It has been a burdensome year for transgender youth, who have been attacked again and again by GOP-led state legislatures working to pass discriminatory, traumatic, and abusive anti-trans laws.
These laws seek to restrict trans youth’s access to gender-affirming care. They also seek to ban trans students from participating on the sports teams that align with their gender. In some states, anti-trans laws have already passed.
2021 has in fact been a record year for anti-trans legislation, but the trans community and its advocates are fighting back. From parents to lawyers to the young people themselves, heroes across the country are standing up to defend the dignity and rights of trans youth.
LGBTQ Nation nominates five such individuals for our “Heroes Defending the Children” category. The nominees are: Schuyler Bailar, a well-known trans athlete and advocate using his platform to speak out for trans rights; the plaintiffs in Brandt v. Rutledge, a group of trans young people, their families, and medical professionals challenging Arkansas’s draconian gender-affirming health care ban; Amber Briggle, the mother of a trans son whose passionate testimony against an anti-trans bill in Texas touched LGBTQ people’s hearts all over the country; Becky Pepper-Jackson, an 11-year-old trans girl who successfully fought for her right to join the girls cross country team at her middle school in West Virginia; and Chase Strangio, an ACLU lawyer who fervently fights anti-trans laws in court and in the media.
In 2015, then 19-year-old Schuyler Bailar became the first openly transgender collegiate swimmer in U.S. history. Since then, he has been a fierce and vocal advocate for the trans community, and especially trans athletes.
As a public speaker and mentor, Bailar has been using his influence as of late to speak out against anti-trans sports bills.
“These bills are absolutely devastating,” he told CBS News in June. “It is stressful for me because I feel like I should be doing something. I had the privilege of competing, I already did my sport and lived my dream. But how many kids don’t have that privilege who are going to be massively affected by these bills?”
Bailar uses Instagram for activism, sharing posts with his 326,000 followers about what it means to be a trans athlete, why people should stop feeling threatened by trans people in sports, and more general education on what it means to be trans.
Focused on inspiring kids, Bailar also has a book coming out in September, a young adult novel called Obie is Man Enough, which is a coming-of-age story about a trans swimmer.
Schuyler Bailar (@sb_pinkmantaray) was the first openly transgender athlete to compete on an NCAA Division 1 college men's team.
This is what he's learned about finding acceptance and overcoming life's biggest obstacles: https://t.co/SrjzdLVqBw
— TED Talks (@TEDTalks) June 24, 2021
Amber Briggle is the mother of a trans child whose powerful testimony opposing a brutal anti-trans bill in Texas went viral.
“I’m terrified to be here today,” Briggle told the Texas Senate Committee on State Affairs at an April hearing. “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.”
Texas’s S.B. 1646 would redefine child abuse to include parents who support their transgender children enough to get them appropriate medical care. The bill even says that children can be removed from their supportive parents’ homes.
“Today, my son is 13-years-old, the most popular boy in seventh grade, and loved by our friends, family, our church, and our community,” Briggle said. “This is possible because he has parents who affirm him and provide him with the support he needs.”
“Taking that support away from him, or worse, taking him away from his family because we broke the law to provide that support – will have devastating and heartbreaking consequences,” she said, fighting through tears.
“And I promise,” she said, “I will call every single one of you every time a transgender child dies from suicide to remind you that their lives could have been saved, but you chose not to.”
Briggle’s testimony took the Internet by storm, demonstrating the sheer power of a parent’s love.
Arkansas passed one of the most vile anti-transgender laws this year, banning doctors from providing gender-affirming care to transgender minors. The bill scared families of trans youth who started planning moves or looking for black market medication, and health care professionals worried about suicide among trans youth.
One group of people, though, fought the law and won.
Dylan Brandt, his mother Joanna, and three other trans youth and their families – along with two doctors who provide gender-affirming care – filed a lawsuit with help from the ACLU. The Brandt v. Rutledge plaintiffs made the brave decision to go public with their stories so that they could ensure health care access for trans youth.
Dylan put his life on display in order to fight this ban, repeatedly speaking to the press and telling his story.
“This is who I am, and it’s frustrating to know that a place I’ve lived all my life is treating me like they don’t want me here,” said Brandt in a statement. “Having access to care means I’m able to be myself, and be healthier and more confident — physically and mentally. The thought of having that wrenched away and going back to how I was before is devastating.”
As stated above, the Brandt plaintiffs’ courage paid off when a judge issued a temporary injunction against the ban. Transgender youth in Arkansas can access health care while the case works its way through the legal system.
“With this one bill, they took away so much,” says 15-year-old Dylan Brandt. “The one thing that is helping me become who I want to be and has made me as happy as I am and as confident as I am: they’re taking that away, without a second thought” https://t.co/BHR1r4iGNO
— TIME (@TIME) April 9, 2021
Becky Pepper-Jackson is also challenging an anti-trans law in her state.
The 11-year-old girl tried to join her middle school’s girls cross-country team but was told that West Virginia’s new ban on trans girls in school sports meant that she would legally have to join the boys team. But her principal then told her that it would be “confusing” for her to join the boys team because she’s a girl. who for the right to join her sixth grade girls’ cross country team after state law prohibited her from doing so.
“Knowing I cannot try out for the girls’ cross-country and track teams just because I am a transgender girl is horrible and makes me feel angry and sad,” she said in a court statement. “It hurts to know that I will not be able to have a chance to run on the girls’ team like my friends can because I am a transgender girl.”
In July, Pepper-Jackson learned she was victorious – a federal judge issued an injunction allowing her to join the girls team while her case challenges the discriminatory law, which the judge said was a result of “fear of the unknown and discomfort with the unfamiliar.”
“I am excited to know that I will be able to try out for the girls’ cross-country team and follow in the running shoes of my family,” she said in a statement.
🏃♀️ Becky Pepper-Jackson, like any other kid, just wants to play the sports she loves. When WV legislators tried to stop her, Becky bravely fought back against the anti-trans attacks.
We’ll be cheering you on this cross country season, Becky! https://t.co/7jlpFFBnT1
— Lambda Legal (@LambdaLegal) July 27, 2021
ACLU attorney Chase Strangio has been one of the country’s most ardent defenders of trans youth and he has been sounding the alarm about the wave of anti-trans legislation since its start.
Strangio is the deputy director for trans justice with the ACLU’s LGBTQ & HIV Project and is a go-to expert on trans legal issues. He was part of the team that, in July, got a federal judge to issue an injunction against a new Arkansas law that bans doctors from providing gender-affirming health care to transgender youth.
We will be reading Arkansas’s 1,000 page filing in defense of their anti-trans law all night. Send love and puppy pics.
— Chase Strangio (@chasestrangio) July 9, 2021
Arkansas’s anti-trans health care ban was set to go into effect today. So grateful for all who fought to block it. We will keep fighting to defend the injunction and to protect trans kids.
— Chase Strangio (@chasestrangio) July 28, 2021
Strangio not only battles anti-trans laws in court, but he also uses social media to keep the public informed of the bills being proposed and passed. He also publishes articles, talks to the media, and gets out the message that trans people deserve equal rights.
— Chase Strangio (@chasestrangio) July 21, 2021
Strangio is fierce, passionate, and unrelenting in his fight to make the world safe for trans kids.
I feel so blessed to get to be a trans adult that fights in court to block laws that are based on the idea that no one should grow up to be trans. We are here. Always have been. And not going anywhere.
— Chase Strangio (@chasestrangio) July 21, 2021
Each of these nominees deserves recognition for their tireless activism in the name of trans youth. Vote now for Hero Defending the Children.