By Susan Stevens

I met Maddie Diane McCrory and her wife Ophelia last summer at a fundraiser that I’d put together for Maddie and her two fellow labor organizers who had been fired, as a union-busting tactic, by one of our local Starbucks stores. I’d expected, and led these young people to believe, that it would be a huge event, one likely to provide substantial economic support for them. They were scrambling to pay their rents, buy gas and feed themselves whilst simultaneously feeding, growing and birthing their contribution to the great American workers’ movement of our time. Meanwhile, their opponents sat back, dug into their seemingly bottomless resources, and waited for these tender-hearted and creative young people to become so worn down that they would give up on their vision for a better world — a vision that Starbucks had initially capitalized on, to appeal to their primarily progressive clientele, by calling their employees “partners,” and pledging to cover college tuition and healthcare, including gender-affirming care for trans employees.

The fundraiser ended up being attended by only a handful of people — mostly these young organizers and their friends. Yet rather than deciding I was wasting their time and trying to quickly extricate themselves, they sat down, broke bread, and entered into deep discourse about their experiences working together at a job and in an atmosphere that they loved so much. They’d become passionate about collaborating to expand Starbucks’ supposedly “woke” stance into a real awakening — a willingness to enter into an actual partnership built on respect for their workers and receptiveness to their communications about the working conditions they needed to thrive.

After my totally non-epic “fundraiser,” Maddie encouraged me with the words: “…what you did and how you did it was perfect.” Her words jolted me awake to the true mission of this generation that the Right disparagingly calls “the snowflake generation”: ushering in a world where everyone is received and affirmed as perfect. Immersed in this sense of rightness within ourselves and our relationships with others, we’re free to stop limiting our uniqueness to fit outdated standards. Held in check only by love for one another, we’re free to imagine, campaign for and create the world we want to live in.

I met Maddie and Ophelia a second time that summer at a Kansans for Constitutional Freedom canvass where we urged our Kansas City, Kansas neighbors to reject a Republican anti-abortion ballot measure. Back in 2019, the Kansas Supreme Court had ruled that abortion rights were encoded in our State Constitution. This gave us protections that were lacking in other red states upon the US Supreme Court’s overturning of Roe V Wade — protections our Republican-dominated House and Senate were eager to undo.

The Republicans introduced the ballot measure during a traditionally low-turnout non-presidential primary election — yet Kansans showed up in force to defeat the amendment by an 18% margin. This made last summer a blazing sunrise that illuminated the landscape of possibilities open to towns, cities, states and a nation where most rank-and-file people are registered to vote, stay informed on the issues and vote in every single election with the same diligence with which they don’t neglect to draw a breath.

That summer gave me hope that Kansans were seeing the disconnect between our Republican-controlled legislature and the wants and needs of the majority of Kansans. It was encouraging to see my US House Representative, pro-choice and pro-LGBTQIA+ Democrat Sharice Davids, win reelection in spite of the way Republicans had split apart Wyandotte County, the most diverse county in Kansas, during the redistricting process and diluted the black voices of Northern Wyandotte County by pushing them out of Davids’ district and into a predominantly white, rural district.

But that was a rare bright spot, as pro-choice and pro-LGBQIA+ US Senate Candidate Mark Holland lost to longtime Republican incumbent Jerry Moran, and our State Legislatures retained their Republican supermajorities, who then resumed their onslaught on individuals’ rights to privacy and bodily autonomy. Things are happening so quickly in the right’s escalating war on trans people that Maddie recommends periodically checking the Trans Legislation Tracker to see the current status of anti-trans laws from state to state.

One piece of recently-passed Kansas legislation that Maddie finds quite distressing is Senate Bill 180, which bans both trans and intersex women from female-only spaces such as women’s restrooms, locker rooms, prisons, rape crisis centers and domestic violence shelters. Where will non-cis women be able to turn when needing to recover from rape or get out of abusive relationships?

Also of concern is the move to ban puberty blockers — the main form of gender-affirming care provided to minors. Maddie, who didn’t come out as trans till age 20 and therefore did experience male puberty, says, “Puberty sucks for everybody, but, like, when you’re trans and you’re going through puberty, it’s especially distressing because things are happening to your body — not only that you don’t want and that are uncomfortable, but also make you feel really, really, really, really bad about yourself. And when you know that different things should be happening, it just doesn’t feel right…

“…I had a lot of internalized transphobia at the time, so I was kind of hypermasculinizing myself, so I was trying to be like super-masculine, and be like, ‘No, no, I don’t want to dress up like a girl: I’m a dude, and I’m gonna be a super-strong dude, and I’m gonna wear khakis and Aro poster shirts…’ and whatever I thought being like a man was…”

Maddie continues: “…but deep down, there was a lot of self-hate and a lot of distress that was going on…” Puberty blockers provide respite to a preteen or teen engulfed in debilitating gender dysphoria. The most commonly-used puberty blockers are referred to as gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) analogues. If a young person decides to stop taking GnRH analogues, puberty resumes.

Maddie began hormonal gender-affirming care at age 25 after living as a woman for five years. Before being fired for organizing with her fellow Starbucks workers, she’d been set to move forward with Starbucks’ offer of gender-affirming surgery. Now the surgery’s been put on hold, and as to her hormonal therapy, it’s expensive without health insurance. She recently paid about $50 total to fill her prescriptions for progesterone and her testosterone blocker.

Employer-provided health insurance is a great thing when you don’t have an employer like Starbucks who will pull the rug out from under you if you don’t smile and put up with subpar conditions out of gratitude. Yet in the grander scheme of things, universal healthcare that’s not tied to one’s job would offer everyone immeasurably more security and freedom. I suspect that’s one reason why the corporate class fights so hard against releasing that chain. As social democrats, it is incumbent on us to help the working class eliminate that chain for good!

Susan Stevens is the Chair of the Kansas City, Kansas chapter of SDUSA.

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