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We Must Build a Mass Movement for Trans Rights

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance. Trans rights are under attack across the United States and the world. We need to build a mass movement to protect and defend trans rights.

Sybil Davis

November 20, 2021
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The year 2021 has been the deadliest year for trans people in the U.S. since records started in 2013: 45 murders have been reported, and likely countless others unreported. This is an uptick from 2020, which was already the deadliest year for trans people in the country. To make matters worse, many states — as part of a “culture wars” strategy — have begun to target trans people, specifically trans children, with horrifically oppressive laws which ban them from everything from playing sports to accessing health care. This all adds up to one conclusion: trans people continue to be among the most vulnerable communities under capitalism, and the attacks are only getting worse. 

To protect the trans community, we must build a mass movement across the U.S. in defense of trans rights. Only through the unified action of the working class and oppressed will we be able to defend against attacks from the right wing. This movement cannot be limited just to members of the queer community — it will need support from key sectors of the working class. 

Most notably, teachers — who are also being targeted by these transphobic bills, many of which legally require them to out trans students to their families — must mobilize and act in solidarity with their trans students and colleagues. They need to organize to demand that their unions connect with the queer community and coordinate mobilizations around the country to oppose these laws, protect trans students, and ensure that the academic freedom to teach actual facts about gender (as well as race) remains. 

The fight for trans rights should also call on healthcare workers to demand that their union join the movement and mobilize in the streets. Gender-affirming health care — a life-saving measure for many trans people — is specifically being attacked by many of the bills being proposed around the country. 

Importantly, a movement for trans rights must also begin to organize mass national mobilizations in the streets — something that, inexcusably, neither the NGOs nor Democratic-Party aligned social justice organization have called —  to demand that these bills be pulled, whatever laws have passed be repealed, and that all trans people are fully protected from violence. Protests in the streets will also help grow the movement, which must attempt to mobilize the widest possible sectors of the working class and oppressed.

But movement shouldn’t be purely defensive. Rather, we should raise demands that would meaningfully improve the lives of trans people. This includes demanding increases in housing protections for trans renters, a living minimum wage, decriminilization of sex work, free gender affirming health care, workplace protections, LGBTQ+ friendly guidance counselors and mental health professionals in schools, cops out of schools, and LGBTQ+ curricula for every school, among other key demands. These demands would benefit not only trans people but the working class as a whole.The trans community is overwhelmingly working class — we must resist all attempts to drive a wedge between these groups.

In addition, we must also resist all attempts by the Democratic Party to enter and co-opt the movement. Whenever a social movement arises, the Democrats start sniffing around, looking for ways to co-opt and de-fang the movement. We saw the clearest possible example of this last year with the Black Lives Matter movement. The Democrats co-opted some of the slogans, drove people off the streets and into the voting booth, used the police to repress those who wouldn’t leave the street, and then have betrayed essentially every promise that they made. This is why they are the graveyard of social movements, and this is what they have already done with the queer liberation movement. We can’t let them do it again.

In this, the movement for trans rights must be clear: the Democrats aren’t our friends and they will betray trans rights the moment it is politically beneficial to do so. We are already seeing this with Democratic pundits saying that the reason the Democrats did so poorly in this fall’s elections was because of “stupid wokeness.” The same tired line that supporting the specially oppressed — but specifically trans people — is what loses the Democrats votes was also trotted out in 2016 after Hilary Clinton’s loss. This clearly shows us the level of solidarity we can expect from the Democratic Party: empty slogans when they can use us to win elections and betrayal once they win. 

Not only can we not rely on the Democrats, but the entire superstructure of the capitalist state offers no liberation for trans people. This means that simply passing more hate crimes legislation and putting more trans people in government will not save us. The state will not save us, because our oppression props up the state. Capitalism requires hyper-exploited and oppressed classes of people in order to function. So, as long as the system of capitalism stands, transphobia and cissexism will continue to oppress trans people across the world, even if some members of the community are able to experience better conditions. 

The only way, then, to truly protect trans people — and all other members of oppressed groups — is to fight to bring down the whole capitalist system. We can’t trust our oppressors to take mercy on us, we must defend ourselves through organization, in the streets and in our workplaces. We have seen that voting, calling our congresspeople, and trusting the courts doesn’t work. No one is coming to save us, no one is coming to liberate us. We must liberate ourselves. And building a movement is an important step in winning that liberation.

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Sybil Davis

Sybil is a trans activist, artist, and education worker in New York City.

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