Inside the TRANS Campaign, and the Struggle for Trans Liberation

March 28th was YDSA’s national Day of Action for the T.R.A.N.S. campaign: Trans Rights and Abortion—Never Surrender! The Activist Editorial Board interviewed leaders and summarized chapter activity from around the country.

On March 28, 40 YDSA chapters throughout the United States will be participating in a Day of Action  as part of YDSA National’s TRANS campaign. “Trans and reproductive rights are under attack,” reads the event’s Action Network description, “but we refuse to give up these fundamental freedoms or live in fear.” 

Officially launched in January, Trans Rights and Abortion—Never Surrender! (TRANS) is a result of the 2023 YDSA National Convention. Resolution 19: For a Mass Socialist Campaign For Trans Rights and Bodily Autonomy was passed there, and called on YDSA to “explicitly and clearly articulate a socialist vision for trans liberation that is distinct from the liberal theory of change presented by many other organizations, maintain full organizational independence, and actively recruit new members to YDSA and DSA with the goal of growing existing chapters and cultivating new ones through struggle.” Demands for the campaign included (but were not limited to): 

  • Medicare for all, including free gender-affirming healthcare, contraception, and abortion care.
  • Laws enshrining the right of all individuals to change their identified gender on federal, state, or local documentation, and that any legislation to the contrary be repealed or struck down.
  • Mandatory LGBTQ-inclusive sex education and the abolition of private, charter, religious, and homeschools that are used to undermine teachers unions and public services.

Judith Chavarria, a member of Florida International University YDSA and chair of the Bodily Autonomy Working Group for Miami DSA, co-sponsored Resolution 19. “The rationale behind creating a national campaign on these issues is that it’s an important nationwide issue. People across the country, especially after the overturning of Roe v. Wade, know that trans rights and abortion rights are under threat from the far right,” explained Judith when asked why she and other members of the Reform & Revolution caucus proposed this campaign. “And in fact, it’s one of the things that the far right are most focused on.” 

To Judith, trans liberation and reproductive justice are an essential part of the socialist project. “What unites oppressions of race, gender, [and] class is, of course, capitalism,” Judith said. “Capitalism is the system that perpetuates these various forms of oppression and through them continues to make solidaristic movements less possible. And I think that the multiracial gender-diverse working class is capable of overthrowing that fundamental system that oppresses us in so many ways.” 

Judith also spoke about their own experiences as a trans woman, and how that part of their identity informs their work as a socialist organizer. Describing the coming out process as a “long and difficult journey,” Judith said about their realization “if anything helped me realize it, it was YDSA and the socialist movement.” Noting how “there’s a sense in which trans people are expected to conform, and expected not to ask questions about themselves, in a way that would lead them to conclusions about their gender identity,” Judith said, “I was not willing to ask those questions until I joined YDSA and had been in it for some time, and as a socialist realized that we’re capable of changing the world, and if we’re capable of changing the world, then we’re capable of changing ourselves.”

Erin Lawson is a member of the National Coordinating Committee (NCC) and New York University (NYU) YDSA. Erin’s chapter successfully organized an on-campus abortion access campaign, demanding the university provide abortions at no cost to all students, regardless of insurance or reason, and without a lengthy referral process to off-campus clinics. 

“We did public art, we reached out to our university’s local news and radio stations and newspapers, and then we eventually delivered our petition to the president at the time,” Erin said. After the petition failed to change minds, NYU YDSA escalated their tactics further. “We organized a sit-in of our student center, and eventually we got NYU to give in to our demands and provide free abortions to all students.”

For Erin, and many like her, the death of Roe v. Wade was a radicalizing moment. “I think a lot of people viewed Roe v. Wade as, like, the reason why we vote for Democrats a lot right?” Erin said, adding that after it was overturned, “a lot of people realized that the Democrats don’t have our best interests at heart, and that the way towards justice, and the way towards change in America, isn’t voting for Democrats anymore. It’s through mass action.” 

The NCC have been planning the TRANS campaign since August, Erin said, with an emphasis on fitting the campaign to any chapter, regardless of geographic location. “Chapter organizing in a really conservative state like Missouri or Florida is going to have a lot different demands of their state legislature, or of their campus, or of their city than a chapter in California or New York,” Erin explained, describing how Days of Action can help include chapters who aren’t capable of launching larger campaigns.

 “They can do something as small as chalking on the sidewalk…or they can do a banner drop. [A lot of chapters] are doing teach-ins on the intersections of bodily autonomy and socialism [or] trans rights and reproductive justice.” Altogether, Lawson feels “the [Day of Action] is about either using it as an escalatory action for chapters already doing this type of work, or if they’re not doing this type of work, then they can use it to just stand in solidarity with chapters across the country.”

Callynn Johnson is a member of University of Central Florida YDSA, sits on the NCC, and also helped organize the national TRANS campaign. At convention, Callynn spoke against Resolution 19, and still has reservations about the Day of Action concept. “This campaign and the similar 10/6 Day of Action the year prior suffered from a lack of follow up plans, a way to harness energy from the day of and actually build power,” Callynn admitted. However, Callynn still feels “it is effective as a flashy moment and an escalation tactic for some of our chapters.”

Like Judith, Callynn is a lifelong Floridian, and has watched as the DeSantis campaign pushed anti-LGBTQ measures and restrictions on academia. “I’ve watched friends struggle to get access to lifesaving HRT, and the onset of deeply troubling limitations on academic freedom. My professors often can’t cover the content of their own classes anymore and Florida has tried to pass increasingly restrictive abortion bans.” For those reasons, along with being a trans non-binary person, Callynn has dedicated most of their organizing to trans and reproductive rights issues. 

The groups behind the wave of anti-trans and anti-abortion legislation–the Alliance Defending Freedom, The Heritage Foundation, the Family Research Council, among others–receive millions from billionaire donors and dark money groups, accruing funding many times larger than that of leftist organizations. Nonetheless, Callynn believes the fight cannot be abandoned. “Regardless of which front of the struggle, socialists will be fighting a well-funded opposition. This has always been the case. It has been fought in the past and we continue to win. As a Floridian I do not have the option of giving up. Seeing these ‘forces as something that can’t be fought’ simply isn’t an option for me.”