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Some Hermosillo feminist groups push to include trans women, nonbinary people in the movement

A crowd of some 8,000 people marched down Hermosillo’s busiest streets on International Women’s Day. They scream well-known chants and hold aloft signs painted with witty or emotional slogans calling for an end to gender violence, access to abortions — and, in some cases, a more inclusive feminist movement. One that accepts people of all gender identities that share in the fight for equality.

“We believe and we are convinced that it’s important to join forces,” said Toto Respeto, a member of the feminist collective Pan y Rosas Sonora, one of eight groups that organized this year's march.

It was the largest march ever to convene in the Sonoran capital, she says, at least in part because it was explicitly inclusive of transgender women and men and nonbinary people.

“We tried to make it very clear that our marches are diverse. It’s a space where everyone is welcome,” she said. “Todos, todas y todes.”

That’s a stark contrast to other feminist-led events here in recent years, says Damien Mendoza.

“What happiness!” he said. “I mean, this was finally a march where I felt safe.”

A volunteer with the march’s security crew and a transgender man, Mendoza says this year was the first time he’s felt welcome marching with Hermosillo’s feminist collectives since about 2019. That’s when he says some of the city’s leading feminist groups began pushing aside trans and nonbinary people, male relatives of femicide victims and other allies and doubled down on a “separatist” stance, only allowing cisgender women — or those assigned as female at birth — within their ranks.

He says a strain of feminism that excludes trans people already on the rise in other parts of the world has also gained popularity in Mexico — a country that regularly ranks as one of the deadliest in the world for transgender people, especially trans women.

Less than 1% of the population in Mexico — some 906,000 people — identified as transgender or nonbinary according to a national study released last year. But in 2022, an estimated 51 trans people were murdered in the country. And according to groups that  track that data, issues with how transgender people’s deaths are reported mean that number is likely an undercount.

Boiling point

Last year, conflict over inclusion seemed to reach a boiling point in Hermosillo. A mixed group calling themselves “the resistance” brought their own microphone to the primarily separatist Women’s Day march, making space for those who had been marginalized to share their experiences.

Trans women and men expressed disappointment, anger and fear — telling stories of being screamed at, misgendered and physically barred from feminist marches and events.

Some in the crowd urged them on. Others attempted to drown them out, accusing them of detracting from International Women’s Day.

This year, Mendoza says, was different because inclusion of trans people was an integral part of the organizers’ message. But that doesn’t mean tensions between trans-exclusionary and trans-inclusive groups have been resolved.

“It’s a problem that looks like it’s going to continue,” he said. “More women need to pay attention to what’s happening.”

Feminists and people who march in these events need to be aware of who is organizing them and what their stance is, he says. And women should be explicit about embracing transgender men and women in their fight.

Fighting to be seen

“It can be exhausting because I always have to be identifying myself — telling people I’m a trans man or carrying a transgender flag — to be safe in that space,” said Ulises Kimball, a longtime abortion rights advocate who has spent years working with feminist collectives in Sonora and Guanajuato.

“I think it’s important for me to share that one of my concerns before I started to transition was exactly that — whether I would or wouldn’t be accepted in feminist circles,” he said. “And that delayed my decision somewhat, for example, to take hormones and other steps because I did see resistance. Resistance to including transgender men.”

It’s also forced him to reevaluate his participation in feminist spaces since transitioning, he says. But he perseveres, because trans and nonbinary people share in the fight against misogyny, gender violence and restrictive abortion laws.

Last year, Mexico’s Supreme Court ruled that criminalizing abortion is unconstitutional and recognized the right to abortion access.

“That ruling talks about women and people who are capable of becoming pregnant,” he said. “It’s a recognition that women exist but that there are other people and other bodies that can become pregnant and might need to access abortion services.”

That language matters, Kimball says. But it’s been rejected by some women who claim it’s a kind of erasure.

Stronger together

“Including others doesn’t mean women are being erased,” said Liliana Villanueva. “It just makes us stronger. In this movement there is space for anyone who wants to join, and it we’re stronger together.

Villanueva helped found the youth collective Feministas del Desierto as a high schooler. Now 20, she says her group sees making space for people of all gender identities as an important part of their mission, and she calls the idea that inclusive language erases women an anti-trans dog whistle. It's that kind of language that spurred her collective to publicly break from one of the dominant feminist groups in Hermosillo last year and position themselves as intersectional and trans-inclusive.

That stance provoked heated online backlash. But far from stopping their efforts, Villanueva says it’s opened the door to collaborate with other groups working to make feminism in Hermosillo a more inclusive and resilient movement.

‘Ni cis, ni trans, ni una muerta mas’

This year, organizers led thousands of marchers gathered on International Women’s Day in the chant: “Not cis, not trans, not one more woman dead.”

Others held up signs reading “My feminism is trans-inclusive” or “My trans friends don’t erase me.”

Those who want to push trans people out are still common, says Hellenka Montaño. “But we don’t pay them much attention.”

A transgender woman and a member of the group Sonora Trans, Montaño credits years of actively educating the community for the shift in perspectives.

“At events, in marches, trans people are more accepted, because now we’re seen as what we are: people,” she said. “And allies in this movement.”

Transgender people are fighting the same violence and oppression that feminist collectives are organizing against.

“It’s one fight,” she said. “So we might as well do it together.”

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Kendal Blust, an Arizona native, reports from KJZZ’s bureau in Hermosillo, Sonora, focusing on business and economic relationships between Arizona and northern Mexico.Prior to joining KJZZ, Kendal worked at the Nogales International, reporting on border and immigration issues, local government, education and business. While working on her master’s degree at University of Arizona School of Journalism, she did stints with the Arizona Daily Star and the Tico Times in Costa Rica, and completed a thesis project about women art activists in the Arizona-Sonora borderlands.In her pre-journalist life, Kendal was a teacher, first helping Spanish high school students learn English, then heading to Tucson to teach fourth grade.When she’s not in the newsroom, Kendal enjoys getting outside for a hike or a swim, catching a good movie, hanging out with family and friends, and eating great food.