Demonstrators march to support transgender students after bridge controversy

Around 60 people marched in response to the College Republicans Washington Avenue Bridge panel and actions by the Trump administration.

Daniel Palmer marches across the University of Minnesota campus with a transgender flag on Thursday, Nov. 8. Members and allies of the transgender community marched across campus in support of transgender rights.

Courtney Deutz

Daniel Palmer marches across the University of Minnesota campus with a transgender flag on Thursday, Nov. 8. Members and allies of the transgender community marched across campus in support of transgender rights.

Audrey Kennedy

Around 60 people marched across campus Thursday to protest a controversial panel on the Washington Avenue Bridge and support transgender and gender-nonconforming students. 

The “We Won’t Be Erased UMN” event was organized by a University of Minnesota student in response to the College Republicans’ panel, which criticized a proposed University gender expression policy, and recent actions by the Trump administration.

The panel featured sayings such as “The proposed pronoun policy mocks real social issues,” a reference to the policy. It was originally vandalized a couple days after it was created and has been re-painted and re-vandalized since.

“It was a very transphobic statement that negated and ignored trans and non-binary students,” said Cedar Thomas, a University junior who organized the event. 

Participants at the event held signs and marched from the Knoll area on East Bank to the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, shouting phrases such as “Trans lives are under attack. What do we do? Stand up, fight back!” 

The protest was also responding to a recent New York Times report that the Trump administration is considering rolling back federal civil rights law protections for transgender people by defining gender as a biological condition determined at birth. 

Daniel Pulaski, an attendee of the event, brought extra water, food, hats and gloves for the other protesters. Pulaski said he heard about the event on Facebook and decided to attend to support students. 

“My transition wasn’t easy, but I want to make it easier for others to do what I have done,” Pulaski said. 

Thomas also released a petition on Facebook Thursday morning calling on the University to release a statement recognizing transgender and gender-nonconforming students and to take action against College Republicans, claiming that the panel’s message violated University discrimination policy. 

Leaders of the march claimed before the event that members of College Republicans would be standing on the Washington Avenue Bridge as they marched across and advised participants to avoid them. Protesters were met with no resistance as they crossed the bridge.

John Cannon, the president of College Republicans, said he stood on the bridge near the group’s panel as marchers walked by to prevent it from being vandalized again. 

“We were just worried people would stop and try and vandalize the mural,” Cannon said. He later stated in an email to the Minnesota Daily that the group had no plans to block protesters from crossing the bridge.

Faculty marched along with students across the bridge. Rebecca Ropers-Huilman, vice provost for faculty and academic affairs, said she joined the demonstration to raise awareness and reaffirm the University’s commitment to people of all genders. 

“I feel like we have a bit of work to do,” Ropers-Huilman said. “There a lot of people moving things forward in a really positive way but I don’t think this is an issue that is settled.” 

After the march, an open mic event was held for participants to voice their opinions. Haruka Yukioka, a University junior, spoke to demonstrators in front of Humphrey School of Public Affairs about the importance of making issues in the transgender and gender-nonconforming community visible. 

Yukioka identifies themself as a transgender person who is not visibly gender nonconforming. Because of this, Yukioka said they have a responsibility to speak up on behalf of those who are not able to. 

“As a trans person, being visible is really important and not something everyone can do,” Yukioka said. 

Cedar Thomas is a former Minnesota Daily employee.