Last week, chalk writing reading ““#What is a girl?, #LGB, #NoPride,” and “#What is a Woman?” was discovered outside several Madison businesses. The chalking occurred on the first day of June – the start of Pride month.
The chalking was done by Mary Jo Walters, who made headlines last year when she withdrew her candidacy for a place on the Madison Metropolitan School District Board of Education. She gave up the race after making a Facebook post in which she referred to herself as “trans-a-phobic.”
Walters says some of the chalked hashtags refer to a recently-released documentary.
“When it comes to writing ‘what is a woman?’, I did that because it was the first day of pride and it also was the release of the movie What is a Woman? So that’s why I used that hashtag,” Mary Jo said.
The film purports to feature interviews on the topic of womanhood. Produced by far right news outlet The Daily Wire, it features selectively edited interviews with trans activists and academics.
News outlet LGBTQ Nation called the documentary “propaganda” and “full of transphobic lies,” and said that it portrays the concept of gender transition as “threatening [to] the Western Christian way of life.”
The film features conservative commentator Matt Walsh, who identifies himself as a “Theocratic Fascist” in his Twitter bio, and has come under fire for allegedly using images of minors without their permission in the film. Walsh has also been criticized for calling the trial of Kyle Rittenhouse “malicious prosecution,” and for promoting white supremacist “replacement theory.”
I also asked Mary Jo about what she was trying to accomplish politically.
“I’m boycotting Youtube right now because they had a queer ad – an ad about queers at the beginning of the video I wanted to watch. I don’t want to hear about queers before I’m about to watch a video! Ban! I don’t want to hear about ‘queer,’ I don’t want to hear about ‘trans.’ I’m done, I don’t want to hear about it.”
She went on to describe her belief that transgender pride is a conspiracy to indoctrinate children:
“MJW: Why aren’t we making a ban on anything that could be affecting those girls? Because it’s a hemorrhage, and it needs a tourniquet, and the ban is a tourniquet.
AB: do you see the art you did on the sidewalks as a way of accomplishing that?
Fiddlesticks Knits is a queer and woman owned yarn and fiber store on Atwood Avenue. The store, which opened last summer during the pandemic, prides itself on inclusion, accessibility, and sustainably-made items.
Fiddlesticks was one of several businesses that had these messages chalked outside its shop.
After finding the chalk, and washing it away, owner Erica Hainz organized what she referred to as a “counter-protest” later in the day. That afternoon, members and allies of Madison’s queer community wrote positive, pro-queer messages down the block:
“It was really good this time to have a really clear way to direct people to be like ‘here’s where you should put your energy, here’s how we can right this wrong and get people out here to show that there are so many more people in this community that want to be inclusive and support and love the trans people of this community, the queer people of this community, and to replace that transphobic nonsense with affirming things, reclaiming the space. It’s really lovely,” Erica said.
In February, Fiddlesticks also had its Progress Flag torn down. The Progress Flag is a rainbow pride flag which incorporates a design symbolizing the trans community.
“Our flag was ripped down. They actually left the flag on the doorstep, but they bent the pole badly enough that we had to replace it. That one was very jarring and disillusioning in a way. It was just so bizarre walking up to my storefront and seeing that someone had done something,” Erica said.
Mary Jo denies being involved in this incident.
Amanda Haynes – no relation to Erica Hainz – is the president of the Madison Knitters’ Guild. When I talked to her about the chalking, here’s what she said:
“The Madison Knitters’ Guild stands in solidarity of Fiddlesticks Knits and the LGBT+ community. We are committed to making the knitting community in Madison and beyond safe and inclusive for all. There is absolutely no place here for behavior and language that degrades any neighbor in our community,” Amanda said.
These events take place against a national backdrop of rising anti-LGBTQ+ hate incidents. 2021 was the deadliest year for transgender and gender-nonconforming people on record, with trans people of color being especially likely to be targets of violence.
Image courtesy of Erica Hainz.