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Trans community gathers to say 'We will not be erased'

New London — Cassandra Martineau says even though she was working at a "fairly liberal place in Connecticut" when she came out in 2016, many coworkers turned their back on her through microaggressions, with some refusing to use her name, acknowledge her gender or admit she existed.

"I also saw a lot of good-hearted people who didn't agree with that be completely silent," Martineau, a Willimantic speaker, writer and activist, told a crowd of transgender and LGBTQ community members and supporters at St. James Episcopal Church on Friday night. "Those microaggressions hurt ... covered my body with papercuts. But that silence was the lemon juice on top of it."

She called on cis-gender people, or those whose identity corresponds to their sex at birth, to take a stand. "If you see it, speak up," she said.

Martineau was one of several speakers rousing the church into applause during a peaceful protest held in response to the Trump administration's recent push to define gender as a biological and unchangeable condition determined at birth, according to a Department of Health and Human Services memo obtained by the New York Times in October.

Organizers and speakers said the memo represented a direct threat to trans individuals' civil rights, inspiring a unified response from the trans community across the country: "We will not be erased."

The event was co-sponsored by OutCt of Southeastern Connecticut and the Party for Socialism and Liberation of Connecticut.

"This memo was scary for a lot of people," said IV Staklo, a New Haven transgender rights activist and director of the hotline program at Trans Lifeline, which offers peer support for trans callers and financial support and guidance for legal name and gender marker changes. "Bigotry against us isn't anything new. But this sends a message very vocally that we're not wanted."

Staklo said the number of calls to the Trans Lifeline hotline have "quadrupled since the memo came out."

"Regardless of who's in office, regardless of what laws are attempted to be passed, regardless of how ridiculously and unscientifically they try to define us out of existence, the antithesis to all of that will always be us being there for one another," Staklo said. "They'll have millions and millions of voices saying this is ridiculous and we will not stand by it."

Event co-chair Polly Sioux noted she's played many roles in the community: a shot girl at the Brass Rail, a co-chair of a youth group, an information technology worker, a sister, a roller derby coach, a U.S. Army veteran, a victim of domestic abuse and someone who's struggled with depression, unemployment and high health insurance costs.

"So I'm a lot of different things, just like you," Sioux said, adding that an attack on any minority is an "attack on all of us." Sioux called on people to call out all forms of bigotry, whether it comes through harassment on the street, graffiti on a place of worship or "a swastika painted anywhere."

A report released in May by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University at San Bernardino showed hate crimes in the country's 10 largest cities rose by 12 percent in 2017, the Washington Post reported.

"These attacks are carefully designed to divide us," Sioux said. "Why? Because when we stand together, we represent an irresistible force. When we stand side by side, transgender, gender nonconforming, cis-gender, people of color, Muslim, Jewish, Christian, Atheist, men, women, immigrant, differently abled ... we are the majority. When we stand together, those in power cannot move us."

Event co-chair Kyle Murray referenced the recent mass shooting at the Tree of Life Congregation in Pittsburgh as a sign of increased hate and violence. Murray noted that Waterford's Temple Emanu-El and Crossroads Presbyterian Church are hosting a Shabbat weekend on inclusion for the LGBTQ community.

"I encourage anyone who can to stand in solidarity with our friends who throughout past and recent history know what being erased is all about," Murray said.

Rev. Ranjit K. Mathews said in an interview that he hopes people know that St. James is a sanctuary "for all folks who are on the margins."

"All people are made in the image of God," he said. "We're called to respect one another and honor the wonderful diversity that we are. The biggest sin is our separateness. We can worship and love a God that is invisible. How can we do that if we can't love our neighbor who is visible?"

b.kail@theday.com

Editor's Note: This version corrects the spelling of the names of Chardonnay Merlot and the Party for Socialism and Liberation of Connecticut in a photo caption.

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