Rae Nelson Makes Arkansas History As First Black Trans Woman To Speak At Annual Reproductive Justice Rally

Rae Nelson Makes Arkansas History As First Black Trans Woman To Speak At Annual Reproductive Justice Rally

Hundreds gather at the capitol building as co-founder of Black Lives Matter Little Rock, Rae Nelson, talks trans reproductive justice.

On January 28, over 700 people gathered around the steps of the Arkansas State Capitol in Little Rock for the 7th Annual Rally for Reproductive Justice.

Organized by the Arkansas Coalition For Reproductive Justice, the rally is held annually in order to commemorate the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a significant case in the history of reproductive justice which ruled that denying a person’s right to terminate a pregnancy is unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment.

This year’s rally also addressed concerns about current state and federal legislation limiting reproductive health care, including Donald Trump’s reinstatement of the Global Gag Rule which restricts abortions on an international level. In addition, Arkansas’s own Governor Asa Hutchinson signed HB1032 the day before the rally–a bill that bans the safest and most common medical procedure for terminating a second trimester pregnancy in the state of Arkansas.

Senator Joyce Elliott spoke as the rally’s emcee, introducing a lineup of guest speakers who represented a few of the diverse and multifaceted groups affected by reproductive justice. Included in this lineup were Ryen Staggers, a member of UALR’s Odyssey team and the Outreach Chair for the Arkansas Coalition For Reproductive Justice, who spoke at the rally on campus sexual assault and highlighted the importance of reproductive rights for assault survivors.

The first guest to speak was co-founder of Black Lives Matter Little Rock and deputy director of the Arkansas Transgender Equality Coalition, local organizer Rae Nelson. Nelson began by stressing the importance of eradicating the harmful and inaccurate association between genitalia and gender identity that has long alienated the transgender community from the reproductive justice movement. The only transgender speaker at the rally, as well as the first black transgender woman to speak at an Arkansas Rally For Reproductive Justice, Nelson immediately accomplished what many at the rally could not: discuss the impact of reproductive rights while maintaining language and rhetoric inclusive of all affected groups.

Speaking to an audience made up of largely white cisgender women, Nelson gives gratitude to Henrietta Lacks (a black woman whose cancer cells were taken from her body without her consent or knowledge and used in research as one of the most important cell lines in medical history without ever granting compensation to her family) and other black women who have had their privacy rights and bodily autonomy violated in the name of the white scientific community's achievements. She then discusses the restrictions on reproductive justice that transgender women face, including sterilization from gender-reassignment surgery (GRS). Nelson notes that in order for her to correct the sex on her birth certificate, she is required by law to provide proof that she has received gender-reassignment surgery: a procedure that results in sterilization and completely destroys the possibility of ever having biological children.

There are currently 37 states, including Arkansas, that require transgender individuals to submit documentation proving they received gender-reassignment surgery in order to correct the sex on their birth certificate. Not only are there many transgender individuals who would prefer not to undergo GRS, Nelson explains, but the procedure is very costly and offered in few states. The requirement of an inaccessible and sterilizing procedure in conjunction with the high cost of sperm storage is a huge hurdle when it comes to attaining reproductive rights and bodily autonomy for transgender women.

In addition, Nelson calls for attendees to expand discussions about pregnancy, abortion, birth control, and other reproductive issues commonly associated with cisgender women to include transgender men and gender binary nonconforming individuals who are also affected. However, many of the other speakers, including Senator Joyce Elliott, still made remarks that appeared to reside on the assumption that the ability to get pregnant is a characteristic of womanhood, even after Nelson stated that not all women can get pregnant and not all people who get pregnant are women.

“The bill that we just passed on Thursday gives no exception for somebody who has survived a sexual assault, and has gotten pregnant, and would like to exercise the option and decide for herself whether or not she gives birth to a child because of a sexual assault,” said Senator Elliot.

In addition to Ryen Staggers and Rae Nelson, UAMS student Camille Richoux and Karen Musick from the Arkansas Abortion Support network also appeared at the rally as guest speakers. They each spoke on various topics related to reproductive justice, including their personal experiences, with an invocation led by Reverend Carissa Rodgers from Black Lives Matter and the Quapaw Quarter United Methodist Church.

The Arkansas Coalition For Reproductive Justice defines “reproductive justice” as “The right to HAVE children, the right to NOT HAVE children and the right to PARENT the children we have in SAFE and HEALTHY ENVIRONMENTS”, and have adopted this definition from the work of organizations Sister Song and Trust Black Women.

EDIT: New information suggests that Tiommi Luckett, board member of the Arkansas Transgender Equality Coalition and a prominent southern grassroots activist, was invited last year to speak at the Arkansas Rally For Reproductive Justice but had to cancel unexpectedly, making her the first black trans woman to have been invited. Her achievements deserve credit here.

Cover Image Credit: Zachary Miller

Popular Right Now

I'm The Girl Who'd Rather Raise A Family Than A Feminist Protest Sign

You raise your protest picket signs and I’ll raise my white picket fence.

Social Media feeds are constantly filled with quotes on women's rights, protests with mobs of women, and an array of cleverly worded picket signs.

Good for them, standing up for their beliefs and opinions. Will I be joining my tight-knit family of the same gender?

Nope, no thank you.

Don't get me wrong, I am not going to be oblivious to my history and the advancements that women have fought to achieve. I am aware that the strides made by many women before me have provided us with voting rights, a voice, equality, and equal pay in the workforce.

SEE ALSO: To The Girl Who Would Rather Raise A Family Than A Feminist Protest Sign

For that, I am deeply thankful. But at this day in age, I know more female managers in the workforce than male. I know more women in business than men. I know more female students in STEM programs than male students. So what’s with all the hype? We are girl bosses, we can run the world, we don’t need to fight the system anymore.

Please stop.

Because it is insulting to the rest of us girls who are okay with being homemakers, wives, or stay-at-home moms. It's dividing our sisterhood, and it needs to stop.

All these protests and strong statements make us feel like now we HAVE to obtain a power position in our career. It's our rightful duty to our sisters. And if we do not, we are a disappointment to the gender and it makes us look weak.

Weak to the point where I feel ashamed to say to a friend “I want to be a stay at home mom someday.” Then have them look at me like I must have been brain-washed by a man because that can be the only explanation. I'm tired of feeling belittled for being a traditionalist.


Because why should I feel bad for wanting to create a comfortable home for my future family, cooking for my husband, being a soccer mom, keeping my house tidy? Because honestly, I cannot wait.

I will have no problem taking my future husband’s last name, and following his lead.

The Bible appoints men to be the head of a family, and for wives to submit to their husbands. (This can be interpreted in so many ways, so don't get your panties in a bunch at the word “submit”). God specifically made women to be gentle and caring, and we should not be afraid to embrace that. God created men to be leaders with the strength to carry the weight of a family.

However, in no way does this mean that the roles cannot be flipped. If you want to take on the responsibility, by all means, you go girl. But for me personally? I'm sensitive, I cry during horror movies, I'm afraid of basements and dark rooms. I, in no way, am strong enough to take on the tasks that men have been appointed to. And I'm okay with that.

So please, let me look forward to baking cookies for bake sales and driving a mom car.

And I'll support you in your endeavors and climb to the top of the corporate ladder. It doesn't matter what side you are on as long as we support each other, because we all need some girl power.

Cover Image Credit: Unsplash

Related Content

Connect with a generation
of new voices.

We are students, thinkers, influencers, and communities sharing our ideas with the world. Join our platform to create and discover content that actually matters to you.

Learn more Start Creating

Arizona Is Known For Its Women Leaders

Twenty years after Arizona elected the "Fab Five," the first women Senators from Arizona were sent to Washington.


The year is 1998, 4 years after the "Year of the Woman." Arizona elects five women to its top statewide offices. Four Republicans, and one Democrat. Governor Jane Dee Hull, Secretary of State Betsey Bayless, Attorney General Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Public Instruction Lisa Graham Keegan, and State Treasurer Carol Springer. The first state in the country to pull it off. Arizona has had a long history of electing women to statewide offices. Arizona elected five women to statewide offices as well as its first female Senator. This isn't new for Arizonans, they elected women into statewide office just in 2014, with Michele Reagan as Secretary of State and Diane Douglas as Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Arizonans are very civically independent people, they take their right to vote extremely serious. They do their homework on candidates, and even though Republican usually dominate here, they still choose the best candidate they see fit, whether they be male or female. Arizona now has two female Senators, Kyrsten Sinema, and Martha McSally, who was appointed back in December. Not only are we represented federally by women, but we are also represented by three women at the state capitol. Kimberly Yee, State Treasurer, Kathy Hoffman Superintendent of Public Instruction, and Katie Hobbs Secretary of State. Not only are they women, but two of them are Democrats. Back in 1998, four were Republicans and just one was a Democrat.

Although we Arizonans have elected several women into office, we are still seeing a shift in who represents us. Democrats made huge strides in the last election in the state legislature, and several think that 2018 was just the beginning. The Grand Canyon State is very picky when it comes to its leaders, and it has no fear of electing women. 2020 is less than one year away, and it will be interesting to see how Arizona not only votes for its state leaders, but also for President.

Related Content

Facebook Comments