Letter to the editor: Tolerating the mistreatment of trans women encourages the mistreatment of all women


International Women’s Day, a global celebration of the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women, took place in March. To honor this year’s theme, “Inspire Inclusion,” Centralia College held a series of events that included appearances by a survivor of military sexual trauma and a transgender woman.

Right before the events, Lewis County Commissioner Sean Swope authored an op-ed. Because of the trans woman’s involvement, he declared Centralia College’s celebration “misguided and deeply disrespectful to the essence of International Women’s Day.” He also said that the trans woman’s presence took away from “vital issues such as gender equality, reproductive rights, and combating violence and abuse against women.”

In contrast, the International Women’s Day website says “IWD belongs to everyone, everywhere. Inclusion means all IWD action is valid.” Nonetheless, Swope argued that trans women are biological men, and therefore shouldn’t have a say in events surrounding International Women’s Day.

If Swope really believed that men shouldn’t have a say in the event, then why is he — a biological man — writing an op-ed declaring that he knows better than the event’s organizers and women around the world who selected the theme and support inclusionary events? Why does he believe he should have any say in the matter, let alone that his say should hold sway above women’s?

According to the organizer of the local event, Thalia Vaillancourt, director of equity and inclusion at Centralia College, at least 70 attended the trans woman’s talk. While not everyone was initially supportive, the ultimate response was overwhelmingly positive. The week afterwards, the organizer continued to hear from people who thanked her and said how much they had gained from the experience. But if Swope had his way, everyone would have been denied the opportunity to attend the talk. How would that have benefitted gender equality, reproductive rights and those combating domestic violence?

In 2021, in a case of domestic violence, Centralia experienced the tragic murder of Rikkey Outumuro, a trans woman who endeavored to support the Centralia community and Centralia College in particular. Her death was not an isolated instance. The 2015 U.S. Trans Survey found, “more than half (54%) of trans people experienced some form of intimate partner violence.”

Many people believe that it’s OK to say horrible, even violent things about trans women because they don’t consider them “real women.” But the horrible things that abusive men say about trans women in public often reflect what they believe about all women. Ultimately, tolerating the mistreatment of trans women encourages the mistreatment of all women.

Anti-trans legislation affects all women. After anti-trans bathroom bills are passed, many women who aren’t trans but “look different” face harassment in bathrooms. Making hormones illegal for trans women makes it harder for post-menopausal women to get hormones. Bans of trans girls from high school sports have led to policies that make all girls in high school sports submit to invasive medical tests and even genital inspections.

Trans women aren’t the only women who get told that they aren’t real women; so are many women of color, women with disabilities and infertile women (amongst others). Separating someone out of the movement for women’s rights, bodily autonomy and the fight against domestic violence or dismissing their story simply because someone alleges they aren’t a “real” woman will affect the entire women’s movement. That’s unacceptable, and something the women’s movement can’t afford.

The struggles of trans women and non-trans women for gender equality are inherently bound together. Casting trans women out only makes us all weaker in this fight. In order to succeed, all of us need to work together and support each other. That's what International Women's Day is all about.


Tobi Hill-Meyer

Washington LGBTQ Commission