MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Hundreds of young people gathered on the lawn of the Vermont Statehouse on Friday as part of a nationwide series of events to help build support for transgender rights amid what they denounced as an increasingly hostile climate.
Chanting, “We’re here, we’re queer, get used to it!” many draped themselves in pride flags or carried posters with messages like “yay gay” or “protect trans kids.”
Similar events were planned at capitols in states including South Carolina, Alabama, Minnesota, Nebraska and Montana, and at other venues Friday and this weekend
Young people, some as young as middle-school, stood in front of the Vermont crowd and told of their struggles with their sexuality at a time when many people across the country refuse to acknowledge them.
Charlie Draugh, a 17-year-old high school senior from Chisago, Minnesota, who attends a boarding school in Vermont, said he was angry that groups are trying to control his life and turn him into a political pawn that he is not.
“My life is not your debate,” Draugh said. “It is not a political issue. I am not hurting anyone and I am certainly not hurting myself.”
The rallies — dubbed “Transgender Day of Visibility” — come as Republican lawmakers across the U.S. have pursued hundreds of proposals this year to push back on LGBTQ+ rights, particularly rights for transgender residents, including banning transgender girls from girls’ sports, keeping transgender people from using restrooms in line with their gender identities and requiring schools to deadname transgender students — requiring they be identified by names they were given at birth.
At least 11 states have now enacted laws restricting or banning gender-affirming care for minors: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Utah, South Dakota and West Virginia. Federal judges have blocked enforcement of laws in Alabama and Arkansas, and nearly two dozen states are considering bills this year to restrict or ban care.
In North Dakota, the state Senate voted Thursday to override a veto by Republican Gov. Doug Burgum of a bill that would generally prohibit public school teachers and staff from referring to transgender students by pronouns other than those reflecting the gender assigned to them at birth. It’s unclear if the North Dakota House will also vote to override the veto.
On Friday, President Joe Biden issued a statement supporting Transgender Day of Visibility. The president said transgender Americans deserve to be safe and supported in every community. He denounced what he called hundreds of hateful and extreme state laws that target transgender kids and their families.
”Let me be clear: These attacks are un-American and must end,” Biden’s statement said. “The bullying, discrimination, and political attacks that trans kids face have exacerbated our national mental health crisis.”
Dana Kaplan, the executive director of Outright Vermont, which helped sponsor Friday’s event at the Vermont Statehouse, said the level of targeted hate for transgender youth is unprecedented.
“There are over 450 bills right now that are specifically targeting the LGBTQ community and trying to strip trans kids of their right to exist — when it comes down to it, their rights to play sports, their right to gender affirming health care,” Kaplan said. “These are sort of basic pillars of what we all need to be able to live our lives and and for trans young people, they are having to shoulder way more than any young person ever should.”
Vermont was the first state in the country to pass a law allowing civil unions for same-sex couples and adopted one of the first gay marriage laws. It has been known for being generally welcoming to the LGBTQ+ community.
A number of police from the Vermont capitol were watching the Montpelier rally, but there were no problems and the rally gradually began to disperse about an hour after it began.
Aspen Overy, 19, of Burlington, who came out as transgender a couple of years ago, said they attended the Montpelier rally to show support for other trans people.
“I think there’s this myth of Vermont as like this lovely, perfect little state,” Overy said. “But as many of the trans kids said today… those kids still frequently face so much hatred and discrimination for being, for living their lives and that’s not okay.”
Overy, a student at the University of Vermont, said they hoped the rally would make it easier to support each other and build community among transgender people in Vermont.
“In addition, I think it also provides a place for these people to feel seen, which is so essential, and to feel welcomed,” Overy said.