While lawmakers debate their rights in statehouses across the nation, trans youth refused to be left out of the conversation.
Across the country, Republican state lawmakers are pushing legislation to ban transgender youth from sports, take away their access to transition-related health care, including hormone treatments and puberty blockers, and punish families and health care providers who treat them in ways that affirm their identities.
These bills are bolstered by coordinated support from anti-LGBTQ groups, including the Heritage Foundation, Alliance Defending Freedom, and Family Policy Alliance. The groups are mentioned as "national leading partners" on the website of a right-wing coalition of groups called Promise to America's Children, which offers policymakers a way to request model legislation to use in drafting their bills.
But transgender young people have not allowed GOP legislators to leave them out of the conversation about their own rights. Transgender kids in Tennessee, Texas, Alabama, South Carolina, and elsewhere have spoken out about the harm lawmakers could do, and in some cases have done, to their health and well-being by introducing these bills.
Arkansas, Tennessee, and Mississippi have all enacted trans sports bans, and the South Dakota governor issued an executive order saying that student athletes would have to produce birth certificates or affidavits attesting to the sex assigned to them at birth in order to play on girls sports teams. Arkansas also enacted a bill limiting transgender youth's health care after the legislature overrode a veto on the bill from Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson last week.
The Texas Senate State Affairs Committee on Monday discussed a bill that would define the provision, consent to, and administration of transition-related care to minors as child abuse and could result in parents spending time in prison for affirming their child.
On Wednesday, the Florida House passed a bill that would stop transgender youth from playing on the sports team of their gender. The North Dakota Legislature passed a similar sports ban bill on Thursday that is now headed to the state's Republican Gov. Doug Burgum.
West Virginia passed a bill last week that would ban transgender girls and women from competing on girls' and women's sports teams from middle school through college. West Virginia Republican Gov. Jim Justice said on Wednesday that he would sign the bill into law.
Transgender youth are fighting back against these laws.
Ten-year-old Kai Shappley testified in front of the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs on April 12 as it was considering a bill that would classify gender-affirming care as child abuse. She told the senators, "It makes me sad that some politicians use trans kids like me to get votes from people who hate me just because I exist," and said the law would target her mother both as a parent and as a nurse.
Landon Richie, an 18-year-old who described himself as a "proud transgender Texan," said at an Equality Texas event on Wednesday, "Now trans youth are seeing these bills that tell them that they don't know who they are and that their parents are child abusers for affirming them. That is incorrect and that sends the message to trans youth, not only in Texas but all over the country, that they are not loved and that they do not belong."
Richie addressed other transgender youth, saying, "You do belong. ... There is nothing wrong about us, nothing broken and ... we deserve to be loved, to be cared for, respected, and [have] access to the same rights anybody else has."
Syrus Hall, age 17, has spoken to media outlets about why he opposes an Alabama bill that would punish doctors for providing transition-related care. The bill passed in the Alabama Senate in March but has not yet passed in the House.
"I worked really hard to be able to transition. I dealt with bullying at school, and people being mean to me just because I exist. If I can deal with that, I know who I am. I'm not going to go back," Hall told National Public Radio's "Morning Edition."
Eli Bundy, a 16-year-old transgender and nonbinary person, testified against a sports ban bill in South Carolina in February: "We see right through your efforts to discriminate against us by disguising this bill as protection for female athletes and we refuse to accept your hate and bigotry without a fight."
In March, the South Carolina House Judiciary Committee tabled the bill, ending its chances for passage this session.
Adam, a transgender eighth-grader in Tennessee, has continued to speak out against anti-trans policies after the state's Republican Gov. Bill Lee signed a sports ban bill into law. He told public radio station WKNO in Cordova, Tennessee, "I would like to at least try to play other sports in the future, but with this new law I won't even have the opportunity."
Rebekah, a 14 year-old in New Jersey, was featured in a Human Rights Campaign video that the organization shared on Wednesday. A field hockey player, Rebekah said, "When we're on the field, my teammates, they just see me as me. They see me as a teammate who they're going to play with, who they're going to win with, who they're going to lose with, and just someone who they're going to work with together."
Transgender kids have also advocated for their rights at the federal level. Stella Keating, a 16-year-old from Washington state, testified in front of the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee on March 17 in support of the Equality Act, a federal bill that would expand and clarify LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections.
Keating said, "Right now, I live in a state where I have equal protection under the law. And as a high-school sophomore, I'm starting to look at colleges. And all I can think about is this: Less than half of the states in our country provide equal protection for me under the law. What happens if I want to attend college in a state that doesn't protect me?"
Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.