‘It’s Attack After Attack’: Trans Youth Speak Out on Health and Sports Bills Aimed at Them
Young transgender people tell Tim Teeman how “terrifying” it’s been to watch legislators attack their rights in multiple bills across America. They are also determined to fight on.
Willow Breshears says she has been contacted by several young transgender people in Arkansas over the last few days. “One of them said he was going to kill himself if the bill passed,” Breshears, an 18-year-old community organizer for the Center for Artistic Revolution and a founder of the Young Transwomen’s Project, told The Daily Beast of the now-notorious House Bill 1570. “That has weighed heavily on me. I was at a loss for words when he said it. It really showed me how important gender-affirming care is.”
In early April, Arkansas became the first state in America to ban the provision of gender-affirming treatments and surgery for transgender youth. The state’s legislature has voted to override Governor Asa Hutchinson’s veto of HB 1570, which bans transition care for trans minors, prohibiting doctors from providing gender-affirming hormone treatment, puberty blockers, or surgery to anyone under 18 years old, or from referring them to other providers for the treatment. (Legal challenges are expected against the bill; it is one of a plethora of proposed anti-trans bills in Arkansas.)
A local doctor working with trans youth has told Breshears they had already received several calls from trans youth saying that if the medical bill passed they would kill themselves.
“People don’t realize the impact this bill will have on trans kids,” Breshears said. “When it comes to the health care ban, hormones are essential for trans kids that want them. I know I would not be the person I am today had I not had access to transition-related care. It is so life-changing for young people. Without it, suicide rates are higher.”
Madi, a 13-year-old trans girl from North Carolina, told The Daily Beast about how hard it was facing the onslaught of a similarly poisonous slate of bills in that state. “It’s hard to see people like me being hurt by this and not be able to do what they love. It’s very difficult to know I might not be able to do a sport if I want to, and it's just overall…”
Madi paused and sighed, as she spoke to The Daily Beast on a Zoom call alongside her mother, Katie Jenifer. “It’s very stupid and un-needed in our lives right now. It feels horrible being threatened with who I am, because without these things I might not be here today. My mom knows I was very depressed as a child when I wasn’t transitioned. And if I were to go through my whole life like that, I don’t know if I could have done it. And that’s probably scary for my mom to hear. It’s scary for me to hear coming out of my own mouth.”
There appears to be a perverse race in Republican-controlled states right now as to who can legislate most viciously against transgender youth. There are so far more than 240 anti-LGBTQ bills under consideration in state legislatures, according to the Human Rights Campaign; more than 115 of them directly target transgender people, with over 60 bills focused on banning trans kids from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity.
The discriminatory bills have been condemned by the country’s leading medical associations (including the American Medical Association, the Endocrine Society, and the American Psychiatric Association), and are opposed by professional sports organizations like the NCAA.
As The Daily Beast has reported, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Tennessee have already passed bills that would bar trans girls from participating in women’s sports. Texas’ Senate yesterday passed another trans youth sports ban. Legislators in the state are also considering a bill that classifies providing children with puberty suppression drugs or performing gender reassignment surgery as child abuse. The Florida House also passed a trans sports ban yesterday—a bill which also mentions genital checks of children, genetic testing, and the measurement of students’ testosterone levels.
Missing so far in the vitriol and misinformation issuing forth from legislators’ lips has been any consideration of what their targets–trans youth themselves—might feel, which is a mixture of desperation, anger at being malignly used as culture war targets, and yet despite all that is being done to them, a determination to fight on.
In North Carolina, doctors would be banned from performing gender confirmation surgery on anyone under the age of 21 (many of the other anti-trans health care bills use 18, the conventional legal-adult age, as the cutoff). The proposed legislation would also stop doctors from providing gender-confirming hormone treatment, puberty blockers, or surgery.
Another North Carolina bill would restrict trans girls’ access to sports; another would allow medical providers to turn patients down for treatment according to their religious or moral beliefs. One of the most notorious bills would compel state employees to effectively out children, demanding they notify parents in writing if their child displays “gender nonconformity” or expresses a desire to be treated in ways incompatible with the gender they were assigned at birth. The bills also protect the widely condemned practice of conversion therapy.
“It’s horrible knowing that there is a chance that these laws could happen eventually,” said Madi. “And I just don’t think anyone should go through this, because it’s basic human rights—to be able to be yourself and do what you want to do. And it’s just horrible that anyone would have to have that even close to being taken away from them.”
Ash, a 16-year-old young trans man also from North Carolina, told The Daily Beast he was finding this period of time “pretty terrifying. I’ve been quite a bit of a nervous wreck this week. I’m terribly angry at the state government, and I’m trying to channel that into action. It’s just a complete mess. I’m really worried about these bills.”
The bill preventing medical care concerns Ash the most. “It’s been a nightmare of mine for a couple of years that some legislation would be passed that would mean I could not access my hormones. I was deeply, terribly depressed and suicidal before I was on testosterone. I would not be alive today without it. I fear terribly for the well-being of other trans people my age who are hoping to access this care in the future, and also to a lesser degree for myself. I already have a lot of dysphoria-easing changes from this medication.”
The raising of the age of medical care to 21 “means they are not only taking away bodily autonomy of kids but also of legal adults,” Ash said.
Ash was granted special permission to begin taking the medicines when he was 15 (as opposed to 16). “My mental state was so terrible I needed medication to live. I felt like my own body was alien to me. I felt like under constant attack from my own body. You can’t outrun that. I never felt like my gender identity ever matched the sex I was assigned at birth. But I didn’t really feel this super-alien-threatening sort of presence from my body until puberty.
“It felt like there were really only two ways out. I could end my life, or I could change the form I was in, so that my external features matched my internal gender identity. I am very lucky to have a very supporting family, therapist, and doctor. My whole community helped me through it.”
When Justin Sykes, a 22-year-old trans male student studying sustainable development at Appalachian State University, began his course of hormone replacement he was a minor and had to get both his parents’ consent.
“That in itself was a hurdle. My mom was on my side. At that time my dad wasn’t sure where he stood. Now they’re very supportive. Now, to think you might have to leave the state to get what you need is just so devastating—to put another layer or block on something that should just be basic health care. For a lot of people like me, these surgeries or hormone replacements are not optional. That’s why my parents supported me. They thought, ‘We have the choice of losing our daughter completely because I was so depressed and lost, or give him this medicine that will help him feel more affirmed in his own body.”
Katie Jenifer, Madi’s mom, is her daughter’s most passionate advocate, and has been helping campaigners against similar bills in other states like Montana, Arkansas, Utah, and Alabama.
“I had hoped North Carolina had learned the lesson of HB2”—the notorious “bathroom bill” that cost the state billions of dollars in lost revenue and national notoriety—“but apparently not,” Katie said. “It’s stressful, but I appreciate any opportunity to clear up the misinformation out there. It’s harder for Madi and other trans folks to have their very existence discussed and argued about at a state level. That in itself is a tragedy. The bills solve problems that don’t exist and seek to erase trans people. But no matter what bills are passed, trans people are not going away. They’ve been here forever, and they will continue to be here.”
Among parents of cis children “the biggest misunderstanding” Katie has faced is they don’t seem to grasp that “trans girls are girls, trans women are women, trans boys are boys, and non-binary people are non-binary.”
Katie hears the recycling of transphobic talking points like, “What if a cis boy isn’t doing well in sports, and decides all of a sudden to be trans and try out for the girls’ team?” Katie sighed. “One, that doesn’t happen, and two, there is so much gatekeeping for trans kids already. It’s a long process with a lot of hurdles. If somebody wakes up tomorrow and determines they are trans, legitimately or not, they can’t automatically try out for boys’ sports or any of those things. Madi has been on this journey for eight years almost. That simply doesn’t happen.”
The other major misunderstanding, said Katie, was around the medical interventions trans kids have, like taking hormones or puberty blockers. “My response to that is permanent change for Madi and her body would be for us not to help her, and she would go through natal puberty, and her chances for suicide go way up. Studies show over and over again that trans kids shown support at home, and with medical interventions and mental health support help bring their suicide rates down to the same as the cis population. That alone should tell us that it helps, not hurts, kids to allow them to be part of their own health care. What happened to bodily autonomy for people anyway?”
In his veto, Governor Hutchinson talked about the Arkansas medical bill as a “vast government overreach,” but he had already signed Senate Bill 354 into law on March 25, preventing trans girls and women from playing school sports consistent with their gender identity.
Hutchinson also signed a law allowing doctors to refuse to treat someone because of religious or moral objections, a law whose opponents believe will be used to turn away LGBTQ patients. He is also expected to sign a hate crimes bill, much criticized by advocates, which doesn’t refer to specific categories such as race, sexual orientation, or gender identity. A proposed “bathroom bill,” which seeks to stop trans people from being able to pee in public restrooms, is currently stalled over concerns about its costs. One bill would make it a felony to give hormones to anyone under 18 years old.
To the state legislators in Arkansas, Breshears said she would say: “These attacks go so much deeper than having access to a bathroom or accessing hormones. All of these bills are rooted in the belief that trans people don’t deserve to live, that they don’t deserve to thrive, and they don’t want to see us in Arkansas. The blood of these kids is on their hands when the suicide rates go up. When kids feel like they have no one and nothing on their side, it is directly because of these bills. We’ve been doing legislative work for over a month now. It’s a lot. We haven’t had any wins. As you can imagine, it’s very disheartening. It’s all just a direct attack on trans kids.”
What would Breshears say to Governor Hutchinson, who she has already met along with other trans activists prior to his ultimately futile veto of the Arkansas health care bill?
“So much more needs to be done beyond vetoing one of these bills. All of these bills should have been vetoed. These bills should never have come into existence. Cherry-picking which bills are government over-reach and which are not is hypocritical. They’re all government overreach. These are children they’re legislating against. It’s really disgusting, and the reason a lot of families and parents of trans kids are moving out of state.”
“Living in the South and being trans is an exhausting reality”
Breshears and other trans activists in Arkansas are planning a “trans week of mourning” commencing this coming Monday, to reflect on the passage and impact of the slate of anti-trans bills that have passed through its legislature. There will be events, discussions, and expert advice on hand. Help is being planned for those who may need to travel out of state for their health care needs.
The week of mourning will end with a “day of celebration,” said Breshears. “We are pretty hopeful that the lawsuits and injunctions being filed mean the bill won’t get signed into law. But we are trying to get resources in place in case people suddenly lose their treatment. We’re still here fighting to make sure these kids get the respect and dignity they deserve.”
The sports bill was a non-issue, said Breshears, given that there were so few trans kids in sports. “The bills use biologically essentialist language, claiming trans women have an innate power, more athletic ability, than cisgender women. It’s not true at all.”
“It’s disheartening,” said Breshears. “I’m ready for this legislative session to be over. Living in the South and being trans is an exhausting reality. It just feels surreal. You heard about bills like these popping up in other states and they did pop up in Arkansas but never to this extent. It is attack after attack after attack. We cannot catch a break.”
Kendra R. Johnson, executive director of advocacy campaign group Equality NC, spoke to The Daily Beast as it emerged that Jaida Peterson, a 29-year-old Black transgender woman, had been murdered in Charlotte, North Carolina. At least 14 transgender or gender non-conforming people have been violently killed so far in 2021, according to the Human Rights Campaign.
“It’s been a really tough week,” said Johnson, her voice betraying raw emotion. The murder had happened at the same time as the emergence of some of the most virulent anti-trans bills in the nation in North Carolina.
Apart from being intrusive and unnecessary, the proposed legislation also begs the question of who gets to decide what “gender non-conforming” means, and how outing any child who you know nothing about helps them; indeed it may put them in danger if the person they are being outed to is anti-LGBTQ.
Johnson told The Daily Beast that the relentless attacks on trans people in the state were part of an “ongoing culture war that we’ve seen before marriage equality, but which has definitely ratcheted up since marriage equality. They have increasingly targeted the trans community just because it’s misunderstood.”
In the lead-up to the landmark Supreme Court ruling for marriage equality, there was an increase in LGB visibility, and public opinion shifted, said Johnson. “There has been an increase in trans visibility in recent years—including the presence of people like Laverne Cox and Angelica Ross, and shows like Pose—but it’s not as comprehensive as the normalized representations of other minorities in the media. So, there is this greatly misunderstood group of individuals which unfortunately makes them a major target for the conservative right.
“What is most devastating to me, whether these bills get advanced, is the harm they have already done to the trans community, further marginalizing people who already struggle to get basic income, housing, employment, and health care. It sort of ratifies this marginalization of this group that is already pushed out of mainstream society.”
Appalachian State student Sykes told The Daily Beast that he thought there would be bills like the slate in North Carolina “over and over again. But we shouldn’t get tired and burned out. We don’t want them to pass.” To try and stop trans teens getting the health care they need “won’t stop people being trans, it’s just going to make their lives more miserable. It’s not protecting or helping anyone. People are not choosing to be trans. The choices are how to be affirmed in one’s own body.” The North Carolina legislators putting roadblocks in the way of progress are doing so in the face of “the momentum for change.”
If the bills pass, said Sykes, they will not be long-lasting. “I feel frustrated, like banging my head against a wall. I want to say, ‘Grow up, guys.’ Who is in charge of the world is changing. That is scaring these cis white men who are used to being in power. Now people are living freely, they are lashing out. They’re going to hurt people in the short term, but in the long term these bills are not here to last. That’s what I hold on to. The likelihood of the bills passing is low. If they do pass they will be fought against. This is not going to be part of the status quo.” Legislators would better spend their time by spending time in their communities getting to know the full range of people in that community, Sykes said, rather than playing power games.
If he could, Ash would tell legislators that these bills would harm children, not protect them. “Some children will die, some will be kicked out of their homes from being outed to unsupportive parents by schools. Some will no longer be able to participate in sports that provided a sense of community for them. And some will go through the thoroughly psychologically damaging process of conversion therapy which these bills also support. I would ask legislators to oppose these bills with all the power they have. I would ask them to not only vote against them being passed, but to speak out against them and inform others who might support them about the damage they will cause.”
If she could talk to legislators direct, Katie Jenifer, Madi’s mom, would ask them to talk to parents with trans kids or to talk to trans people. “It’s obvious that they have not. It’s obvious they don’t understand what all the issues around transgender health are, or transgender mental health. Like Madi said, we’re trying to solve problems that don’t exist, as we did with HB2. Trans people have existed for all time, trans athletes have played sports for decades. There has not been some massive takeover. It’s just hurting trans people, even having these conversations. To have people discussing your very existence and right to be who you are is harmful to them.”
This reporter asked Madi what it was like to be discussed in this way.
“Nobody wants to be thought of as being disgusting, nobody wants to be disgusting,” said Madi. “Nobody wants to feel like they don’t belong. Nobody wants to feel they can’t be who they want to be. You’re not going to take someone out of themselves. Trans is a part of me, so you are not going to strip that out of me and try and make me someone I am not. I will always be like this. I will always be a girl. You can’t take that away no matter how hard you try.”
Ash too has found it exhausting having his “existence constantly debated. It takes a terrible toll on a person’s mental health and general well-being, and trans people have just gotten used to it. Unfortunately, it’s very expected at this point. I can’t say I expect it to stop any time soon. I have just become accustomed to it. Although I have learned to step back from it a little. I learned not to debate people online because you are not going to change people’s minds in the YouTube comments.”
One of the brutal consequences of this are acts of anti-trans violence and murder, said Johnson.
The anti-trans bills repeat one another, and only differ in language depending on the level of bigotry and prejudice held by their individual authors, Johnson said. The N.C. health care bills were “overreach” into the health care of those already facing discrimination, she added. “It’s horrific that guidance counselors, who should be creating safe spaces, would be compelled to out kids if they have ‘gender non-conformity,’ and then it also protects conversion therapy, which is akin to torture and debunked by every major health association.”
Johnson’s “best hope” is that people speak up against the bills and they expire in committee—or that North Carolina's Democratic governor, Roy Cooper, vetoes them as he is anticipated to do. But just to have the debates has been “devastating” and “horrific” for trans people in North Carolina, and the trans and non-binary staff of Equality NC. “The hateful rhetoric being propagated does the community harm,” said Johnson. In the year that marriage equality had passed, suicide among LGBTQ teens had declined in the spirit of affirmation that followed. “The inverse is true when you have these negative bills,” Johnson said.
Doctors being able to turn away patients on religious grounds “means if you’re trans and need cardiac care in a rural area, a doctor could deny you treatment and a referral. This should be unconstitutional, but LGBTQ people are still fighting for our basic civil rights, unfortunately,” Johnson added.
Breshears believes the Arkansas bills are “coming from a place of retaliation” for Joe Biden being elected president—and being so vocally in support of trans people and LGBTQ equality. “Most of the bills in Southern states are really an attempt to remind already-marginalized people that these legislators don’t care about us,” Breshears said.
“I will always be a trans girl. I will always be a regular girl.”
Breshears herself started to take hormones when she was 13 years old, “so I definitely know what it’s like to transition at a young age—and I also work with a lot of youth facilitating programs for young people.” Breshears said she fortunately had a supportive family. “My family has always been super-grounding. My mom and grandma are very supportive.”
Breshears and others wish lawmakers would address the real problems young trans people face. She has her own “share of horror stories” being trans at public school, and had heard “countless” other stories from young people about mistreatment they had faced.
“This bill aside, it’s already extremely difficult to navigate schools and public spaces as a trans kid. And this bill only furthers that,” said Breshears. “I definitely received a lot of verbal abuse—not only from students but teachers as well. It was very difficult to navigate. A lot of times it was misgendering—by staff and other kids.” In her work, she has emailed several schools, urging principals and teachers to use correct names and pronouns.
This reporter asked if the North Carolina bills passed, would Madi and her family leave the state.
“My mom and my dad will not let anyone hurt me,” Madi said. “They won’t let anybody change the way I am. I will always be a trans girl. I will always be a regular girl. We will do whatever we have to to keep me, my sister, and the whole family safe. That’s it. They said they would do anything to protect trans kids, me. They said they would do anything.”
Katie interjected to say their family had “a lot of unearned privilege. We would be able to move, but not everybody can. That’s the real problem, and it will create a real health care crisis in our state for folks who maybe don’t have the financial means to do that, or people who already face discrimination, like Black, indigenous, and other people of color.” Katie said campaigners were already planning to set up a mutual aid organization to assist those who will not have access to medical care if the bills pass.
Madi’s mom and dad, Craig, have lost friends, and years ago had people advise them to prevent Madi’s transition. Katie said she and Craig were heartened by how many people at their church had supported them, “but we also lost quite a few friends. People left the church, one couple spent hours trying to convince us to send Madi to conversion therapy which is still legal in North Carolina, and which one of the bills protects. That was a tough period.”
Katie said Madi was outed by a local news station when she was in first grade; the crew turned up and started asking other parents questions about Madi. Madi was in running club, and one of the parent-volunteers outed her to the other kids in that. Her gymnastics gym wouldn’t let Madi transition from the “mommy-and-me” class to the girls’ class.
Katie and Craig decided they needed a legal advocate to help Madi, but it was beyond their financial means—and so Katie went to law school, so she could be her daughter’s advocate. This would not be necessary, said Katie, if the Equality Act was law, or any of the statewide equality bills proposed by Equality NC come to pass. “But that’s not what’s happening right now,” said Katie. “My other child is also a member of the queer community. Even with a law degree, I’m still relatively helpless when it comes to the state trying to interfere in how I raise my kids.”
If Madi could address North Carolina legislators directly, “I would just say these bills are unnecessary. There is no reason for them. As my mom said, they are attacking vulnerable trans kids. We can’t really do anything to protect ourselves, so they’re just going to do anything they can to bring us down. But parents like mine, who are supportive and who love their kids, are not going to let anything happen. We are going to do whatever we can to stop this, and to give everyone the treatment they deserve.”
Justin Sykes, who will graduate in May, is particularly alarmed by how, who, and what will be judged as “gender non-conforming.” For one thing, one person’s performance of masculinity, say, is different from another person’s.
It “feels wrong” to Sykes that the government would seek to interfere in family life through the policy of forcible outing. “That is never OK. It’s all about respecting boundaries. If you have an identity you don’t want to be shared, you shouldn’t have to be scared of being outed.”
“I think I would ask them to see my humanity,” Sykes said of his message to legislators, “and to remember that when making these bills that they affect real people. If they go through, they are not moving the country forward. And they won’t get rid of trans people. We will be here, we will always be here. We’ve been taught there is one normal. There is not one normal. Human experience is diverse.”
As the bills are being discussed, Madi wants to be a person other trans youth can look to. “It’s just something that shouldn’t be thought of as disgusting for someone to be who they want to be. And it’s just…” Madi sighed. “I don’t know what other to say other than it’s stupid. It’s not the nicest thing to say, but when you’re not being nice to me, what am I going to do? You’re always told, ‘Treat people as you would wish to be treated.’ We, trans people, have done nothing wrong, and we are being attacked for it.”
Ash finds doing martial arts helps a lot, by getting his anger out physically. “If I can take my anger out on a punching bag, it’s much better than bottling it up and potentially being more on edge around friends and family because of this stuff. Also what helps is spending time with trans friends—specifically having that community and solidarity where you don’t have to explain yourself. There’s a lot of anger and fear. I think in general people seem to be going through different stages of grief with this, like we are grieving the loss of a sense of safety and security that we had in North Carolina up till this point.”
Ash says he is in the fortunate position where his family can move if they feel they need to. “If these bills do go through we will move,” said Ash. “And I also know plenty of people who this is definitely not the case for, especially trans friends I have who are not out, and who have unsupportive parents who they might get forcibly outed to by schools for presenting trans behaviors. They can’t move because the bills are being passed, because their parents don’t know. They can’t do anything about it. They will have to perform according to the gender roles of the sex they were assigned at birth, so as not to get kicked out of home, or not to be outed. And I definitely know people who are not financially able to leave the state.”
Would leaving North Carolina be a huge change, this reporter asked Ash.
“I have lived in North Carolina my whole life,” Ash said. “We moved to a new town this last year, and we are just feeling settled. I do not want to move because of this. It is definitely a big deal to be effectively uprooting my entire life, and not being able to be in contact with my friends anymore. It’s not something I want to do, but I will have to it if this legislation is passed.”
“People are realizing how dumb bigotry is.”
Madi said her school experience right now was “great. I haven’t been torn down by anybody that I know of. Everybody who I have told has been supportive. I don’t think many of my teachers know. Only some of my friends and the principal, so learning has been normal. My life has been normal.” It was “trickier” at a previous school, where fellow pupils were less supportive. “When I first transitioned in fourth grade, people would call me ‘It,’ and they wouldn’t address me by my preferred pronouns. That hasn’t really stuck with me because I was so young, and they didn’t know what they were talking about either.”
The present debates have reminded Justin Sykes of the HB2 era. He finds it exhausting, “having to tell cis straight men again and again that I exist, and that my existence is valid. It’s just different than yours. It’s like, ‘Why are you trying to control me? Leave my body alone. Worry about your own life.’ On the flip side, it is bringing more awareness and making our voices heard in the mainstream. We’re not a small group hiding in the corner. We are making big contributions in society. People are realizing how dumb bigotry is.”
Allyship, for Sykes—who is looking to a possible career in social justice and community organizing—is not just helping with political activism, but can be “smaller, being respectful, use someone’s proper pronouns.”
As a Black trans man, Sykes said he experienced “a double whammy. I always have to explain my Blackness in queer spaces and my queerness in Black spaces. There are very few spaces where I can just exist and not have to justify why I’m there.” Appalachian State is a “very white school, the many spaces I work in are very white. Many times I find myself here having to create the queer spaces and the Black spaces. And it's exhausting in some ways. I also know that in creating these spaces I am building bridges for other people and helping my department become more diverse. Hopefully, I’m making things easier for the people coming up behind me.”
Madi hopes people talk about the bills more, “and realize what’s going on,” lobby their representatives, sign petitions, and show their support. A recent group chat on the subject at school only yielded 2 positive responses, which disappointed her.
Her mom Katie feels like parents of cis kids do not realize their kids would be impacted by aspects of the sports bill, which will include invasive physical examinations of children. Craig is a nurse, and the notion anyone could be refused medical care on the grounds of religion “would go against every single reason why he became a nurse. There are very real issues that need dealing with around girls and women’s sports—like coaches who sexually assault the people they’re training, and disparities in resources compared to male sports—but trans people playing sports is not an issue. And the outing of children around perceived ‘gender non-conformity could put kids in very dangerous situations.”
Ash’s two major hopes and ambitions for the future are to study creative writing at MIT. His other interest is epidemiology. “I find viruses fascinating. This past year I have gotten into the virus-nerding aspects of the pandemic. And I’m definitely going to keep living, and even if it’s not in this state I am going to keep fighting for the rights of trans people who still live here.”
“Seeking a license to discriminate is not new in America,” Kendra R. Johnson of Equality NC told The Daily Beast, but it was “particularly cruel” when aimed at the trans community, given the high levels of discrimination and marginalization they already face. “Legislators don’t understand the blood they have on their hands when they propose these measures without sitting down with their constituency to understand conditions of all the people in their constituency. Words matter. Actions matter. The bills are solutions to problems that don’t exist.”
These words and actions are attacks on trans people, and send out a dangerous, wider message about them, Johnson said.
“Legislators should work to serve the full community, not only the vocal parts of the community that are spewing hate. Their role as legislators should be to improve access to education, health care, employment, and safety for everyone, not sanctioning hate against a greatly misunderstood portion of the population. They should be working to build a state where everyone can thrive, instead of creating a situation where only certain people deemed worthy have access to basic human rights.”
Allies of trans people need to get involved and support trans people actively, Johnson said, lobbying legislators, donating money, and offering their time. In Arkansas, Breshears asks trans allies to donate to local pro-trans equality organizations, like the ACLU of Arkansas, and to find ways to let trans youth in the state “know that you love and see them and wherever you are you’re going to keep fighting for them.”
How is Breshears managing day to day? “It’s a struggle, I’m not going to lie,” she said. “I’m just trying to take as much time for myself as I possibly can.”
“I have thought a lot about leaving Arkansas,” Breshears added. “But these bills remind me about how much work there is to do here. I am definitely in it for the long run.”