ST. PETERSBURG — Shy 6-year-old Skyler Rhodes-Courter stood on stage and whispered into her mother’s ear in front of more than 200 transgender people and their supporters who gathered at Williams Park.
With a smile, mom Ashley Rhodes-Courter relayed, "We will not be erased."
That phrase was chanted throughout Sunday’s St. Pete We Won’t Be Erased Transgender Support Rally, where signs displayed slogans such as "These colors don’t run" and attendees promised to make their voices heard in this week’s election.
But there was also a somber undertone at the event.
Such rallies should no longer be necessary, some said, since it wasn’t that long ago that it was believed civil rights for transgender people would soon be a settled issue.
"We shouldn’t have to be here, really," said Jim Nixon, LGBTQ liaison for St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman. "But this is an opportunity to show support for our family."
The rally was planned in reaction to news that the Trump administration is considering narrowing the definition of gender to male and female.
The move would roll back efforts by the Obama administration to broaden legal definitions of gender and sex to include an estimated 1.4 million transgender Americans.
"The last few weeks have been more challenging than the last 20 years of advocacy," said event emcee Nathan Bruemmer. "We had made such good progress."
A U.S. Health and Human Services Department proposal redefining gender identification would be the latest in a series of moves the transgender community sees as hostile.
The Trump administration has also sought to ban openly transgender people from serving in the military, reversed Obama-era guidance stating public schools should allow students to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity, and said the 1964 federal civil rights law does not protect transgender workers from employment discrimination.
"Your pencil is not big enough to erase us," Taylor TeMonet Burts told the crowd, reacting to the proposed policies. "People are people. We deserve respect."
Husband and wife John and Nancy Desmond, who founded the Tampa and St. Petersburg chapters of the LGBTQ advocacy group PFLAG, lamented that this may be a confusing time for LGTBQ kids.
"This generation hasn’t known anything but progress," said Nancy Desmond, whose adult son is gay. "They can marry, adopt kids, serve in the military. We are moving backwards."
Jason Guagliardo, 17, attended the event with his mother, Debbie Guagliardo. He said that since Donald Trump was elected, "ugly people are coming out of the woodwork and posting things on social media that I did not expect from them. It is disappointing."
St. Petersburg City Council members Darden Rice, Gina Driscoll and Steve Kornell spoke at the rally to remind the crowd the city supports equal rights and to encourage them to vote.
Kornell pointed out the roughly 100,000 transgender people in Florida — along with their friends and family — constitute a voting bloc that can make a difference in a state where elections are historically won by a slim margin.
Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected] Follow @PGuzzoTimes.