When Women’s Declaration International (WDI) — a self-described group of “radical” feminists who exclude trans women from the fight for women’s rights — announced that they were holding a three-day conference at the Hilton hotel in San Francisco’s Financial District, trans rights activists were quick to react.
“It’s great to see people come out on short notice,” said Nancy Kato of the Freedom Socialist Party, one of the organizations that helped organize a protest on Sept. 16 against the conference. More than 100 people joined the protest in support of trans rights, ranging from concerned community folk to members of organizations such as Reproductive Justice SF, Radical Women, the Raging Grannies and the Harvey Milk LGBTQ Democratic Club.
The three-day conference in San Francisco, which was held on Sept. 15-17, was billed as WDI’s national convention, with a following stop at City Hall on Sept. 18, which was part of WDI’s so-called “Gender Abolition Tour 2023.” To promote the tour, WDI used anti-trans and TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) rhetoric, such as “Woman isn’t a feeling” and “No one is born in the wrong body.”
“We understand that even though we’re the big liberal city, we have to come out because there are people that are transphobic, racist, and sexist,” Kato said.
Those protesting for trans rights faced some opposition from those attending the WDI conference, but demonstrators remained unphased: “You can have your conference, go back inside, we’re not storming the building or anything,” Kato said. “This is just to show that San Francisco and the Bay Area opposes transphobia.”
Speaking to the importance of holding protests like these, Kato added: “There’s a silent majority for so many of these important issues, however, we can’t be silent anymore. We have to stand up for ourselves and our siblings who are oppressed.”
Norma Gallegos, a member of the Freedom Socialist Party and Reproductive Justice SF, also attended the protest.
“As you can see, we have people on our side,” Gallegos said as a Muni driver honked in support of the protest. “We know the beliefs of this city, on Ramaytush Ohlone land, that this place is for everybody.”
As to why the WDI and TERFs chose San Francisco as a location for the conference, Kato said: “It’s to make a statement. ‘We will come to your town and show our faces.’ That’s why it’s so important that we are out here because we want to send the message that, yeah, you can come here, you have free speech too, but you will be met with opposition.”
SF Democratic Party Chair Honey Mahogany — who in 2018 became the first trans person to serve on the San Francisco Democratic County Central Committee and who was instrumental in the creation of the City’s Transgender District — was in attendance and gave a passionate speech at the protest.
“I’m really glad that people are standing up for trans people here in San Francisco,” Mahogany said. “It’s really heartwarming to see a lot of trans people here but also a lot of allies.”
Protesters rallied outside of the Hilton for two hours with attendees being encouraged to speak and organizers leading chants for the event’s duration.
When protest attendee Erin T. found out about the conference they were, “really upset, this is obviously a provocation, coming to San Francisco because they want to start a conflict. The City that so many queer people move to, to get away from places they weren’t welcome.”
Originally from San Francisco, Erin moved to Iowa as a child but found their way back home to the Bay Area. “San Francisco is a place where queer people and their allies come together and stand up to say this is a provocation that we aren’t willing to stand for,” they said.
Speaking to the importance of protesting radical hate-based movements, Gallegos said: “This is a time for solidarity, a time to be uniting on all fronts. This protest is so important to the most marginalized and oppressed.”
El Tecolote staff were treated with hostility by Hilton security when asked to speak with Women’s Declaration International organizers at the conference. El Tecolote received an email from WDI stating that our reporters were refused entry to the conference because it was a “private event.”
“We need to stand up so that people realize that they do know us,” Mahogany said. “We are their family members, their friends, we’re people that go to school with their children. Trans people are everywhere in every part of American life.”