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Durango #MeToo March and Rally speakers share text of their speeches

More than 300 people gathered in Buckley Park on Saturday morning as part of the first Durango #MeToo March and Rally to speak out against sexual assault. Retired Navy Capt. Gail Harris introduced speakers to share their thoughts and experiences about harassment and assault.

Here is the text of those speeches, in their words:

Merkin Karr, who founded Lotus, a sexual assault survivors support group at Fort Lewis College, fires up the crowd as she speaks during the #MeToo rally on Saturday morning at Buckley Park. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
Merkin Karr, Fort Lewis College student and founder of Lotus, a support group for survivors of sexual assault

When Trump said he “grab em by the pussy.” I felt it. I think we often forget the next part of that quote. He says “grab em by the pussy. You can do anything”.

You can do anything ...

When I first started working with survivors I was just trying to survive myself. I was 19 when the abusive relationship began. On my birthday in fact. And it took me until I was 21 to tell anyone. I was ashamed. I was embarrassed. Strong, smart women like me don’t have this happen to them. I was trying to become something. I didn’t have time to deal with something like this. I kept thinking I must be crazy. This doesn’t happen to people like me.

But it did. And it does.

I had gotten so in my head about what victims look like that I forgot I could be one too.

Too long has society tried to dictate what it means to be a victim.

And yet we persist.

Society has taught me how victims act. How we cower, how we break down and we cry. How we can’t function. How we are damaged. How our assaults are pre-existing conditions. Liabilities. They tell us how we should react to such a violent event. Something so different for each individual.

And yet we persist

We have been harassed, assaulted, abused, raped. We have been discriminated against, cat-calling, had our childhood pigtails pulled over and over again just to be told “boys will be boys”

And yet we persist?

We have been victim blamed, told we have falsely accused and are ruining their lives. Asked if “this is really what we want to be doing?”

And yet we persist.

Society wants these people to be monsters. I think we all want these people to be monsters. To be the things that hide under our beds and creatures that spring from the dark. But this allows them a disguise. Because they aren’t. The speak with candor and grace. They are charismatic. They are accomplished. They look human. And we have to see our abusers at church, at school, at the bar, at the grocery store, at a night nice out. We face them every day just walking around in our daily routines and then again in our slumbering nightmares.

And yet, we persist.

But how could this be? Victims ... well aren’t we just always weak?

No that can’t be.

Have you ever heard of the lotus flower?

Lotus flowers are large and beautiful, full of color and life. More than that, they themselves are survivors. Lotus flowers can only grow out of the muck and mile. They require specific nutrients that can only be found in swampy dirt. I believe becoming a survivor is a journey. We all start broken and lost. I mean….hell…we might even find ourselves feeling weak. We find ourselves in the dirty water of circumstance. It feels like we will always be nothing but what happened to us. Some of us ignore it and pretend it didn’t happen. I remember that. Wanting to wish it away. But soon enough we rise to the surface. We bloom. We see our beauty and strength and we see ourselves for what we really are: survivors. Just like these flowers, no longer victims of circumstance, but survivors of instance.

You see because the lotus is not a victim

It is a survivor

And so are we.

When we tell men and women that victims are weak we forget to tell them how strong they can become. We forget to remind them that healing is a journey. We forget to tell them that they, they can do anything.

You know President Trump, I have to say I think you got it all wrong.

Its you, or any other predators and perpetrators who can do whatever they want.

It’s us. Not you.

We can do anything.

We can do anything.

Because ... we persist.

Natalia Sells, Fort Lewis College’s reigning Miss Hozhoni, speaks at the #MeToo rally at Buckley Park on Saturday morning. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
Natalia Sells, Fort Lewis College student and Miss Hozhoni 2017

Motivation to be vocal about these issues was the “It’s Just a Costume” video project.

Their stories and voices on this issue really opened my eyes on really how huge this issue is for our indigenous and marginalized peoples.

Here are some of the Policy Insights Brief statistics on Violence Against Native Women:

American Indians and Alaska Natives are 2.5 times as likely to experience violent crimes – and at least 2 times more likely to experience rape or sexual assault crimes – compared to other races.34 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women will be raped in their lifetimes.Among Native women victims of rape or sexual assault, an average of 67 percent describe the offender as non-Native.61 percent of American Indian and Alaska Native women (or 3 out of 5) have been assaulted in their lifetimes.What kept running through my mind was, “Why does this happen to our people at such high rates? And why has this become a norm?”

Like many others in my community and among my Native peers, we were taught what to do when it happens to us, not if.

One of the reasons for such a high rate includes the role our government plays in this, and its ties to colonialism, forced assimilation, and genocide of Native peoples.

Major Crimes ActU.S. attorneys declined to prosecute 52 percent of violent crimes brought to them. 67 percent of those were sexual assault related.

After surviving centuries of genocide, we can’t even have the legal power to prosecute these cases. This has in turn, turned what’s left of our homeland into hunting grounds. Because sad as it is, it’s easier as an indigenous woman like me to be raped and nothing come from it than it is to graduate with a college degree.

I would like to end this with 61 percent or 3 of 5 have already been assaulted in their lifetimes. The harsher reality however is the statistic is a lot “better” than our reality.

This movement has given voice to women across the country who have been silenced. And now is the time to bring that voice to indigenous women and marginalized groups as well.

Dr. Jude Harrison, representing the LGBTQ community, speaks at the #MeToo rally at Buckley Park on Saturday morning. Photo by Jerry McBride/Durango Herald
Dr. Jude Harrison, Durango physician and transgender man, co-founder and director of 4STAR – 4 Corners Support for Transgender people, Allies, and Relatives.

Me Too. If you had asked me yesterday, I would have told you I was sexually assaulted three times from age 12 to 22. That was the three times my yelling and physically fighting back failed to stop the assault. Today, looking back over my life, I realized that I was accepting as normal the times I successfully fought someone off and got away, and the many times the private parts of my body have been groped without my consent. I stopped counting at 15 times between age 11 and my 60’s. And realized my assaulters have included women and gay men, not just the straight men of my youth. I imagine these counts are fairly common for the average person in America.

When “Me Too” was being posted on Facebook I didn’t respond. I didn’t want to risk minimizing the experience of women in our country. Without a doubt women experience sexual harassment and assault at many multitudes greater than men.

And I was asked to speak today to represent the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer community and our experience as victims of sexual harassment and assault. As a transgender man, someone who was labeled as female at birth and knows in that deep way of internal knowing that I am male, and as a bisexual man, I have at one time or another held each letter of the LGBTQ alphabet, and for the first half of my adult life was seen as straight.

Unfortunately lesbian women can attest they are not spared from sexual harassment and assault. And neither are boys and men. I know so many men who have experienced sexual assault as children and adults. Mostly by men but also by women. And their scars are deep.

Transgender people are particularly affected. Especially transgender women. I have spoken with so many transgender women who were assaulted as children. Imagine being a little boy who knows she’s a girl and behaves like a girl – in our culture she is risk for torment, harassment, and sexual violation.

Based on the 2015 US Transgender Survey, nearly half of transgender people filling out the survey reported being sexually assaulted in their life time and one out of ten in the previous year. Over half experienced intimate partner violence.

Those with disabilities or who have experienced homelessness were at 61 percent and 65 percent, respectively.

Transgender women who are not white are 5 ½ times as likely to be assaulted as women in general. Transgender women of color run a higher risk of being murdered than any other demographic.

In Colorado a transgender person is twice as likely to have a college education and yet also twice as likely to be unemployed. Unemployment increases the risk of experiencing homelessness. Seventy percent of transgender people who stayed in a shelter in the previous year reported some form of mistreatment, including being harassed, sexually or physically assaulted or kicked out because of being transgender.

Women who are unemployed and homeless may turn to sex work to obtain food and shelter. 72% of transgender people who have done sex work have been sexually assaulted.

Transgender people in jail, prison, or juvenile detention are five times more likely to be sexually assaulted by facility staff than non transgender people and nine times more likely to be sexually assaulted by other inmates.

Me Too, and Still We Persist. We must move forward with respect for ourselves and each other. Create Female positive culture. Queer positive culture, Sex positive culture. Respect positive culture. There are so few swear words that do not take god/goddess, women, homosexuals, or sexual body parts and sexual acts in vain. I realize I don’t need substitutes I need to stop using derogatory words about anyone, including myself.

One of the gifts transgender people can give our community is bridging the gender gap. As a female to male transman I’ve looked at gender from both sides now. One of the biggest differences between men and women is society’s approach to sexual debut: loosing virginity and respectability vs a badge of honor. Even though the average male is sexually insecure. We have so few role models of healthy male sexuality. And not a lot for healthy friendships. Men are lonely. They lack opportunities for non sexual touch that many women have and take for granted.

Reach across barriers. Gender barriers, sexual orientation barriers. Imagine men and women working together to find ways to teach acceptance, radical consent, and confidence.

It’s taken me a long time to get even as far as I am for finding compassion for my assaulters. Without accepting the atrocious unacceptable behavior of sexual harassment and assault, women need to learn to accept men as human and work with men, rather than against them, to create a respectful America.

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