We are winning. Yesterday’s rally in Wellington for trans rights was a victory, and holds important political lessons. And the numbers matter: on a cold, wet, dark winter’s night thousands came out to answer the call to show solidarity with a basic message: queer endurance, queer defiance, trans visibility, trans dignity. Cisgender and transgender, women, men, nonbinary, people from across a diverse range of political backgrounds and campaigns – our coming together was a public display of the depth of support that exists for trans people to be who they are, and represents a base out of which could be built further campaigns for concrete reforms that can improve the lives of trans people. So the first lesson is simple, but vital: protest matters. Being visible matters. Calling for – demanding, sometimes – solidarity matters. We showed who can fill the streets, and that sends a message.
The prompt for yesterday’s rally, of course, was something much uglier. The ludicrously misnamed “Speak Up For Women” held a meeting, ostensibly to raise questions about law changes around self-ID, in reality to further their agenda of making trans rights seem a threat. It’s telling that the only “speaking up” this group seems to do is against trans women’s rights.
The transphobes have been painting themselves as victims of a silencing campaign, and clearly hope for media spectacles around their so-called ‘cancelling’ to gain some traction. And that’s the second lesson: Queer Endurance/Defiance, the collective organising last night’s protest, side-stepped the false trap around free speech the transphobes tried to set. Their meeting went ahead, they were denied the opportunity to play the victim or to side-track discussions into abstract questions of free speech and hate speech. And so what? What are the images from the night that will stick in the memory? Trans people and their allies outside gathered in pride. We out-mobilised the transphobes and on our own terms. That’s a lesson for future campaigns.
There are worrying signs that parts of the right are looking to the ‘culture wars’ abroad as one way to regain their relevance. We should expect more provocations and an increasingly nasty approach from those for whom trans people’s existence is an affront. Protest and visibility begin the process of giving our side the confidence to organise back.
Visibility is vital, of course, but it’s not enough on its own. The challenge now is to channel this marvellous energy into campaigns for the reforms we need now; around trans health and access to health services; around the Births, Deaths, Marriages and Relationships Registration Bill. There should be fewer barriers for trans people living their lives. And, beyond that, for a vision, and a plan, for a world free of the gender binaries and oppressive roles that structure our own. For us that’s an integral part of the vision of socialism. The confidence we all gain mobilising together makes debating that vision easier.
Trans people are here in all of the endurance and defiance yesterday showed. That’s a beautiful sight, and it’s a possibility for more.