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

17 Empowering Bible Verses For Women

You go, girl.

We all have those days where we let the negative thoughts that we're "not good enough," "not pretty enough" or "not smart enough" invade our minds. It's easy to lose hope in these situations and to feel like it would be easier to just give up. However, the Bible reminds us that these things that we tell ourselves are not true and it gives us the affirmations that we need. Let these verses give you the power and motivation that you're lacking.

1. Proverbs 31:25

"She is clothed with strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future."

2. Psalm 46:5

"God is within her, she will not fall."

3. Luke 1:45

"Blessed is she who believed that the Lord would fulfill His promises to her."

4. Proverbs 31:17

"She is energetic and strong, a hard worker."

5. Psalm 28:7

"The Lord is my strength and my shield."

6. Proverbs 11:16

"A gracious woman gains respect, but ruthless men gain only wealth."

7. Joshua 1:9

"Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go."

8. Proverbs 31:30

"Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the Lord will be greatly praised."

9. 1 Corinthians 15:10

"By the grace of God, I am what I am."

10. Proverbs 31:26

"When she speaks, her words are wise, and she gives instructions with kindness."

11. Psalm 139:14

"I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made."

12. 1 Peter 3:3-4

"Don't be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewelry, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God."

13. Colossians 2:10

"And in Christ you have been brought to fullness."

14. 2 Timothy 1:7

"For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline."

15. Jeremiah 29:11

"'For I know the plans I have for you,' says the Lord. 'They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.'"

16. Exodus 14:14

"The Lord himself will fight for you. Just stay calm."

17. Song of Songs 4:7

"You are altogether beautiful, my darling, beautiful in every way."

Next time you're feeling discouraged or weak, come back to these verses and use them to give you the strength and power that you need to conquer your battles.

Cover Image Credit: Julia Waterbury

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

The Disrespectful Nature Of My Generation Needs To Stop

Why choosing phone games over a Holocaust survivor was my breaking point.


While many students that attended Holocaust survivor Hershel Greenblat's talk were rightfully attentive, I noticed, out of the corner of my eye, a few outlier students tapping away on their phones. They were minute movements, but inappropriate nonetheless.

Immediately I became infuriated. How, I thought, fuming, did my generation become so blithely unaware to the point where we could not proffer basic respect to a survivor of one of the most horrific events in human history?

Perhaps the students were just texting their parents, telling them that the event would run a bit long. 10 minutes later, my eyes diverted from Greenblat back to the students. They were still on their phones. This time, I could see the screens being held horizontally—indicating a game or a show was being played. I wanted to get up, smack the distractions out of their hands, and ask them why they thought what they were doing was more important than a Holocaust speaker.

I will not waste any more time writing about the disrespectful few. Because they could not give Greenblat the time of their day, I will not give them mine. Instead, I want to focus on a massive trend my generation has mistakenly indulged ourselves in.

The Greenblat incident is only an example of this phenomenon I find so confusing. From young, it was instilled in me, probably via Chinese tradition, that elders should be respected. It is a title only revoked when unacceptable behavior allows it to be, and is otherwise maintained. I understand that not everybody comes from a background where respect is automatically granted to people. And I see that side of the story.

Why does age automatically warrant respect? It is the fact that they have made it this far, and have interesting stories to tell. There are exceptions, perhaps more than there are inclusions.

But this fact can be determined by the simple act of offering an elderly person your seat on public transportation. Sure, it can be for their health, but within that simple act is a meaningful sacrifice for somebody who has experienced more than you.

Age aside, at Greenblat's talk, majority of the disrespect shown might not have been agist. Instead, it could have been the behavior students just there for the check-in check-out extra credit that multiple classes and clubs were offering. While my teachers who advertised the event stressed the importance of attendance not just for the academic boost, but for the experience, I knew that some of the more distracted students there must have been those selfish, ignorant, solely academic driven cockalorums.

I stay hopeful because majority of my classmates were attentive. We knew to put aside our Chromebooks, regardless of note-taking, and simply listen to what Greenblat had to offer.

It would be wrong to label my generation as entitled— that's a misnomer for the generation before. We are still wavering between the line of automatic respect and earned respect, but we need to set a line for people whom we know the stories of. Especially a Holocaust survivor.

Related Content

Facebook Comments