As dozens of local supporters sprawled across the green lawn, a procession of speakers mounted the front steps of the downtown Unitarian Universalist Church to voice their fervent support and concern for suspended crossdressing teen Matthew Stickney.
Posters declaring "Support Our GenderQueer Youth," "Freedom of Gender Expression!" and "Liberty, Freedom, & Pleats" framed the church doors. During the event demonstrators handed out hundreds of fliers to the amused and often supportive local crowds enjoying a last warm Saturday afternoon in this normally quiet New England town.
Stickney, who identifies variously as gay, drag, and crossdressing, was suspended from Burlington H.S. September 9th when he wore a dress to class. He stated it was his way of showing pride in his identity. But after he was verbally assaulted by other students, the principal claimed it was Stickney who was "creating a disturbance," and demanded he change his attire. A series of confrontations then ensued, which led to Stickney's suspension.
The case quickly attracted a barrage of national media attention as one of a growing number incidents involving transgender and genderqueer gay youth. Stickney responded by going into hiding. He has not returned to school or appeared in public since, and at the rally it was two of his high school friends who spoke on his behalf and took a black Menace T- shirt for him as a keepsake.
Said Jane Ellen Fairfax of Tri-S, the nation's largest crossdressing organization and a rally sponsor, "This is not about one high school student, but about *everyone's* basic right to express gender without the fear of harassment, hate-speech, or punishment. Whether you are straight or gay makes no difference: wearing a dress is not grounds for intolerance or bigotry."
The event was organized by Jess Bell (Transexual Menace Vermont), Nancy Nangeroni (Transexual Menace Boston), and Riki Anne Wilchins (Transexual Menace NYC) and attracted sponsorship from a broad spectrum of local groups including the Burlington Women's Council, Outright Vermont, Bi-Net Vermont, the Vermont Coalition for Gay & Lesbian Rights, the Peace & Justice Center, and Vermont's queer newspaper "Out in the Mountains." both local television stations sent camera crews to conduct interviews.
Adding to the rally's flavor, the local Ben & Jerry's provided scores of free ice-cream coupons to event attendees.