Report: Die-In Against a Bathroom Bill on Thursday, June 18

by Sophia Burns on June 19, 2016

13443170_1786544531568948_1389170736167115165_oShe’s wearing a labrys and brandishing pamphlets. She just stepped outside the anti-trans event she’s attending, hosted by the University of Washington – Tacoma. She’s part of the deceptively-named “Just Want Privacy,” a front group for the Christian-theocratic Family Policy Institute of Washington. They aren’t actually demanding privacy. Rather, they’re gathering signatures for Initiative 1515, which would revoke the state antidiscrimination laws that have protected trans people’s right to use the correct bathroom for the last decade. Apparently, the massive violation of trans people’s privacy this would entail doesn’t bother her. A radical feminist who aligns herself with the patriarchs and homophobes of the Christian Right because of shared transphobia probably doesn’t balk at much. After telling us, the counter-protesters, that we lack courage, she says we should “learn more” about the bill. I suspect the majority of trans women who have been harassed or assaulted in public restrooms already understand exactly what it intends.

While the speakers inside hawk the conspiracy theory of the nonexistent trans bathroom rapist, a cop approaches us. “We’ll remove you,” he says, “if you’re too close to the door and block egress.” He tells us he wants both sides to have a “civil discourse.” I ask the crowd how many of them have faced violence or discrimination in restrooms for being trans; nearly everyone raises their hand. The officer just smirks when I ask, “Does that sound like ‘civil discourse’ to you?”

Earlier this year, the Washington legislature saw a series of proposed “bathroom bills” – discriminatory laws intended to criminalize trans people using the correct public restrooms. The theocratic Right has been pushing such laws for about a year now in states all across the country. In 2014, media coverage of trans people ballooned. Now, the backlash has arrived – our communities are dealing with climbing rates of deeply-racialized anti-trans hate violence. The bathroom bills constitute those physical attacks’ legislative counterpart. All of Washington’s legislative bathroom bills failed. Now, the transphobes are trying for a ballot measure instead.

Two days earlier, we’d found out about this event. Ironically, they called it “Women Speak Out” – the fact that there’s very little of women’s liberation in the notion that women can be reduced to vaginas and childbirth seems to have escaped them. So, we scrambled to assemble a counter-demonstration. There’s an on-site press conference from Washington Won’t Discriminate – the mainline anti-1515 campaign, run by Gender Justice League, the gay rights NGOs, and a who’s who of Democratic Party-aligned multinationals. Meanwhile, the Revolutionary Alliance of Trans People Against Capitalism leads a die-in outside the event. As the bigots exit, we face dirty looks and shouted insults, but there are no arrests or physical violence. One of the event organizers gives a speech about how, as a trans student at the university, they’ve consistently faced discrimination from the administration. On RATPAC’s behalf, I say a few words about how 1515 will only aggravate the nexus of racism, patriarchy, and capitalism that finds expression in more trans women of color murdered every year. The number of die-in participants and our sign-brandishing supporters ends up around fifty.

As we regroup and assess the experience later, one nonbinary high schooler mentions that this was their first protest. Someone else, who’d spent a few minutes inside the event, tells us that one of their speakers mainly used the platform to repeatedly plug her new memoir. Capitalism and transphobia do, it seems, condition and exacerbate each other.

Trans liberation matters too much to be left to corporate Democrats and the Human Rights Campaign. Feminism is too important to cede to Christian Right-collaborating transphobes. The trans struggle is becoming one of the more dynamic of the social movements that have emerged these last few years. Points of connection between trans liberation, organized labor, and revolutionary leftism remain all too rare. Cisgender socialists and unionists, start reaching out – build those bridges! Anti-transphobia is vital to anti-capitalism. Unless the Left can synthesize labor, the social movements, and the population of economically-distressed Millennials, we will lose. If we accomplish that, though, then at least we’ll stand a chance.


Sophia Burns is a communist. An officer in RATPAC and the Communist Labor Party, she serves on TNS’s editorial board and also writes for Gods&Radicals.

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