Two hours after equal rights activist Cathy Serino found out President Donald Trump planned to stop in Columbia to stump for U.S. Senate candidate Josh Hawley, she made a Facebook page for the #WontBeErased protest. She’s a transgender woman and regularly advocates on behalf of transgender rights.
Twenty-four hours after the Facebook page was created, the response was so massive that she put a call out to request more assistance in organizing Thursday’s event. Serino said that the highest head-count at the protest was 98 people.
The #WontBeErased protest was one of two organized in response to Trump’s Columbia visit. The other, Rally for Sanity, took place at the Boone County Courthouse before Trump arrived in Columbia. While the protests were made in solidarity against Trump and his administration’s policies, each focused on advocacy rather than negativity.
The #WontBeErased was held at a roundabout near the Columbia Regional Airport exit off of U.S. 63, about three miles from Trump’s rally at the airport. Serino said their distance from the rally was a safety measure.
Their location also provided them visibility to everyone going to the rally, a point that was crucial to Serino and other protestors.
“We’re everywhere; we’re all across the country,” Serino said, referring to transgender people. “Here in central Missouri, having 100 people show up to this event shows that no matter where you go in the country, we’re gonna be here.”
Protestor Tracy Davis also stressed the visibility given the Trump administration’s recent considerations of defining gender as a biological condition determined by genitalia at birth.
“That’s a serious subject,” Davis said. “We want to show people here that there needs to be a plan to protect transgender rights, because transgender rights are human rights.”
Davis said her participation in the demonstration wasn’t just for her as a transgender woman, but for others struggling with their identities.
“We wanted to have some visibility so that people would see that this is something a lot of people care about,” she said. “It’s important to ally together.”
The demonstration also provided an outlet for families who have allied with loved ones who are members of the LGBT community.
Abbey Riley held a cardboard sign attached to a toy sword that read “My son won’t be erased.” Riley identifies as genderqueer and uses they/them pronouns. Their 12-year-old son recently came out as transgender, which prompted Riley and their partner to explore their own identities.
Riley said their son’s transition experience has been greatly helped by his middle school.
“Columbia Public Schools are really, really awesome about working with trans kids through their transition and being child-led, working with the child to maximize safety and validate their identity,” Riley said.
But not everyone is welcoming of transgender rights.
“With the current political atmosphere, there are kids that not only misgender my kid and misname my kid, but blatantly say transphobic or homophobic slurs at my kid,” Riley said. “I want the United States to be as safe for my son as I thought it was for me growing up.”
Safety was a central theme at the protest. Around 7:15 p.m., protesters began coordinating rides home to avoid potential push back from rally goers after the rally let out.
Many protesters said they felt nervous before the rally. However, some found that the adrenaline made them more energetic and excited to protest.
“The last few hours before I left work I was definitely nauseated and getting a little anxious, but once you get out here, it just melted away,” Nick Hudson said. “Being surrounded by all of this energy and love and happiness and support is completely amazing.”
Others found that frustration with the political climate was more motivating. Puckmaren “Puck” Glass is a teacher who identifies as agender. Agender is the term for someone who does not identify with a gender or is genderless, according to Merriam Webster.
“It’s difficult to be a trans person anyway and live your life, and then the country’s not making it any easier, so someone’s got to start standing up,” Glass said. “If that’s got to be me, then that’s got to be me.”
Another demonstration held before Trump spoke was the Rally for Sanity at the Boone County Courthouse. It was intended to show solidarity against Trump.
In his opening speech at the rally, emcee Steve Easterling included a Dr. Seuss quote: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing’s going to get better. It’s not.”
“So let’s take on this administration,” Easterling said to cheers from the crowd on the Courthouse lawn. “Let’s take on their policies and this president.”
Easterling is with Our Revolution Mid-Missouri, which co-hosted the rally with Boone County Democratic Party and CoMo for Progress. The Dr. Seuss quote summed up the rallying call for the night: Vote.
President of Our Revolution Kory Davis said the groups chose to hold the rally at the courthouse because they didn’t want Trump’s visit to detract from the need to vote.
“Since the election is just five days away, we don’t want to get thrown off track,” Davis said. “Trump’s just a thorn in our side.”
Democratic state representative candidates Michela Skelton, Maren Bell Jones and Adrian Plank spoke at the event. Congressional candidate Renee Hoagenson and state representative candidate Jamie Blair didn’t attend the event but sent representatives from their campaigns.
“In the face of a visit from the most divisive president in our memory, we are desperately reaching out to one another for love, safety, solidarity and support,” Skelton said.
Many of those who came to the rally at the courthouse did so because they wanted to avoid Trump’s supporters, and, in some cases, the president himself.
“I have no inclination or desire to go near Donald Trump and his ilk,” said Lisa Bartlett, owner of Artlandish Gallery. “I would rather be in solidarity here with these fine people on our courthouse steps.”
Rie Sasaki, an assistant professor of biology at Columbia College, attended the event to feel safety as an immigrant and person of color.
“Often in this political climate I’ve felt very unsafe,” Sasaki said. “So, coming to this really makes me believe that there are people that are supportive of people like me.”
Supervising editor is Claire Mitzel.