A Texas mom saw an ex-gay and ex-trans activist following her transgender son to the bathroom to record him, so she swooped in and deleted pictures from his phone.
Lauren Rodriguez was a the Texas Capitol in Austin this past April, one of many transgender equality activists, parents, and children who spoke out against Republican lawmakers’ attempt to criminalize the parents of transgender children. And she went with her 17-year-old son Greyson.
Rachel Gonzalez – another mother of a trans child – said that testifying against that bill “was the most violent experience we’ve ever had at the Capitol.”
Some of the trans kids, she said, were hanging out in the Capitol in a reserved space, waiting for their turn to testify. Anti-trans activists were also trying to disrupt the events of the day.
“They’re screaming that we’re child abusers,” Gonzalez said.
At one point, Greyson went to the restroom in the basement of the Capitol building, and his mom told The New Republic that she saw a man following him with a phone in his hand and shouting, “What bathroom are you going to use, tranny?”
Rodriguez went up to the man and grabbed the phone out of his hand and deleted the pictures he had already taken while he raged at her.
Security showed up and said, according to Rodriguez, “Sir, how many times have we had to tell you?”
Rodriguez said that the man was Kevin Whitt, a far-right agitator who claims to be ex-gay and ex-transgender. Whitt appeared in anti-transgender campaign ads last year that attacked then-candidate Joe Biden.
He was caught on video near the U.S. Capitol on January 6 when it was stormed by supporters of Donald Trump who believed Biden stole millions of ballots in the 2020 elections, and he also visited D.C.’s Comet Ping Pong pizza where he claimed in a video that the “restaurant is known for pedophilia,” which is known as the Pizzagate conspiracy theory. He later lost his job with the Texas Republican Party.
While Whitt and other rightwing activists traffic in myths and conspiracy theories of parents forcing their kids to be transgender, Rodriguez said that she’s not certain her son would even be alive today if not for gender-affirming medical care.
“I may as well move to the Capitol,” she joked about how much work she has been doing to protect her family.
She said that she put together a “safe folder” that includes “letters from therapists, doctors, friends, families” after she heard from others that sometimes people would call Child Protective Services to harass the parents of trans kids.
“When CPS shows up at your house because some random bigot decides to call, then you have this file,” she said. She added that she’s afraid of the tactic particularly because her ex-husband brought up her support for their trans son during their custody battle over Greyson because the father rejected his son’s identity.
Her encounter with Whitt may be one of many like it across the country, as over 110 anti-transgender bills have been introduced in by state lawmakers, most attacking transgender youth and their right to participate in school sports or to get gender-affirming medical care.
Thirteen of those bills were proposed in Texas alone.
Gonzalez said that parents rallied in the state to defeat them, tapping into a network of families to get parents and kids to testify in the legislature.
Two videos of testimony went viral online, mother Amber Briggle and 10-year-old Kai Shappley. Briggle begged lawmakers not to pass the bill since it would take her son away from her.
“I’m terrified to be here today,” Briggle told the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs that week. “I’m afraid that by speaking here today that my words will be used against me should S.B. 1646 or S.B. 1311 pass, and my sweet son whom I love more than life itself will be taken from me.”
Shappley scolded Texas lawmakers for attacking trans kids for years, referring to a 2017 bathroom bill and other legislative fights in the state.
“I do not like spending my free time asking adults to make good choices,” she said. “Texas legislators have been attacking me since Pre-K. I am in fourth grade now.”
Watch the amazing @KaiShappley a huge fan of @DollyParton, 4th grader and a transgender girl, school the Texas Senate and especially @SenBryanHughes once again on how bad their anti-trans bills will be for #TransYouth if passed. Of course those #txlege will ignore her plea! pic.twitter.com/ypbD1Nvm51
— Meghan Stabler (@MeghanStabler) April 13, 2021
Both Briggle and Shappley’s mother said that they have been receiving death threats and other harassment since testifying.
Grayson – the teen who was followed into the bathroom by the camera-wielding rightwinger – didn’t get a chance to speak after spending the entire day with his mom at the Capitol that day, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) is once again calling on the legislature to pass anti-trans bills in a special session.
It’s “like being with an abusive partner,” Rodriguez said, “but your abusive partner is the flipping state you live in.”
Editor’s note: A previous version of this article incorrectly said that Rachel Gonzalez’s name is Libby. That is the name of her daughter. We regret the error.