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Leftist transgender activist defies university censorship

Published Apr 27, 2005 4:21 PM

In the battle against sexual and other forms of violence against women, speaking out is a primary weapon. Take Back the Night rallies and marches have been held internationally since 1973 to bring just such attention to that violence. According to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Net work (RAINN), in the United States someone is sexually assaulted every 2.5 minutes.

However, when Leslie Feinberg, a trans gender activist, writer, and leader in Workers World Party, was invited by the Campus Feminist Alliance of Colorado State University (CSU) to keynote the school’s Take Back the Night rally, the CSU attempted to silence this survivor of violence by demanding a contract that would have made Feinberg legally and financially responsible for any injuries or damages at the event. In addition, the contract required $1 million liability insurance.

Feinberg was told that in order to waive the insurance, she’d have to vet her speech to CSU officials. She refused all those terms.

Colorado is the site of a number of attacks on lesbian, gay, bi and trans people over the years, including a vicious mocking of Matthew Shepard by fraternities at Colorado State University while Shepard lay dying from a horrific anti-gay beating. Such contract language would have opened up the possibility of right-wing attacks for which Feinberg would be held responsible.

Although ruling-class views dominate all branches of corporate media, an attack on the voices of those least often heard is being made on campuses across the country. At the same time, a right-wing mobilization is attempting to legislate acceptance of racist, bigoted, and anti-immigrant language and actions under the rubric of “free speech.”

At Colorado State University, this attack has recently culminated with the resignation of Professor Ward Churchill as head of the Ethnic Studies Department, as well as the forced signing of loyalty oaths— first enacted during the “Red Scare” of the 1920s—by professors.

A statement released by Feinberg reads in part, “As a result [of CSU’s demands], they have threatened to silence a speaker who is transgender, lesbian, feminist, a survivor of sexual/gender violence, a union activist, and a left-wing organizer. ... It is no accident that this suppression of progressive and left-wing voices coincides with greater student/labor unity, anti-war organizing, counter-recruitment against the Pentagon representatives on campuses, preparations to mount a struggle against the impending military draft, and organizing against racist, sexist and anti-LGBT threats on campus.”

The importance of this struggle would not be lost by the progressive community. Feinberg’s statement received hundreds of responses of support from across the country and as far away as Australia, Canada, Hawaii and Italy. An organization in Boulder offered to pay for Feinberg’s travel expenses—which had been denied by the campus administration. Hundreds more messages of support continue to pour in.

On April 21, demonstrators stood at the entrance to Old Towne Square in Fort Collins, Colo., opening up the rally in anticipation of the women marchers. The women could be heard from blocks away, and a steady din of car horns could be heard alongside the marchers. Numbering over two hundred, they carried signs and marched behind a “Take Back the Night” banner. They marched past dorms on campus chanting, “Hey hey/ho ho/rape and violence have got to go” and then marched through the streets of downtown chanting: “We have the power/we have the right/the streets are ours/take back the night.”

Feinberg gave the main address and stressed that, “Uniting, as we are here tonight, is the first step in overcoming fear. And, by coming together, we see that what we’ve endured is not our own individual problem, no matter how many people have tried to put the burden of guilt on us in an attempt to ‘blame the victim.’ This widespread violence driven by bigotry is a social problem that requires a large-scale, collective solution.”

Feinberg spoke about how many try to put violence against women outside of any context, but that speaking out to end violence against women is part of a deepening political struggle to end all forms of bigotry. This violence permeates societies, and can be tied to the development of private property and class distinctions, which goes hand in hand with the demise of matriarchal society and the subjugation of women.

Feinberg also spoke about violence against gays, lesbians, bisexual and transgender people and the right-wing attacks against people in these communities, hand in hand with the racist attacks against people of color and immigrants, and tied these struggles to the struggle of the Iraqi people to throw off the yoke of occupation and oppression.

Feinberg said, “The fist of the rapist is violence, and the fist of the person fighting for their life is self-defense. The imperialist occupation of Iraq and theft of its wealth is violence, and the fist of the insurgent movement—supported by the women and men of Iraq to oust the colonizers—is self-defense and self-determination.” The militant speech moved many, and students vowed to continue to open the dialog Feinberg started.