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'We Will Not Be Erased.' Pittsburghers Rally Against Federal Gender Definition Proposal

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Katie Blackley
/
90.5 WESA
Rev. Michael Airgood, holding the black sign on the left, and Corey Haky, holding the "I will never be erased" sign on the right at a rally for the protection of transgender rights in downtown Pittsburgh on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018.

Members of Pittsburgh’s transgender community and allies gathered downtown Thursday evening to protest what they call the attempted erasure of their identity by the Trump administration.

In the portico of the City County building, the crowd reacted to recent reports that the federal government planned to narrowly define gender. The move would effectively remove protections for transgender Americans.

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Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
Amber Miller, left, and Owen Taeger, right, say they came to the rally Thursday night because they reject the idea that gender must be defined by what's written on a person's birth certificate.

Carrick High School senior Shanna Rose Bates leads the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance and said the transgender community needs to speak out.

“Whenever I saw that my friends, my family, my trans siblings were being threatened to be erased, I knew I had to say something,” Bates said.

Other speakers talked about how potential federal rollbacks would have a detrimental effect on the mental health of the LGBT community. Almost all of them stressed the importance of voting in the upcoming election on Nov. 6 and pushed against the Trump administration.

“When the bigots are scared, we know we’re doing something right,” said Rosemary Ketchum, board of directors of the ACLU of West Virginia.

Tracey Baton, the head of Pittsburgh’s Women’s March chapter, encouraged attendees to talk to their friends who don’t vote.

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Credit Kieran McLean / 90.5 WESA

“We are here because we love each other and we love American in a ferocious way,” Baton said. “Drag people to the polls.”

 

The proposed move by the administration would remove federal recognition of the estimated 1.4 million Americans who identify themselves as a gender other than the one on their birth certificate. Pittsburgher Jeshua Lyons said the transgender community can be a unifying force.

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Credit Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA
Signs at the rally for transgender rights at Pittsburgh's City County building on Thursday, Nov. 1, 2018.

“I won’t tolerate this polarization between race, culture, sex, preference, gender,” Lyons said.

Ciora Thomas, commissioner of Pennsylvania LGBTQ affairs and founder of SisTers Pgh said the announcement was traumatic for many members of the community, but that it’s important to remind transgender people that their experiences and their existence is valid.

“There’s no way that this administration can actively and, in real life, erase us,” Thomas said. “Our trans community leaders and local leaders and state leaders have to stand up to this and say something to address this.”

This week, the city’s Commission on Human Relations said in a statement that Pittsburgh was devoted to protecting transgender residents regardless of any federal changes. Across the street from the City County Building, a group organized by SisTers Pgh protested the involvement of the Delta Foundation in the rally. The organization has been criticized for taking money from corporations that don’t support the LGBT community and for excluding people who are not cisgendered and white.

WESA's Kieran McLean contributed to this report.