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

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8 Types Of People Fetuses Grow Into That 'Pro-Lifers' Don't Give 2.5 Shits About

It is easy to fight for the life of someone who isn't born, and then forget that you wanted them to be alive when you decide to hate their existence.


For those in support of the #AbortionBans happening all over the United States, please remember that the unborn will not always be a fetus — he or she may grow up to be just another person whose existence you don't support.

The fetus may grow up to be transgender — they may wear clothes you deem "not for them" and identify in a way you don't agree with, and their life will mean nothing to you when you call them a mentally unstable perv for trying to use the bathroom.

The fetus may grow up to be gay — they may find happiness and love in the arms of someone of the same gender, and their life will mean nothing to you when you call them "vile" and shield your children's eyes when they kiss their partner.

The fetus may grow up and go to school — to get shot by someone carrying a gun they should have never been able to acquire, and their life will mean nothing to you when your right to bear arms is on the line.

The fetus may be black — they may wear baggy pants and "look like a thug", and their life will mean nothing to you when you defend the police officer who had no reason to shoot.

The fetus may grow up to be a criminal — he might live on death row for a heinous crime, and his life will mean nothing to you when you fight for the use of lethal injection to end it.

The fetus may end up poor — living off of a minimum wage job and food stamps to survive, and their life will mean nothing to you when they ask for assistance and you call them a "freeloader" and refuse.

The fetus may end up addicted to drugs — an experimentation gone wrong that has led to a lifetime of getting high and their life will mean nothing to you when you see a report that they OD'd and you make a fuss about the availability of Narcan.

The fetus may one day need an abortion — from trauma or simply not being ready, and her life will mean nothing to you as you wave "murderer" and "God hates you" signs as she walks into the office for the procedure.

* * *

Do not tell me that you are pro-life when all of the above people could lose their lives in any way OUTSIDE of abortion and you wouldn't give 2.5 shits.

You fight for the baby to be born, but if he or she is gay or trans, you will berate them for who they are or not support them for who they love.

You fight for the baby to be born, but if he or she is poor or addicted, you will refuse the help they desperately need or consider their death a betterment of society.

You fight for the baby to be born, but when the used-to-be-classroom-of-fetuses is shot, you care more about your access to firearms than their lives.

It is easy to pretend you care about someone before they are even born, and easy to forget their birth was something you fought for when they are anything other than what you consider an ideal person.

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