DSA’s Socialist-Feminist Working Group and NYC for Abortion Rights, protesters convened at Madison Square Park before marching nearly 20 blocks north to Grand Central Station, bearing banners, signs and their rage.

Celina, a transgender activist and a member the Party for Socialism and Liberation spoke at the rally. “We are here to fight back against heteronormative, classists, racist white supremacy,” she said. “We are here to fight back because, for years, far-right elements in the Republican party have used the trans community as a punching bag.”

Activists carried signs bearing the the titles of books written by or about transgender people, including Gender Trouble by Judith Butler, Towards a Gay Communism by Mario Mieli and Transgender History by Susan Stryker. The “book bloc,” as they described it, was an effort to draw parallels between the Trump administration’s gender policies and book-burning events that transpired in Nazi Germany. Nazis burned approximately 20,000 books and journals from the Institute of Sex Research in 1933, which contained pivotal research on reassignment surgery and other matters concerning the transgender community.

Roxy, a transgender woman from DSA compared the book-burning to recent alterations to HHS’ webpage for its Office for Civil Rights, where nearly all mention of the term “gender” were removed.

“You can understand what they are trying to do here,” she said.

Some speakers at the rally attempted to galvanize participants to vote in the upcoming midterm elections, others called for taking direct action beyond the ballot box.

“It is not a threat that is going to be solved by civil debate and it’s not gonna be solved by voting,” Alexandra said. “We must fight as comrades and struggle, fight because we realize that our liberation is bound up in each other’s.”

Expressing a similar sentiment, Celina added, “Trans rights, like the rights of all oppressed people, will be won in the streets.”

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Photo: Trans rights activists in Midtown on Oct. 29. Credit: Chelsey Sanchez.