Organizations that oppose gay, lesbian and transgender rights are rolling into East Coast cities over the next two weeks on a touring bus. They are spreading a message that being transgender goes against biology, and are hoping to reverse protections and rights transgender people receive.
The bright orange “Free Speech Bus,” as organizers have dubbed it, was in New York City on March 22 and 23. Its next stops include Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
The bus stands out. It is decorated with boy and girl stick figures with their respective XX and XY chromosomes, and this slogan: “Boys are boys…and always will be. Girls are girls…and always will be. You can’t change sex. Respect all.”
Organizers say they hope the campaign will encourage people to speak out against legislation that permits transgender students to use their preferred bathroom in schools, and sex education that teaches gender identity.
“[Conservatives] feel like they’re being silenced by a small but very loud group of people,” Gregory Mertz, U.S. director for CitizenGo, one of three organizations behind the campaign, said. “They’re trying to intimidate us — that’s not fair. That’s not American values.”
Two other groups in this campaign — the National Organization for Marriage and the International Organization for the Family — are both headed by Brian Brown, who famously led a boycott against Starbucks after the coffee chain endorsed same-sex marriage.
All of the planned stops the bus is making are considered safe places for transgender people. New York City, where the bus stopped earlier this week, has passed memos requiring teachers to refer to students by their preferred gender pronouns and calls for students to participate in school sports that correspond with their gender.
In Philadelphia, Mayor Jim Kenney has expressed continued support for the LGBT community and upholds former President Barack Obama-era protections for transgender students.
For a conservative agenda, the Free Speech Bus has chosen a route through progressive cities. That, Mertz said, was strategic. He said they want to help raise awareness about a bathroom bill in Massachusetts, and a lawsuit a student filed against a suburban Philadelphia school for making him use the same locker room as a transgender male.
“We believe that this bus is opening the dialogue to these questions, like who should students tell, what’s their recourse,” Mertz said, referencing the locker room incident. “Instead, it’s that now you let anybody change with anyone...Nobody has a right to feel uncomfortable.”
“In the United States, we all have equal rights,” Mertz said. “What some people want to do is create special rights for special people. We’re not repealing back someone’s rights.”
The Free Speech Bus will roll into Boston on March 27 and 28, before heading south to Philadelphia on March 29. Bus stop locations have not been disclosed.