MONTPELIER, Vt. -- Thousands of people rallied across the country Friday as part of a Transgender Day of Visibility in support of the rights of transgender people and their resilience amid what many denounced as an increasingly hostile environment.
Supporters converged on statehouses nationwide, at the Capitol Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C., and were planned as far away as Mexico City and the Portuguese capital of Lisbon to mark a day of international unity first proclaimed more than a decade ago.
Chanting, “We're here, we're queer, get used to it!" many at the statehouse in Montpelier, Vermont, draped themselves in pride flags or carried posters with messages like “yay gay” or “protect trans kids.”
Transgender youth stood in front of the Vermont crowd and spoke movingly of the lack of support for their gender identity and sexuality.
Charlie Draughn, a 17-year-old high school senior from Chisago City, 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.
“My life is not your debate,” Draughn said. “It is not a political issue. I am not hurting anyone and I am certainly not hurting myself.”
The rallies came as Republican lawmakers nationwide have pursued hundreds of proposals this year to push back on LGBTQ+ rights, particularly those of 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 — mandating they be identified by names they were given at birth.
“We’re not a new idea. We’re not a new group,” said Penelope Torres, who traveled from Chicago to Washington, D.C., where more than 1,000 people marched from Union Station to the reflecting pool. “We have always been here, we’ve always been part of the communities and it’s time to start recognizing that and to give us equal protections.”
At least 11 states have 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.
On Friday, President Joe Biden issued a statement supporting Transgender Day of Visibility and reaffirming that 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 said. “The bullying, discrimination, and political attacks that trans kids face have exacerbated our national mental health crisis.”
Draped in pride flags and carrying signs outside the Alabama capital of Montgomery, about 100 mostly young people marched around the statehouse where lawmakers last year approved the nation’s first law making it a felony to provide gender-affirming drugs to transgender minors, as well as legislation governing what school bathrooms and sports teams transgender kids can access.
Rhydian Gonzalez, an 18-year-old high school student at the Magic City Acceptance Academy, founded as a school that welcomes LGBTQ students, said anti-transgender bills don't help anyone.
"Transitioning saved my life and so many others and I think it’s so important that people understand that," said Gonzalez, who began socially transitioning at 14 and began testosterone treatment at 16.
“Without it I don’t think I would be here,” Gonzalez said.
In Connecticut, Democratic Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, state lawmakers, transgender advocates and others clapped and cheered as the Transgender Pride flag was raised over the state Capitol in Hartford for the first time.
State Rep. Dominique Johnson of Norwalk, who identifies as gender nonconforming, likened the day to the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City.
“We stand on the shoulders of our elders, and we want the next generation to stand on our shoulders," Johnson said. "I might be the first legislator to use singular they pronouns in this dome, but I will not be the last.”
In Montana, supporters gathered in the rotunda of the state Capitol in Helena in support of the transgender, nonbinary and Two Spirit community, two days after Montana’s Legislature gave final passage to a bill that would ban gender-affirming medical care for transgender minors. The governor has not said if he will sign the bill.
Remi Still Smoking, 17, said that bill and another that would define sex in state law as only male or female are “degrading.” Transgender people are not part of a fad, or something new, said Still Smoking, who is Native American.
“I don’t want to go back to the closet,” Still Smoking said. ”I am happy how I am and I want people to understand that. I’m not hurting my body. I’m normal.”
Outside the South Carolina State House in Columbia, bubbles filled the spring air as Greg Green, the executive director of Transgender Awareness Alliance, hugged people as they arrived.
For Green, the day was about showing people who don’t feel safe coming out that their identity is still valid.
“I’m visible to show those who aren’t that it’s OK to be yourself right where you are,” said Green, a former police officer whose organization trained voluntary marshals to help monitor safety at the celebration.
“This year it’s a bit scarier because there’s such an intense effort to erase trans folks and our community,” Green said.
In Topeka, Kansas, more than 100 people, many of them transgender youth, marched around the Statehouse to celebrate transgender identity and to protest proposals before the Legislature to roll back transgender rights.
International Transgender Day of Visibility was created in 2010 by an advocate who decried that most media coverage focused on anti-transgender violence rather than the positive contributions to society made by transgender people, according to advocacy group GLAAD. Advocates say it’s important to improve transgender visibility because many voters and policymakers take actions that impact transgender people's lives without knowing a transgender person.
Aspen Overy, 19, of Burlington, Vermont, 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.”
Associated Press journalist Mike Pesoli contributed from Washington, D.C., as did Hannah Schoenbaum from Raleigh, North Carolina; Kim Chandler in Montgomery, Alabama; Amy Hanson in Helena, Montana; Susan Haigh in Hartford, Connecticut; James Pollard in Columbia, South Carolina and John Hanna in Topeka, Kansas.