Transgender Day of Visibility rallies held amid backlash
Posted: April 1, 2023 - 2:00am

Hundreds of people gather on the lawn of the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier, on Friday March 31, 2023 in support of transgender rights. The Vermont rally is one of many being held across the country on Friday. The rallies come at a time when Republicans in some state legislatures across the country are considering hundreds of separate bills that would limit transgender rights. (AP Photo/Wilson Ring)

MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — 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 of transgender rights converged on statehouses nationwide, at the Capitol Reflecting Pool in Washington, D.C., and at other venues to mark a day of 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 as young as middle-school age 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.

“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 came as Republican lawmakers across the U.S. 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 — requiring 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 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.

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."

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, 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.