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NOW state rep talks with the TransAdvocate about TERFs, trans-inclusion and civil rights

By Cristan Williams


I heard of Poppy years before I met her. I knew her to be a major force behind Southern feminism. Poppy has a long history of working for reproductive rights both as an attorney and as a volunteer clinic escort. It was as a volunteer clinic defender that I got to personally know her.

The National Organization for Women (NOW) is the largest multi-issue women’s rights organization in the United States dedicated to taking action to bring women into full equality. Frances “Poppy” Northcutt is the President of the Houston Area Chapter of NOW and of  Texas State NOW.

Poppy is a semi-retired attorney who began her professional life working in the space program  as a return-to-earth specialist. She was the first woman to work in NASA’s Mission Control Center in an operational role during the Apollo 8 spaceflight. She became an activist in the women’s rights movement in the early 1970’s and served on the National Board of Directors of the National Organization for Women in 1971 and was the founding chair of the Harris County Women’s Political Caucus in 1972.

When Fred Hofheinz was elected Mayor of the City of Houston in 1974, he named Poppy to be the first Women’s Advocate for the City.  She also served as chair of the City’s Affirmative Action Commission. She graduated summa cum laude from the University of Houston Law Center in 1984 and worked as a prosecutor in the Harris County District Attorney’s Office for five years before entering private practice. While in the DA’s Office, she served as the first felony prosecutor in the Domestic Violence Unit.

In short, Poppy is real feminist warrior who has spent the last 44 years of he life on the front lines of the feminist movement. Poppy is – and has always been –  a trans inclusive feminist.


Pro-trans, pro-choice clinic defenders: (L) LaKeia, (R) Poppy

Cristan Williams: How long have you been involved in the feminist cause? Can you tell me about the first action you participated in?

Poppy Northcutt: I’ve been involved in the feminist movement since 1970.  The first action I took part in was on August 26, 1970.  That was the Women’s Strike for Equality, the first nation-wide action that NOW had.  I had been reading about the women’s rights movement in the newspaper and magazines but didn’t know whether there was a Houston group or how to find them.  Anyway, sometime in August I read a story in the newspaper about the strike and found out that the Houston Area Chapter of NOW would be demonstrating outside the federal building downtown.  So at last I knew how to find them.  I took the day off from work and went to the strike.  There were only about 15 women there but I happily joined them that day, found out when and where the next  meeting was, attended that meeting, agreed to be the chapter’s PR coordinator at that meeting, and was off and running.

CW: When did you first became aware of trans people who were involved in the feminist cause?

PN: Not sure exactly but it was in the early 1970’s.  Phyllis Frye was in law school at the same time as a friend of mine and when we had the National Women’s Conference here, Phyllis was a volunteer.

Phyllis Frye's 1977 National Women's Conference Volunteer Badge

Phyllis Frye’s 1977 National Women’s Conference Volunteer Badge

CW: Feminism in Houston has been trans inclusive for some time. Back in the 1970s, most of the feminist organizations were trans-inclusive. From instance, the Houston League of Women’s Voters and even the National Women’s Conference was trans-inclusive. However, during that same era, it seemed that some East and West coast feminist leaders were staunchly anti-trans. Why do you think was?

PN: I’d like to think it was because we were smarter and had more common sense but practical realities probably had a lot to do with it too.  Those folks in New York and California were living in liberal enclaves. But living here, we were surrounded by good ole boys all the time.  The Ku Klux Klan wasn’t something we read about; we often came face-to-face with those guys.  We didn’t have to go looking for enemies to our cause; they were everywhere around us.  So when someone wanted to join us in the fight, like Phyllis did, we were thrilled.  We quickly learned that what was important was what was in someone’s head, not what was between their navel and their knees.

CW: What are your thoughts about the TERF movement?

PN: I am amazed that a TERF movement even exists because it is so contrary to what I consider to be the fundamental values of feminism.

CW: I’ve noticed that the same hubris people who stand in the way of trans people are generally the same people who are standing in the way of the right to safe and legal abortion services for many of the same reasons.
The Pacific Justice Institute, the very organization that hounded a trans kid to the brink of suicide, is also an anti-abortion group. The Salt & Light Council, the very organization that went on the news to falsely claim that trans children were scurrying up and and over bathroom stalls so they could watch cis people use the restroom, is also an anti-abortion group. I​n fact, the right-wing terrorist group that was recently captured in the Houston area by the FBI, waxed on about their support of “biblical gender roles” in their “manifesto.”

Why do you think most of folks who are anti-trans are also anti-abortion?

PN: I think we share the same opponents because both the trans cause and the feminist cause challenge sex roles and sex role stereotyping is central to most fundamentalist religions. We challenge what our opponents   view as “natural” and “necessary”  and “God-ordained”.    I think they are very afraid of us because we cast doubt on things they view as certainties. And if one certainty bites the dust, then what else might fall?

CW: Until August 12, 1980, Houston had a crossdressing ordinance which made it illegal to wear masculine clothing if you were sexed female at birth or female clothing if you were sexed male at birth. This ordinance was used against the lesbian, trans, feminist and gay communities. On the 12th of August, Phyllis Frye was able to have the ordinance revoked.

It seems that in some ways, the oppression affecting the lives of trans people has historically intersected with the oppression affecting the lives of cis women. Do you think that this is as true today as it was decades ago?

PN: Yes.

CW: Those fighting against the ERA asserted that equality for women would result in nefarious men hanging out in the women’s restroom. Full page ads were taken out “warning” people that this would happen. Those fighting against trans equality also assert that it will result in nefarious men hanging out in the women’s restroom.

Why do you think the forces of anti-equality fall back on this argument?

PN: Bathrooms, bathrooms, bathrooms!  When we talk about justice, they always want  to talk about bathrooms!  It’s just a fear tactic, trying to make people afraid that someone is gonna be lurking and looking and lusting after them in the bathroom. I still have copies of the flyers that the right-wing used to hand out in opposition to the Equal Rights Amendment.  They are full of appeals to fear.  Fear always is the number one argument of the right wing.  Today, the NRA is out spreading fear that Obama is gonna take away their guns.  And somehow, feminists and gays and transfolk are gonna destroy their marriages.  Your question is why do they fall back on the bathroom argument. The answer is that with their audience, fear works.  That’s why they keep using it.

CW: You and I formally met through abortion clinic defense. Numerous trans people from America, Australia and the UK have contacted me wanting to know how they could get involved with clinic defense in their areas. What advise would you have for those wanting to volunteer for clinic defense in their areas?

PN: Just see if there is a clinic defense group in their area and if so, volunteer.  If there isn’t a clinic defense group in their area, go by clinics on weekends and see if there are anti-abortion protesters.  If so, get together with some other like-minded folk and talk to the clinic about providing an escort service.

CW: NOW is a trans-inclusive organization and specifically supported adding trans people to national hate crime legislation. If a trans person wanted to get involved in their local NOW chapter, how would they go about it?

PN: NOW welcomes anyone who supports our goals so if someone is interested, go to a meeting.  Our meetings, with rare exception, are required to be open to the public.  So go to a meeting and join.  The dues are reasonable.  Normally they are $40 per year but there is a sliding scale available from $15 up for those who need it.  The annual dues include national, state, and local membership.  In Houston we usually meet on the first Tuesday at 7 pm at the Montrose Center.  People can also check with for contact info on chapters in their area.

CW: Do you, as a long-term feminist opinion leader, have anything else that you’d like to say to the trans community?

PN: I welcome the involvement of the trans community in the feminist movement.  We don’t just  have the same opponents;  we share the same goals of respecting individuality and self-determination and seeking full equality and justice for all.

This article is part of an ongoing series exploring trans issues with feminist opinion leaders:
  • Catharine A. MacKinnon: Iconic radical feminist/legal theorist.
  • Judith Butler: Iconic queer feminist/gender theorist.
  • Frances “Poppy” Northcutt: Early trans-inclusive leader in the Southern feminist movement, president of Texas NOW.
  • Janis Walworth: Radical Lesbian who organized the movement that became Camp Trans.
  • Sandy Stone: After surviving an attempted murder by TERFs, wrote a foundational document for trans feminism: The Empire Strikes Back: A Post-Transsexual Manefesto.
  • Robin Tyler: Iconic radical feminist activist, pioneered trans-inclusive Women's Fests, was beaten by TERFs for protecting a trans woman from thier bashing.

  • Radical Women: Conversation with an early trans-inclusive 2nd wave feminist group formed in 1967.
  • Libertarian Feminism: Interview with a trans-inclusive libertarian feminist organization formed in 1973.

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Cristan Williams
Cristan Williams
Cristan Williams is a trans historian and pioneer in addressing the practical needs of the transgender community. She started the first trans homeless shelter in the South and co-founded the first federally funded trans-only homeless program, pioneered affordable healthcare for trans people in the Houston area, won the right for trans people to change their gender on Texas ID prior to surgery, started numerous trans social service programs and founded the Transgender Center as well as the Transgender Archives. Cristan is the editor at the social justice sites and, is a long-term member and previous chair of the City of Houston HIV Prevention Planning Group.
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  • Joe

    NOW just wants all the power it can get, even at the expense of many of its members (FABs, but example!). Transwomen are MEN who cannot seem to leave women alone and allow women to have women-only spaces.

    Transwomen exhibit patterns of engaging in sexual assault/rape, voyeurism, etc when granted access to female-only spaces. I don’t want my daughter sharing, with sexual-predator transwomen, private spaces where she is most vulnerable to attack.

    Transwomen who were born as XY males with fully-functioning male bodies, and who were fully-socialized as males, ARE MEN. Transwomen ARE NOT WOMEN.

    They’re not women any more than I’m a Martian, no matter how much I insist that I feel like a Martian inside.

    • Jasmine

      ”Transwomen are MEN who cannot seem to leave women alone and allow women to have women-only spaces. ”

      The same TERF bullshit. The TERFS hate idealogical attentions is the problem. Nope we are not men, we are women who were born with a condition. Neurobiologicaly we have a female gender identity, it is what is in your head that makes you woman or man.

      ”Transwomen exhibit patterns of engaging in sexual assault/rape, voyeurism, etc when granted access to female-only spaces. I don’t want my daughter sharing, with sexual-predator transwomen, private spaces where she is most vulnerable to attack ”

      Can you give any example of this? Nope? Because trans women are not rapists, in fact we are often victims of rape. We are nore more likely to rape than any other woman, but wait oh, some of us may still have that penis that you TERFS seem to think make people rapists. Not to mention that for many of us who have been awhile in hormone therapy cannot use it to penetrate, I have not yet had SRS, but I cannot ejaculate, I cannot really erect it, it has shrunked etc.. if a trans woman were to rape it would be in the same way any cis woman would rape. It is insulting you assume trans women are rapist by default.

      ”Transwomen who were born as XY males with fully-functioning male bodies, and who were fully-socialized as males, ARE MEN. Transwomen ARE NOT WOMEN. ”

      XY say nothing about gender identity, there are also CIS biological women who have XY and vice versa. It means really nothing. What is a male body? Bringing our beings down to genitals, genitals many of us loath, who has goands who pumped testostrone in puberty, a nightmare for me personally. You seem again to ignore gender identity, if one does not identify as a man then one is not a man. Again it is beetwen the ears that count, there the person is, the feelings are and etc, you try to reduce me to genitals. Disgusting.

      There is no biological entity nor neurobiological identity that is martian. Woman and man are. Trans women are born trans. The neurobiological gender identity does not match the physical body, we have a real condition and science is on our side. So yes we are women, just like trans men are men.

      Now take you unscientific and hateful ideological nonsense and shove it.

    • Dee Omally

      The few, the brave, the hated, and the scorn—yearly we remember those for whom we mourn. With courage that knows no limit, often with beauty beyond description we choose to live our truth. As children we walk alone, with anguish our daily friend, and like a bug flicked from our arm, we leave anguish in the past—and soon we change our name to Ruth.

      I read in the paper today, about a place so far away—Newtown is the name they say. Precious lives snuffed out by hate, by a gunman who did not hesitate.

      I thought a lot today, about trans gender lives snuffed out by hate—I thought about a man—Newton is the name they say, whose laws he did create…

      …said that every action, does create an equal..and opposite reaction. LWT they say it’s called, for living our authentic lives, at times great cost unto our wives. Joe above proves what we all know—that many live with dissatisfaction.

      Wisdom does defy containment; like civil disobedience, it marches on, even at great risk of arraignment. Wisdom is my daily friend; like a guardian angel that remains unseen even as it often flies; wisdom tells me that when truth wins out, the defeated must resort to lies.

      At the academy I often was told, to keep emotion always on hold. Intelligence can go away, as lies and fear do emotions often sway. “Joe” above is not alone, for millennia many a despot has often known—that truth can be defeated, by lies so oft-repeated.

      Joe, for your soul I shall daily pray, that comfort from strife it shall find one day. It is easy to cut and paste, a comment that is full of hate. VJD I hear it’s called—-hearing voices that are just not there, or looking into cupboards and finding fear—when it truth they are really bare.

      Vicarious study is a product of fiction. It contains no evidence, beyond subjective depiction. Empirical study, Dee says it’s called……is required to prove a point so well. Joe is but one of many, far from the first or last, who proves so well…that fiction and lies come out of the mouths or ass, of those on a journey headed straight for hell.

      It is still not to late, to wake up and realize your mistake. Foe can become friend, fear and fright can give way to courage, may my strong words never discourage those like “Joe” who follow Maslow, and circle the wagons, afraid of their own shadow.

    • DarlieB (@DarlieB)

      “Transwomen exhibit patterns of engaging in sexual assault/rape, voyeurism, etc when granted access to female-only spaces.”

      That has been totally debunked. That as the same thing straights said about gays .It’s absurdist nonsense.

      “I don’t want my daughter sharing, with sexual-predator transwomen, private spaces where she is most vulnerable to attack.”

      Now this I understand because I don’t want my daughter to go to the washroom with you RadFem predators/perverts either.I suggest a “straight only” bathroom.

      “Transwomen who were born as XY males with fully-functioning male bodies, and who were fully-socialized as males,”

      1) Unless you have been genetically tested you can’t claim that.
      2) Unless you re their doctor you can’t know that.
      3) You can’t claim socialization without proof.

      “They’re not women any more than I’m a Martian”

      Right Marvin.

      • Dee Omally

        Aww! I get it now! Is this why that person is in the female restroom…you know the one usually holding a broom & mop? She’s really an undercover cop? I mean with all this transwomen on women, sexual-predator violence that we read about practically daily..I mean even Obama is talking about it right?

        I mean Part I FBI-categorized violent felony crimes that all these trans women are committing….what’s a woman to do? Oh, I long for the good old days when restrooms were so safe that they operated under the honor system: just push the door. Now, we have to stand in line, hope we have our ID…just to pee. All this time I wondered why I had to endure such humiliation….

        I really thought I had seen it all….*scratching my full head of estrogen-enriched hair*…..and now I can honestly say that yes it is true…TERFS really look and think like Marshans……perhaps if they kept focus on the real predators: crocs who populate their habitat: marshes.

    • Vivica

      It must be terrible to be a martian. Sort of how a transgender person feels most of their lives. Your comments about assault are ludicrous and are not supported by evidence of any kind. It is this kind of bigotry that creates the violence against transgender women. Shame on you – go back to Mars!

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  • Wow. I’ve always said about the trans-community that I’ve found it perplexing that in a state that is as dysfunctional about LGBT & women’s issues as Texas is, that the TG community has it together but in Denver, we have advanced anti-discrimination protections but the TG community is full of backbiting and tends to alienate people.

  • phyllis nowacki

    It is nice to see an ally in a powerful position