The Fight For Trans Liberation Is Everyone's Fight with Raquel Willis | Crooked Media
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March 28, 2022
What A Day
The Fight For Trans Liberation Is Everyone's Fight with Raquel Willis

In This Episode

  • On Saturday, President Biden gave a speech from Warsaw, Poland, where he talked about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But at one point, he briefly spoke off the cuff and said about Russian President Vladimir Putin, “This man cannot remain in power.” White House officials quickly walked back Biden’s statement, saying that the U.S. has no strategy of regime change in Russia.
  • Today is the fourth day of Trans Week of Visibility and Action, a 7-day campaign that aims to mobilize the masses in defense of trans lives. It culminates this Thursday, March 31st, with the Trans Day of Visibility. Activist Raquel Willis, one of the organizers of this week, joins us to discuss how the issue of trans rights spans over different states.
  • And in headlines: A Colorado jury found that Denver police officers used excessive force against the people protesting George Floyd’s death back in 2020, heatwaves and fires broke out across the western U.S., and President Biden is expected to unveil a new income tax on the country’s 700 richest American families.


Show Notes:



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Tre’vell Anderson: It’s Monday, March 28th. I’m Tre’vell Anderson.


Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day, where we’re thankful to Timothée Chalamet for lending us his shirt to sop up some soda we spilled before the Oscars last night.


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, you may have seen him shirtless under a jacket last night. That’s because we were a little too clumsy and he did us a huge solid.


Josie Duffy Rice: We were, we were. Thank you so much, Timothée. We have to be better about spilling soda.


Tre’vell Anderson: On today’s show, with trans people under attack in several states, we honor Trans Week of Visibility and Action. Plus America’s West is scorching with heat waves and wildfires.


Josie Duffy Rice: But first, an update on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. On Saturday, President Biden gave a speech from Warsaw, Poland, as part of his four-day trip to Europe, where he met with NATO leaders and others. During the speech, Biden briefly spoke off the cuff, calling Russian President Vladimir Putin a quote, “butcher.” He also said this about Putin:


[clip of President Biden] For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power,


Josie Duffy Rice: Woo! The AP called it a quote, “dramatic escalation in rhetoric which implied that the US was pushing for regime change in Russia, a dangerous thing to do when the head of the current regime has access to nuclear weapons. Immediately, White House officials walked back the statement, saying that quote, “The president’s point is that Putin cannot be allowed to exercise power over his neighbors or the region. He was not discussing Putin’s power in Russia or regime change.”


Tre’vell Anderson: No, it seems very unlikely that Putin will believe that walk-back.


Josie Duffy Rice: Exactly Tre’vell. A Russian spokesperson pushed back on Biden, saying quote, “That’s not for Biden to decide. The president of Russia is elected by Russians.” There are a little a couple of questions about those elections, but that’s kind of beside the point. Many criticize Biden’s statements, saying that it could prolong an already likely arduous future conflict in the region. Richard Haass, the president of the Council on Foreign Relations called it a quote, “bad lapse in discipline” tweeting that “Putin will see it as confirmation of what he’s believed all along.”


Tre’vell Anderson: Oh, yoy yoy.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah! Great.


Tre’vell Anderson: Right. And then so much continues to happen on the ground in Ukraine. What’s the quick update there?


Josie Duffy Rice: So Russia continues to fire missiles into Ukraine. Still, things do not seem to be going as expected for Russia. Yesterday, according to the New York Times, the Ukrainian military said that a number of Russian military units were, quote, “withdrawing through the Chernobyl exclusion zone to Belarus” in order to regroup. But for now, the next round of diplomatic talks between Ukraine and Russia start today in Turkey, and they will last until Wednesday. We’ll bring you important updates from that in the coming days.


Tre’vell Anderson: Yes, we will. Turning back to some domestic issues, we are in the middle of the second annual Trans Week of Visibility and Action, a seven-day campaign which aims to mobilize the masses in defense of trans lives. It culminates this Thursday, March 31st with the Trans Day of Visibility, which should be a time for celebration for the community, has unfortunately been clouded by recent relentless attacks on our livelihoods, specifically the unprecedented amount of anti-trans bills being passed in GOP-led state legislatures nationwide.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, so each day of Trans Week of Visibility and Action is focused on a particular state. So can you catch us up on which states and bills the past few days of action have targeted?


Tre’vell Anderson: For sure. So the week kicked off on Friday, which focused on Texas. We’ve already talked about on the show before about Governor Greg Abbott’s directive to investigate gender affirming care for minors as child abuse. Day two had all eyes on Alabama. There the state legislature is close to passing a bill that would criminalize giving trans teens gender-affirming medical care and for school teachers to out their trans students. And day three targeted Florida, home of the notorious Don’t Say Gay bill, which we covered last week.


Josie Duffy Rice: And so what’s today’s state and action item?


Tre’vell Anderson: Glad you asked, Josie. Today, the call to action is in Arizona, the state that’s introduced over a dozen anti-trans bills this year alone. That’s more than any other state has in 2022.


Josie Duffy Rice: This is really just a list of the worst state legislatures in the country. Hitting all the targets.


Tre’vell Anderson: I try not to say nothing negative about the states in the middle area, OK?


Josie Duffy Rice: But a lot is happening! A lot is happening in these four states.


Tre’vell Anderson: The action item is urging Governor Doug Ducey to veto two bills that are headed to his desk. One would ban trans women and girls from competing in women and girls sports. The other would ban life-saving, gender-affirming medical care for trans teens.


Josie Duffy Rice: Just absolute cruelty coming from these state legislatures. So to tell our listeners more about this whole week of action, you got a chat with one of the organizers. Is that right, Tre’vell?


Tre’vell Anderson: I did. Yes. Raquel Willis is her name. She’s a writer, activist, and organizer, and my former boss, who co-founded it alongside ACLU attorney Chase Strangio last year to highlight how the issues of trans rights spans over different states. I started by asking her why this year’s Trans Week and Day of Visibility feels different for her than previous years.


Raquel Willis: I think this year, people outside of the community, or people who aren’t as connected to these issues understand more now than maybe ever before, the double edged sword of visibility. I think, before this year, definitely within trans community, we know that these tent pole moments on television and in cinema and on the cover of magazines are important and empowering. But we also know the material conditions of everyday trans folks who don’t get platform and privileged in that way hasn’t really changed, and in some ways has gotten worse. I mean, along with last year being the year that we had the most anti-trans pieces of legislation, it was also considered the deadliest year on record for particularly Black trans women, Black trans folks. So we have to continue to complicate and add some nuance into this conversation around visibility, because it’s not always what it’s cracked up to be.


Tre’vell Anderson: Very much so. Now the states that you all have focused on this year with trans week of visibility in action, it’s Texas, Alabama, Florida, Missouri, Kansas, South Carolina—and today as folks are hearing this, the focus is on Arizona, where just a few days ago, the state’s Legislature passed bills to restrict access to gender-affirming and lifesaving care and to ban trans athletes from competing on women’s and girls’ teams. How can people there fight, right? How can people not there fight and support what’s going on in the state?


Raquel Willis: We have to continue to pour elevation, money, resources, attention into these grassroots and local organizations that hold the community down, whether they’re anti-trans legislation on the books or not. I think one of the things particularly Chase and I and other trans activists advocates organizers learned last year was like this Equality Act was not about to be passed. You know, they was not about to do anything about this filibuster. And so what does it mean to not just react on the whim of what’s happening in politics, but understand the organizations that provide the essential services around housing, health care, education, around just like who we are as safe spaces for trans youth—those organizations existed before any of the spotlight was on our community politically, and will continue to exist, because we’ve always had our backs as trans folks.


Tre’vell Anderson: Right. In Utah, the Republican governor vetoed a trans sports bill before it was overridden by, you know, the Republican Legislature. I’m just wondering, you know, we have the seven states that y’all are focusing on for this year’s effort, we have other states, right, that also have anti-trans measures—what does this consistent persistence, right, on behalf of Republicans and conservatives say about where we are now in our culture?


Raquel Willis: This moment says two things: We’re going to continue to be a cudgel or like fodder in-between the conservative fight for control. So they’re going to continue to get in there and heighten the existing ignorance that the general public has about the trans community so that they can kind of win this culture war right? They make issues out of nothing because they know that they are losing party. And then I think, on the other hand, it’s important for us to remember that none of these fights are new. Queer and trans folks have been criminalized, have been maligned since the inception of the US and beyond. You know, all those anti cross-dressing laws, honey, where they cared so much about whether somebody was wearing a bowtie or skirt or whatever is completely connected to them caring about who uses what bathroom and why, or them caring about young people knowing that gender is not a binary and that it’s more expansive, and they deserve to go after their passions like anyone else if they don’t fit into those boxes that have been set out for them. It’s all connected. We’ve got to be in the now. We got to think and forecast for the future, but also know that people have been fighting for generations against all of this.


Tre’vell Anderson: Now your work, I happen to be a little familiar with it, is deeply intersectional, right, often putting, say, trans rights in conversation with reproductive justice, in conversation with climate advocacy. What do you say to folks who feel like these trans-related issues aren’t their fight?


Raquel Willis: When I think about the fight for trans liberation, it is necessarily contending with the fact that we’re all dealing with some kind of gender wonkiness. You know, I know folks like to think that trans and non-binary folks are the only ones who have sparkly spectacular experiences with gender, but we see a day in and day out on the timelines, cis-het men in particular mad about the roles that they are expected to fill that they may not be primed for. We see cis-het women complaining about the roles that they’re expected to fit, you know, as women within this kind of cis-heteronormative society. All of those conversations are tied to the project of what trans people are fighting for in terms of liberation. Because we want all of us to be freed up, we want all of us to understand, as you have so eloquently said before, “the lavender expanses of life.”


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeeeees. You got to quote me back to me! I love it. So Trans Week of Visibility and Action is a great way for our listeners to get started if they haven’t already advocating on behalf of trans folks. But how can they continue past this week?


Raquel Willis: Yeah. Well, I think it’s about continuing to stay connected, continuing to follow trans and non-binary folks who are outspoken. I mean, we’re trans and non-binary folks, the media and still, we know that the media landscape writ large is not trying to platform us in the way that we need to be platformed. Following us is so key to getting authentic anecdotes about our experiences. I think it’s also about if you have the means, donate and support, particularly Black and brown trans-led organizations, because so often they don’t get the shine that they deserve because other organizations have all the name recognition, etc. And then go back to whatever your lane is, your industry, the company you’re a part of, the institution, start having some conversations about the complexity of gender and about how you can make the space more hospitable for not just trans and non-binary folks, but anyone who is different.


Tre’vell Anderson: I love it. My last question for you: you know, I love speaking to our people, to trans and non-binary folks. What’s your message for our community during this week, during this moment?


Raquel Willis: Yeah. I mean, I think what sustains me is continuing to uncover our history. You know, I think it’s about learning the stories, the words of trans and gender-nonconforming people who have existed throughout time. It’s about finding community, whether it’s finding folks, you know, on social media or wherever so that you can break bread, share notes about this life, and find people who understand who you are. And then it’s about remembering that beyond your trans-ness and your non-binary-ness, you deserve to have a full life. You deserve love, you deserve housing, health care, education, employment, your dreams and aspirations, to play sports, to be in the arts, to not do any of that, you know? But you deserve to find your own lot in life like anybody else.


Tre’vell Anderson: And that was my conversation with Raquel Willis, organizer of Trans Week of Visibility and Action. Now remember, Trans Day of Visibility is this Thursday, March 31st, but the fight doesn’t stop there. We’ll link to some resources in our show notes so you can get involved both this week and beyond. That is the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads.


[ad break]


Tre’vell Anderson: Now let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Tre’vell Anderson: Israel hosted a historic summit yesterday that included diplomats from the U.S., as well as Egypt, Morocco, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. Israel already had relations with Egypt, but the meeting is seen as groundbreaking because it came as a result of a diplomatic victory in 2020. That’s when the U.S. helped to normalize relations between Israel and the three other Arab countries in attendance. The high-level talks, which continue today, will cover a range of issues from the war in Ukraine, to a possible nuclear deal with Iran. Diplomats will also discuss possible violence in Israel and the occupied territories during overlapping religious holidays next month. But notably absent from the agenda are conversations about Palestinians themselves, who oppose the normalization of relations between Israel and the Arab world as long as the question of Palestinian statehood remains unresolved. The talks were also overshadowed by an attack in northern Israel on Sunday night, where two Arab gunmen killed two Israeli police officers and injured several others. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the attack.


Josie Duffy Rice: On Friday, a Colorado jury found that Denver police officers used excessive force against the people protesting George Floyd’s death back in 2020. As a result, the city and county of Denver must pay $14 million in damages to 12 people. According to the complaint, the police shot at the plaintiffs with projectiles at close ranges without warnings, even striking one of them in the head. Jurors agreed with the plaintiffs, who allege the police violated their First and Fourth Amendment rights. Meanwhile, in other activism stories to watch, on Friday, Louisiana Supreme Court ruled that DeRay Mckesson, an activist and host of Crooked’s “Pod Save the People”, could be held responsible for a police officer who is injured during a protest Mckesson organized. That demonstration was over the police killing of a Black man in Baton Rouge in 2016, but the disturbing decision has wider implications for freedom of speech because it brings into question who is responsible for damages during protests, and threatens to silence organizers interested in social change.


Tre’vell Anderson: All the gasses we’ve pumped into the atmosphere gave many people an early taste of summer this weekend, with heat waves and fires breaking out across the western US. Blistering heat broke temperature records in dozens of cities over the past few days. On Saturday, for example, Las Vegas broke its March record, hitting 93 degrees. And temps hit 104 in Death Valley, a place which, to be fair, is not known for having a cool or comfortable climate.


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s kind of in the name, you know?


Tre’vell Anderson: You know? Meanwhile, a nearly 200-acre wildfire erupted near Boulder, Colorado, on Saturday and forced roughly 19,000 people to evacuate. As of our recording at 9:30 Eastern Sunday night, officials say no injuries have been reported yet, no structures have been lost, and that they’ve been able to contain roughly 35% of the fire. Also, Boulder officials lifted evacuation orders, but cautioned residents to stay vigilant if they return home. This area is no stranger to wildfires. It’s not far from the site of another destructive 2021 blaze that burned down more than 1,000 homes.


Josie Duffy Rice: As nice as it is sanctioning Russian oligarchs, there’s nothing quite like sanctioning oligarchs back home. That seems to be President Biden’s perspective right now, as he’s set to unveil a new 20% minimum income tax on households worth over $100 million today. It’s called the billionaire minimum income tax, and it could extract an estimated $360 billion from America’s 700 richest families over the next 10 years. On average, billionaires pay far lower tax rates than average Americans since the bulk of their gains come from stock holdings and are thereby untaxed until those assets are sold—it’s almost as if they wrote the rules to the game by helping all the referees get their jobs. But under Biden’s plan, taxes on traditional forms of income would be combined with taxes on unrealized gains like higher stock prices until the total tax rate on each billionaire’s earnings was at least 20%. You may be thinking that your tax rate is higher than that, and you would probably be correct. Realizing Biden’s plan will require the support of moderate Democrats like Senator Joe Manchin and Senator Kyrsten Sinema, who have resisted similar plans in the past and whose support for this plan might cut off their access to several dump trucks full of billionaire money that are now parked outside their campaign offices. Biden’s budget proposal today is also expected to cut the federal deficit by more than $1 trillion over the next decade. Somehow, all those people who love to talk about the deficit are probably still not going to support it. Won’t that be weird? It’ll be weird, you know?


Tre’vell Anderson: Would it. It’s real interesting, real complex and complicato.


Josie Duffy Rice: Real interesting how they play that game, isn’t it?


Tre’vell Anderson: And those are the headlines. One more thing before we go: in 2022, progressives need to work harder than ever to inform and mobilize voters to make sure their voices are heard in spite of the efforts of anti-democratic forces across the country.


Josie Duffy Rice: That is why Vote Save America is launching its biggest volunteer effort yet and asking you to be part of your region’s midterm madness team: East, South, Midwest and West. Sign up and learn more at Vote Save America dot com slash midterms to receive actions you can take every week to get involved in the most important elections in 2022.


Tre’vell Anderson: That’s all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, wash Timothée Chalamet’s shirt for us because it’s covered in soda, and tell your friends to listen.


Josie Duffy Rice: And if you were into reading, and not just reams of inscrutable billionaire tax returns like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter. So check it out and subscribe at I’m Josie Duffy Rice.


Tre’vell Anderson: I’m Tre’vell Anderson.


[together] And watch out, American oligarchs!


Josie Duffy Rice: We’re coming for you, directly.


Tre’vell Anderson: Coming for your money. Time to pay your share. Thank you.


Josie Duffy Rice: If you don’t want us to take your money, you can write us a check, directly. We’ll pay the taxes. We’re fine with that.


Gideon Resnick: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media. It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.