Three Times Transgender People Rose Up Against War and Colonialism

No one should be banned from any job, but not all trans people want to join the military.  In fact, opposition to militarism has long been a part of transgender politics.  Many transgender activists have argued that believe ending militarism — both military and colonial interventions abroad and racist, transphobic policing at home — is an essential part of trans liberation:

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  1. Sylvia Rivera was arrested for opposing the Vietnam war.

[Image description: Black and white photo of Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and another activist.  Rivera stands with her first raised.  All are smiling.]

Sylvia Rivera, a Puerto Rican trans woman, was a groundbreaking transgender activist.  She is famous for participating in the Stonewall Riots and starting Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries (STAR) with her friend Marsha P. Johnson.  Rivera was also arrested in 1970 for collecting signatures during the demonstration against the Vietnam War.  She described her arrest like this:

There was a “Stop the War in Vietnam” demo and people started coming. The cops had dispersed the demo, and I’m standing out there collecting signatures, and two cops come by, and they say, “You have to move.”

And I’m like, “Why? All I’m doing is collecting signatures. I’m petitioning for gay rights.”

“It’s against the law.”

I said, “What? I thought it said in the Constitution we have the right to acquire signatures…”

…That’s how my whole activist career started. Besides, I didn’t consider that night at Stonewall to be so important out of all the other movements going.  Getting that first arrest for something that I believed in was…wow, what a rush! [Emphasis mine].

Rivera wasn’t alone in seeing the trans and gay liberation movement as a part of larger social movements.  Early trans and gay liberation activists wanted to live in a world that valued peace, justice, and freedom. For many other transgender and gay activists immediately after Stonewall, opposing war and policing was an important part of their political activism.

 

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  1.  Chelsea Manning Blew the Whistle on the Iraq War

[Image description: close-up of Chelsea Manning’s face]

White trans woman Chelsea Manning spend seven years behind bars after she released classified documents about US military actions in Iraq.  While serving as army intelligence analyst, Manning became disturbed by the human cost of the Iraq war.  To explain her actions, she told reporters, “I have a responsibility to the public.”  Manning’s sentence was the longest of any whistleblower in US history — and because of rampant transmisogyny as well as the injustices all prisoners endure, she truly suffered while serving it.

After Trump announced today that he wants trans people barred from the military, Manning tweeted “today is further reason we should dismantle the bloated and dangerous military/intel/police state to fund #healthcare for all #WeGotThis.”

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  1.  Trans people are organizing against Israeli apartheid

[Image description: a pink banner reading “No to Pinkwashing, No to Israeli Apartheid.”]

In 2005, representatives of Palestinian civil society called on people all over the world support their struggle to end the Israeli occupation of Palestine through boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS).  Since then, transgender people have been an important part of the BDS movement.

Izzy Mustafa is one such activist.  Mustafa is a Palestinian trans man.  He recently shared some of his experiences in an interview:

In 2013, I went to the New York City Pride Parade — my first since I came out as queer, trans. I was carrying a sign that said, “Don’t Pinkwash Israeli Apartheid.” And a man from the Israeli LGBTQ contingent came up and started yelling, “You’re a terrorist supporter, you’re a terrorist!” Then he spit in my face…

I felt it was important [to carry that sign at Pride] because pinkwashing is one of the things I’m passionate about as a Palestinian trans person and part of the queer community. Pinkwashing is a way the Israeli government covers up the occupation and its human rights abuses against the Palestinian people, my people.

For instance, there’s this campaign called Brand Israel that tries to make Israel look like a gay haven. They say, “LGBT folks of the world, come to Israel. We have a huge Pride; we offer acceptance.” They go to college campuses and queer communities and say things like, “Palestinians don’t accept queer people; they’ll kill you.” This is basically an Israeli far right-wing government, saying they’re LGBTQ-friendly. But when I go home to Palestine, the Israelis don’t see me as LGBTQ; they see me as a Palestinian — and they’re really racist about it…. I, as a Palestinian trans person, do not want a government giving us legitimacy when it’s used to justify the oppression of my people.

Many other trans people have participated in the BDS movement.  In 2014, transgender students at DePaul University were a part of a student coalition that passed a student body-wide vote calling on their school to divest from companies that profit off the Israeli occupation of Palestine.  Today, the BDS movement continues to grow and trans people continue to be a part of it.

Movements against militarism at home and abroad are an important part of transgender history.  Don’t let these struggles be erased.