Santa Rosa marchers call for upholding transgender rights

About 250 people marched in downtown Santa Rosa on Saturday, urging government officials to uphold rights for transgender individuals and blasting President Donald Trump’s reversal last month of federal guidelines that expanded restroom access for transgender students.

Using bullhorns, the group, which included transgender adults and children, as well as their family, friends and allies, marched past coffee shops, restaurants and pubs, calling for an end to “transphobia” and violence against transgender people.

“We’re here to raise awareness about transgender bathroom access for youth,” said Jasmine De La Torre, 23, one of the main organizers of the event. “It is a big blow to our community and we need to stand up for our youth and be there for their future.”

Organizers said denying transgender youths the right to use the bathroom that corresponds to how they identify themselves has lasting psychological effects. A common refrain at the rally was that kids should be allowed to choose which gender they identify with.

“Kids can be so clear, they can be so sure, if we just listen,” said Kelsey Vero of Santa Rosa, who attended the rally with her 1-month-old son.

On his carrier was attached a big heart-shaped sign that read, ”Love Our Kids: Whoever They Are, Whoever They Become.”

Vero said the pressing issue for her was the safety of transgender youth. She said intolerance that surrounds the bathroom issue also fuels hostility and violence that many transgender people suffer.

Last November, the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation reported that 27 transgender people had been killed in the United States in 2016, compared to 21 in 2015.

At the rally, a group of people carried a large sign that said, “Black Trans Lives Matter.” The vast majority of transgender people killed are women of color.

When President Barack Obama issued guidance in May 2016 that said federal law protected the right of students to use restrooms and locker rooms matching their gender identities, “it meant the most powerful person in the world recognized that gender non-conforming people are people and deserve the same respect as everyone else,” said Maggie Robinson of Santa Rosa, who attended the event with her two children, one of whom is transgender.

The protest began with a rally in front of Santa Rosa City Hall and ended with two loops around Old Courthouse Square, during which traffic was stopped at various intersections while protesters passed. Some drivers honked to show their support.

“Hey, Hey, Ho, Ho, transphobia has got to go!” the participants chanted. “L-G-B-T. The ‘T’ is ?not silent!”

A group of moviegoers exiting the Roxy Stadium 14 theater paused to clap as the procession made its way up First Street, between B Street and Santa Rosa Avenue.

Josh Phipps was one of the supportive spectators who’d just exited the theater.

“I’m a big supporter of the LGBT movement here in Sonoma County and everywhere,” Phipps said, adding that he has friends and family who are part of the community.

Phipps said he was disheartened when Trump reversed his predecessor’s federal guidelines for bathroom use by transgender students. He said that’s the reason demonstrations like Saturday’s were important.

“It’s important that people are saying something,” he said. “We still have some power.”

You can reach Staff Writer Martin Espinoza at 707-521-5213 or