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“We Have to Fight”: LGBTQ Kids Stage Walkouts, Marches Against Anti-Trans Bills

“We need to be loud,” said one youth activist at a march in Colorado. “We are here and we are powerful.”

LGBTQ advocates rally at the state capitol in Denver, Colorado, on March 24, 2023.

LGBTQ advocates are taking to the streets to protest the coordinated legislative attacks on transgender people nationwide after successfully beating back bans on gender-affirming care for trans youth in West Virginia and Wyoming.

Trans activists have organized demonstrations at capitol buildings across the country and are currently coordinating protests for Trans Day of Visibility on March 31 and Trans Day of Vengeance on April 1. Activists have planned rallies at the state capitol of Georgia, which recently became the 10th state to ban gender-affirming care; Tucson, Arizona; the Missouri state capitol; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; New York City; and the Kansas state capitol, among others.

“We are here and we will not allow ourselves to be erased,” Trans Radical Activist Network, a group organizing a Washington, D.C. rally to stop trans genocide, wrote in a tweet.

Independent reporter and transgender activist Erin Reed told Truthout that the protests draw on a long history of LGBTQ resistence.

“I’ve seen #DIYHRT trending and I’ve seen mutual aid being one of the ways people are responding [to anti-trans legislation],” she said. “I’m also seeing tactics that we haven’t seen since the ACT UP era … the tactics we’re seeing right now are more resistant and show resolve in the face of these policies being passed.”

The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power (ACT UP) is a grassroots direct action group that was founded in the 1980s to advocate for AIDS research, treatment and policy change. ACT UP organizers famously choreographed public “die-ins” to draw attention to their demands, taking aim at lawmakers, Wall Street, the Catholic Church and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Transgender activists have returned to these tactics as anti-trans policies are being introduced in statehouses across the country.

LGBTQ advocates rally at the state capitol in Denver, Colorado, on March 24, 2023.
LGBTQ advocates rally at the state capitol in Denver, Colorado, on March 24, 2023.

Trans and queer youth in particular have been targeted this legislative session, with state lawmakers implementing transgender sports bans, “Don’t Say Gay” laws, gender-affirming care bans, and restrictions on the teaching of queer history and LGBTQ social movements in schools.

Far right lawmakers have attempted to justify bans on gender-affirming care by citing the completely false statistic that 80 percent of trans kids will eventually detransition. But these claims are nothing more than fabricated right-wing talking points, the most recent study shows, as more than 97 percent of trans youth continue to identify as trans as adults.

Meanwhile, half of all transgender youth have lost or are at risk of losing access to gender-affirming care, despite studies showing that access to such care reduces suicidality among trans youth by 73 percent, and major depression among trans youth by 60 percent.

According to the Trevor Project, 71 percent of LGBTQ youth — including 86 percent of trans and nonbinary youth — say that debates on anti-LGBTQ bills in state legislatures have negatively impacted their mental health.

“I fear the suicide rates and mental health crisis this will cause the community,” Reed said on Twitter.

LGBTQ advocates rally at the state capitol in Denver, Colorado, on March 24, 2023.

Kids across the country have been voicing their opposition to these laws, staging school walkouts in cities including Morgantown, West Virginia; Iowa City; Orlando, Florida; and Denver, Colorado.

“We wanted to fight to show support for other people who are like us,” Alex Pacheco, a 15-year-old high school freshman, told 9News at a Colorado walkout in solidarity with LGBTQ students in Florida. “We need to keep going forward instead of backwards.”

The Queer Youth Assembly, a queer youth-led movement serving LGBTQ people under the age of 25, has organized marches for LGBTQ autonomy in most states.

“We call for an end to violence and hatred directed toward all people,” the organization said in a petition on their website. “We ask for empathy and clear actions to support our queer, trans, BIPOC, and disabled communities who survive every day despite the world we live in.”

On Friday, trans youth in Colorado held a march for queer and trans youth autonomy at the Denver capitol building, calling for a world where the safety, autonomy, and joy of queer children is protected. The march was attended by hundreds of queer youth, local teachers, drag queens, survivors of the Club Q massacre and allies. Students from Denver’s East High School, where multiple students have died from gun violence over the past few weeks, called for an end to gun violence in addition to LGBTQ rights.

LGBTQ advocates rally at the state capitol in Denver, Colorado, on March 24, 2023.

“Kids like me are under attack across the nation,” said one 14-year-old speaker at the march. “Do we not deserve the same rights and freedoms as the people who write the laws? If the children are the future, please leave us with one.”

Another speaker was Ophelia Peaches, an 18-year-old drag queen and high school student from Aurora.

“We need to be loud,” she said. “We need to be loud enough so those kids in red states that are being silenced can hear us. We are here and we are powerful.”

Other speakers included Rep. Brianna Titone (D), Colorado’s first trans lawmaker, who recently introduced legislation that would make Colorado a “refugee state” for trans youth seeking gender-affirming care, and Rep. Leslie Herod (D), Colorado’s first openly LGBTQ Black legislator.

“Our rights are under attack every single day,” Herod said. “Even as you stand up and fight back, you are forced to endure the pain and hatred that is forced upon you every day.”

LGBTQ advocates rally at the state capitol in Denver, Colorado, on March 24, 2023.
LGBTQ advocates rally at the state capitol in Denver, Colorado, on March 24, 2023.
LGBTQ advocates rally at the state capitol in Denver, Colorado, on March 24, 2023.

Numerous LGBTQ people, many of whom were Black and trans, have been murdered this year. Last year, the Human Rights Campaign released a report on the “epidemic of violence” against transgender and nonbinary people. At least 34 trans people were killed in 2022, with multiple trans people murdered in the Club Q shooting.

Queer youth organizers at the Denver rally read the names of dozens of trans community members who had been murdered.

“It isn’t fair,” said one organizer. “I don’t want to read the names of 50 people each year who were murdered for being queer. We have to fight.”

“We want to be loud,” they said, pointing at the capitol building. “We want them to hear us. It is the first step for making change.”

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