To Judge Coney Barrett from Your Transgender Sorority Vice President: Keep Your Pledge
Judge Coney Barrett terrifies me, but she didn’t always. Back in the early 1990’s, when we were sorority sisters and I was Vice President of our Rhodes College Kappa Delta (Alpha Delta chapter) house, I remember Amy as a dedicated new sister, whip-smart, and incredibly kind. Rhodes College Kappa Delta was a southern-style sorority, complete with white dresses, big beautiful hair, and a fierce commitment to friendship and mutual support. Deep down I was struggling mightily with gender and sexuality issues, but I still found a home there — one that literally kept me alive as I wrestled with depression and contemplated suicide. Amy Coney benefited, too — part of being in the Kappa Delta sisterhood meant pledging to support each other through thick and thin and helping each of us reach our own unique potentials, or, as we termed it, “best lives.” Sororities may not be the first thing we think of when we think of “feminist” spaces, but there is something quite feminist about the mutual support, uplifting of women’s aspirations and community-spirit that is at the center of sorority life. My time as a Kappa Delta had a lasting impact.
Almost thirty years later we have both achieved in our own ways: I came out as a transgender man in my 30’s, went back to school at Columbia University and became an environmental microbiologist. I am now an Associate Professor at Bard College, having devoted my professional and volunteer life to addressing environmental racism in the US.
Judge Coney Barrett, on the other hand, appears to have risen through the ranks by espousing ideals that are at odds with the spirit of Kappa Delta, and are detrimental to me, our sorority sisters and brothers, and communities all over the United States. Access to healthcare and abortion is critical for women, men, non-binary people — whether queer, trans, or straight. If we do not have access to healthcare, we cannot take care of our own bodies. And, we cannot possibly take care of our bodies if we do not even have the right to make decisions about them.
I did not always understand this. I grew up a very active Catholic in a small southern Illinois town, the oldest of 7 children, where my first introduction to our Constitutional right to protest was through picketing Planned Parenthoods with my pro-life family. I played the guitar and sang loud Catholic hymns while women seeking healthcare tried to get through our ranks to reach the clinic doors. My parents voted for Trump, and my extended family continues to be in tatters over issues like abortion and the rights of LGBTQ+ peoples. It was the stark reality that those beliefs left no space for me to exist as a whole person that pushed me into wrestling with tough contradictions between faith, family, democracy, and difference. Kappa Delta gave me the space, amongst dedicated peers, to survive that struggle and the ability to be who I am today.
This life struggle is also what helps me be more clear about what’s really driving this SCOTUS confirmation battle. It is likely not about Amy Coney Barrett personally, who is probably still that sweet, whip-smart person I knew in the early 90’s. It is about a stack-the-court race-to-the-finish-line by a President in dire straits because of his terrible leadership. I reject the idea of a Judge Coney Barrett, whose views undermine the health and safety of others, having a lifetime sway on the Supreme Court stage. I reject what that will mean for my future, for the future of women, for the future of my daughters, for the future of men, and really for the future of our entire country. And I reject a confirmation process that is happening this late in the presidential contest — while votes are already being cast across the country.
I am further troubled by Judge Coney Barrett’s decision-making since her nomination was announced. The photographs of Judge Coney Barrett and her family surrounding a president who has only acted to hurt me, my family, and all of us who live in the U.S. who need access to healthcare, bathrooms, and the right to control our own bodies were jarring. On top of that, she — and the President — did this without masks, during a global pandemic that has already robbed over 200,000 Americans of life, hundreds of thousands more of the capacity to fully grieve those losses, and impacted millions with job loss, housing, food and health insecurity and economic peril. To be very clear — she trusted Trump with the health and well-being of her children that day. And we have since seen how misplaced that trust truly was. That is not the kind of sound, evidence-based judgement we need for a justice of the Supreme Court.
Lastly, I am deeply disappointed that as a former sorority leader, I somehow participated in Judge Coney Barrett getting where she is today, by choosing her to be a Kappa Delta, and by failing to instill in her the Kappa Delta ideal of living “with integrity and honor in the bonds of lifelong friendship.” Furthermore, as a Kappa Delta, she took a pledge stating: “I am a woman of influence. Because of me, women and girls will know that all things are possible. I commit to unite with other women to educate and encourage every woman and girl to live her best life every day.” She does not now uphold those ideals. If she did, I don’t believe she would have accepted this nomination. I believe she would have seen this situation for what it is — an election-season sham perpetrated on the American people, a trumped up nomination without merit and without heart. I would ask that Judge Coney Barrett let back in a bit more of the Amy Coney I knew in our youth: the one who really seemed to take sisterhood seriously, the one who would not willingly have her “best life” be at the expense of everyone else’s.
Judge Coney Barrett, if you care about your legacy, you need to wait until your fellow Americans have a real voice in your confirmation. If you care about your Kappa Delta siblings, you will be sure all of us have a voice in this election and an appropriate Supreme Court appointment process; not this last minute, all precedents-, reason- and safety-be-damned one. Your personal viewpoints and personal advancement are not more important than our democracy and the sacred rights we — your fellow sorority members and Americans — have to control our own bodies, create meaningful families, safely access bathrooms, and receive quality and unbiased healthcare.