2019 Austin Women’s Rally


History teacher Kent Coupé at the Women's Rally

Will Ingman, Staff Editor

During the last two years of the Trump Presidency, there have been a staggering amount of large-scale protests. The most famous is likely the 2017 Women’s March, in which over five million people exercised their right to public assembly, according to the Washington Post.

However, the Austin Women’s Rally was a different kind of pro-female protest, and, the Women’s Rally and Women’s Marches occurring in other places across America were not affiliated.

According to lead organizer Kym Whitehead, “[The organizers] are not affiliated with Women’s March National, because of the allegations of anti-Semitic remarks,” referring to controversies surrounding key figures in the original group.   In addition, Kym stated she “would never actively choose to be part of an organization that helps spread invective (abusive language)”. Instead, the organizers affiliated themselves with Roe v. Wade TX, a pro-reproductive rights group named after the controversial Supreme Court decision of 1973 that made laws restricting abortion access during the first two trimesters of pregnancy unconstitutional.

Additional activist groups joined the rally,  adding speakers to the roster and claiming table spots to distribute information. Featured speaker and former Senator Wendy Davis represented Deeds Not Words, an intersectional feminist group whose mission is “galvanizing the power of young women to disrupt the status quo through organizing, policy-making, and voting.”, Also in attendance were the Student Empowerment Association, the Texas Handmaids, the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault, the female-focused political organization Annie’s List, and S.A.F.E (Stop Abuse For Everyone).

The event began at 2:00 p.m.with an introduction from Whitehead and a performance of the National Anthem by an acapella group, the Austonettes. Following this, they also performed “Quiet” by Los Angeles artist MILCK, a song previously made famous by a viral performance during the D.C Women’s March in 2017.

Next the president of the Texas Reproductive Rights Rally organization, Andrea Hughes, took the stage, speaking about her experiences as a survivor of sexual assault, as a member of the LGBTQ+ community, and as an immigration rights activist at the forefront of the protests at the US-Mexico border and its various detention facilities. She closed by expressing her joy about the generations of activists present within the crowd, from the elderly and over-it to young and fiery teenage protestors.

The third speaker, activist Samantha Gonzalez, spoke on the issue of immigration and how it relates to women’s rights.

Texas Representative Celia Israel, whose district covers parts of Austin, Manor, and Pflugerville, touched on female empowerment, reproductive rights, and the safety of young women across

Next, Micaela Eller, an organizer with Families Belong Together, explained her stance as a female immigration activist and how the issue of family separation relates back to the concepts of patriarchy and women’s oppression.

Paula Triets Chaney brought up a rarely-discussed issue within social justice circles: age discrimination and the demands of eldercare.

Afterwards came the event’s keynote speech. Former Senator Wendy Davis spoke  as a woman, a lawmaker, an activist, and a survivor. She expressed concern about issue of maternal mortality among Black mothers, stating that women of color in the U.S die during childbirth at a rate three times that of white mothers. Davis also brought up the backlog and failure of so-called “rape kits”, forensic evidence collection kits meant to be used in proving sexual assault. More than twenty thousand of these kits lie untested in police departments across the country, and their success is questionable at best. Davis closed her half-hour keynote speech with an announcement:a major push for increased school funding in the upcoming Texas legislative session to address the $200 million debt within AISD. When the former Senator finished, the Capitol grounds erupted in applause.

After Wendy Davis’s fantastic keynote came McKa’an Zimmerman, chairwoman of the Student Empowerment Association’s Gender Issues subcommittee. McKa’an was joined by Julia Heilrayne, the organization’s president and one of the participants in the 2018 Lamar Bridge shutdown. Zimmerman spoke on the under-discussed and poignantly important issue of sexual harassment and assault. In a shockingly high number of cases, allegations of harassment or assault are ignored. Many at the Women’s Rally echoed McKa’an’s call for change.

But Zimmerman was not the only student activist speaking at the Women’s Rally. Several speakers down the line was one Gigi Kahlor, an LGBTQ+ teenager who framed her speech through her own unique lens. Kahlor, aged 13, is a student at Fulmore Middle School and dreams of becoming a games designer. She pointed to the prevalence of small acts of sexism among growing students, and brought up issues like the gap in wages between White men and minorities, all with a casual and humorous tone that made her message much easier to hear. Kahlor called out the persistence of sexism and racism within the games industry. “Why do White men have to run everything?” she wondered. In closing, Gigi relayed her experiences as a young member of the LGBTQ+ community, including the struggles of embracing her identity amid a peer group largely unaware or against what she believes in. When asked why she bothers speaking up, Kahlor replied simply. “Let’s do it for our American dream.”

However, the speakers were not the only people deserving praise in regards to this rally. Behind the scenes was a team of coordinators, none more noteworthy than lead organizer Kym Whitehead. Kym and I caught up via instant messaging after the event.

“Women expect and deserve rights,” Kym stated. “Women deserve inclusivity, equity and equality. These are not unreasonable expectations to have in this modern age.”

Among the attendees of this Rally was a recognizable Lanier face. Kent Coupé, U.S History teacher in the 220 Wing and the architect of that transgender flag you’ve probably seen hanging in the small courtyard, also attended. Coupé shared his thoughts on the event with me when I met with him for a separate interview.

“I feel that it’s very important for people to feel empowered, to go out there and say their piece, to add their voice to a nationwide dialogue,” he said. “Feminism is intersectional, so [the issues] of our sisters – everyone has a common cause with. Nothing makes me happier than to see a student at a rally or demonstration, and really getting engaged with things that matter to them and they feel strongly about.”