Matt Walsh hosts anti-trans rally headlined by Marsha Blackburn, Tulsi Gabbard

Rally-goers clashed with counter-protesters following allegations surrounding VUMC’s gender-affirming care provision, but the event remained mostly peaceful.

Protesters+gather+for+the+%E2%80%9CStop+Child+Mutilation%E2%80%9D+Rally%2C+as+photographed+on+Oct.+21%2C+2022.+%28Hustler+Multimedia%2FBarrie+Barto%29

Barrie Barto

Protesters gather for the “Stop Child Mutilation” Rally, as photographed on Oct. 21, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Barrie Barto)

Aaditi Lele and Alison Winters

UPDATED: This article was updated at approximately 1:05 p.m. CDT on Oct. 24 to more accurately portray the events of the protest and include the number of attendees, as well as reactions from additional student attendees.

Editor’s note: This article contains mention of discriminatory slurs.

Conservative political commentator Matt Walsh organized a “Rally to End Child Mutilation” as a continuation of his recent allegations against Vanderbilt University Medical Center’s transgender health clinic. Rally-goers were joined by counter-protesters, including Vanderbilt students, in support of transgender children and gender-affirming care.

The rally, which occurred on Oct. 21 at the Tennessee State Capitol, intended to share Walsh’s disapproval of gender-affirming care, according to his remarks. About 1,500 people were reported to be in attendance at the event, according to The Tennessean, although, in an email obtained by the Hustler, Walsh claimed that state police estimated the crowd size to be approximately 3,000. 

In an Oct. 7 letter, VUMC announced that it is temporarily suspending its gender-affirming surgical procedures on minors. The decision was made in response to Walsh’s allegations and a Sept. 28 letter from Tennessee Representative Jason Zachary to the VUMC Board of Directors, urging the clinic to immediately suspend all permanent gender-affirming surgeries on minors.

“We are here to fulfill one of our most fundamental obligations as Americans, as adults, as human beings, and that is to protect our children. That is why we’re here,” Walsh said.

The rally featured 11 speakers, including Tennessee Senator Marsha Blackburn, 2020 Presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard and multiple other Tennessee legislators. All speakers applauded Walsh’s accusations targeting VUMC and reiterated their intent to prevent facilities from providing gender-affirming services to minors. Blackburn, Gabbard and other speakers were cheered on by a crowd of supporters, including armed protestors belonging to the Proud Boys, a notorious white supremacist and far-right group. Some protesters also held signs calling for Vanderbilt University to be sanctioned.

Protesters hold signs calling for sanctions against Vanderbilt, as photographed on Oct. 21, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Miguel Beristain).
Protesters hold signs calling for sanctions against Vanderbilt, as photographed on Oct. 21, 2022. (Hustler Multimedia/Miguel Beristain).
(Miguel Beristain)
Armed protesters in “Proud Boys” gear at the rally, as photographed on Oct. 21, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Connor Warmuth)
Armed protesters in “Proud Boys” gear at the rally, as photographed on Oct. 21, 2022. (Photo courtesy of Connor Warmuth) (Connor Warmuth)

Verbal clashes took place between the rally-goers and counter-protesters, and state troopers surrounded the counter-protesters, separating the two groups. The majority of the event remained relatively peaceful.

Senior Connor Warmuth attended the counter-protest in support of gender-affirming services for transgender people in Tennessee. Warmuth said they attended the counter-protest to take an active role in protecting others.

“I wanted to join my comrades in disrupting the advancement of transphobia, homophobia, white supremacy and fascism in Nashville, in Tennessee, in the United States and around the globe,” Warmuth said in a message to the Hustler.

Warmuth described the rally-goers’ rhetoric as “dehumanizing” and said counter-protestors faced constant name-calling and shouting during the demonstration.

“My stomach was in knots. People were calling us mentally deranged and fags. People were saying trans people should die and that they are the devil. People say all we do is screech and we aren’t civil but this is just another way to dehumanize us,” Warmuth said in a message to The Hustler. 

Warmuth said they believe this rhetoric is harmful to Vanderbilt students and other Tennesseeans who identify as transgender. They added that they wished Vanderbilt’s leadership would do more to defend the university from these allegations and threats. VUMC released a Sept. 21 statement regarding Walsh’s allegations, claiming that Walsh’s social media posts “misrepresent facts.”

“Such rhetoric directly states that trans people don’t matter, that trans people do not belong in society, that trans people are mentally ill, and that trans people don’t deserve to be alive and have a good life,” Warmuth said.

First-year graduate student Daniel Wrocherinsky also attended the counter-protest to support transgender rights and access to gender-affirming care. 

“We were greeted by proud boys armed to the teeth, pastors shouting threats of impending hell, and individuals physically and verbally harassing trans individuals and allies,” Wrocherinsky said in a message to The Hustler. 

Wrocherinsky added that speakers spoke against the existence of transgender people throughout the rally. 

“This event, like many other narratives of conservative discourse surrounding the trans community, was used as a dog whistle to deny the legitimacy of the trans experience,” Wrocherinsky said. “We came out to drown out the hate speech of the speakers, and I think we did a good job doing it.”

Walsh called the counter-protesters “cowards,” claiming that they were attempting to silence the rally-goers’ attempts to make gender-affirming care for minors illegal. 

“They don’t want you to hear what we have to say because they’re cowards. They can’t engage in the argument. All they could try to do is shut us down and silence us. But it’s not going to work. We’re still here. We’re not going anywhere,” Walsh said.

Vanderbilt College Democrats (VCD) president and junior Claire Reber said that VCD condemns the rally for its “bigotry” and “threatening rhetoric.”

“The Republican lawmakers who spoke in support of deeply transphobic legislation and applauded the violent, white-nationalist Proud Boys are enacting copious harm on Nashville, Tennessee, and the United States,” Reber said. “We support VUMC’s decision to provide gender-affirming care to trans kids, and we stand with LGBTQ+ students, faculty, and staff at Vanderbilt during this difficult time. The transphobic rhetoric and legal discrimination must be stopped.”

Vanderbilt College Republicans (VCR) did not respond to The Hustler’s request to comment.

First-year and VCR member Noah Jenkins said that he was glad he had the opportunity to attend Walsh’s rally.

“Tulsi Gabbard gave us a surprise in her attendance and all the speakers we heard were wonderful. It was so good to see so many people out there standing up against the mutilation of our nation’s youth,” Jenkins said. “Seeing this sort of momentum on the right, especially regarding an such an important issue, is encouraging.”

Counter-protestors hold signs in support of the LGBTQ+ community at the Oct. 21, 2022 rally. (Hustler Multimedia/Miguel Beristain)
Counter-protestors hold signs in support of the LGBTQ+ community at the Oct. 21, 2022 rally. (Hustler Multimedia/Miguel Beristain)
(Miguel Beristain)

Odessa Kelly, Democratic Congressional candidate in Tennessee’s 7th district—which includes Vanderbilt—attended the counter-protest and rallied in support of gender-affirming care during Walsh’s demonstration. Kelly said the counter-protesters attempted to drown out the “hatred” shared by the rally’s speakers. 

“Our trans communities are human beings who have the right to live their lives fully and be fully in their autonomy,” Kelly said. “To see racism, bigotry, in your face, if you’re a morally upstanding person, should put you in fight mode. It’s either us or them who get to save this country, and I’d be damned if it’ll be them.”

The event began with remarks from Gabbard. She spoke about her experiences as a “tomboy” when she was younger. 

“I grew up a tomboy, I thought the boys were having all the fun. I said I was going to be a boy because it was cool and it was fun. But guess what? Life lived on, I moved on, and I grew up,” Gabbard said. 

Gabbard also referenced that 2022 marks the 50th anniversary of Title IX, which protects people from discrimination based on sex in education programs or activities that receive federal financial assistance. Gabbard claimed that there are “no boundaries” distinguishing between genders in society today. 

“Title IX was created out of recognition of the biological difference between men and women,” Gabbard said. “Where we are now today is that those in power are denying the existence of women, they are seeking to erase us as an entire category of people.”

Blackburn further praised Walsh and his attacks on VUMC’s gender-affirming care, claiming he did an “amazing job.” She stated that the information Walsh shared about the VUMC’s gender-affirming care was “appalling and shocking.”

“We are all here today because of this information that Matt [Walsh] brought forward and showed what was taking place just down the street right here in Nashville and showing how the radical left is trying to put their woke agenda on every single family in this country,” Blackburn said. “We have to make certain that we end these practices and that we protect the next generation of American citizens and keep them from being the target of the liberal left.”