On Monday, 200 people, including trans youth from 17 states, gathered to celebrate a teenage rite of passage: prom.
Trans Prom featured all the hallmarks of the annual high school event. On the National Mall in Washington, D.C., teens in formal attire and corsages danced to tunes provided by trans activist and DJ Nico Craig as proud parents snapped photos and recorded videos. Attendees were greeted by a phalanx of cheering supporters holding posters that read “Trans Youth Are Powerful,” “Celebrate Trans Joy,” and “Trans Kids Have Always Existed” forming a “tunnel of love” upon entering the event.
“This is about trans joy, trans creativity, trans brilliance, and trans futures,” Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice with the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project and one of Trans Prom’s organizers, told The Hill.
Trans Prom was the brainchild of four trans teens; 13-year-old Libby Gonzales, 15-year-old Daniel Trujillo, 12-year-old Grayson McFerrin, and 16-year-old Hobbes Chukumba reportedly came together in February with the idea to take a break from focusing on the unprecedented slate of anti-LGBTQ+ laws that have been introduced in state legislatures across the country this year. Instead, they wanted to put on an event that celebrated trans joy and reinforced what should be obvious to Republican lawmakers working to limit trans rights: that transgender kids are just kids.
“A lot of them have grandkids — I’m just like them,” Trujillo told The Hill. “I’m just a kid who likes to get his homework done, who likes to play the guitar, who likes to play with his friends.”
“We wanted a way to be able to tell our stories ourselves and tell them the right way,” Gonzales told Time ahead of the event.
Both Trujillo and Gonzales have been involved in trans advocacy from a young age, visiting their state capitols to testify on behalf of trans youth. But that work has taken a toll on them. When the kids approached their parents, many of whom reportedly knew each other through the Human Rights Campaign’s Parents for Transgender Equality Council, with their idea for a Trans Prom, the adults contacted Strangio to help organize the event.
Strangio recalled the teens telling him that they were “done going and saying the same thing to legislators over and over and spending our childhoods just begging to be seen even in the most minimally human way.”
“They wanted to plan something bigger, plan something that was more centered in the youth experiences themselves and not as a counterpoint to what every sort of… legislature was planning,” he told The Hill.
Donors to Trans Prom, which Strangio described as intended to “center joy and celebration and the stories we want to tell, not the ones the other side wants us to be engaged in,” included Elliot Page, Lilly Wachowski, Demi Lovato, and Ariana Grande. RuPaul’s Drag Race alum and American Civil Liberties Union Artist Ambassador for Transgender Justice Peppermint also helped organize the event and appeared alongside emcee Stormie Daie at Monday’s celebration.
In a press release, Peppermint described the event as “a celebration of the beauty and magic of trans joy and a call to action for all of us to refuse to accept the current conditions of our lives.”
“It’s a moment for transgender youth to feel support from their parents and community — a sentiment which is unbelievably important with the current intensity of today’s society,” Chukumba added. “It’s a moment for trans youth to relax and have fun, enjoy themselves, and revel in the gaiety of our encouragement. It’s a moment for transgender youth to be what they really are: youth.”
From the stage at Trans Prom on Monday, which was banked with pink and blue flowers echoing the colors of the Trans Pride flag, L.B., a trans teen from Mississippi who was forced to skip her high school graduation last weekend after a federal judge denied a motion to allow her to wear a dress and heels to the ceremony, spoke to the crowd.
“Today we are here, united, doing what’s right, and stronger than ever before,” she said. “Together one by one, state by state, vote by vote, we can construct a better world. Transgender youth have always been here, and rest assured we are here to stay.”
In her own speech, Gonzalez took aim at the misinformation fueling the moral panic around transgender youth.
“We want to be clear that no one made us trans or nonbinary. Not our parents, not our schools, not the internet, not our friends. We don’t want to make other people like us, but we do want to find community and grow and learn from other kids that are like us,” she said. “The fact that more of us feel free to proclaim who we are is something to be celebrated, not feared. I know that I’m only 13 years old, but even I know that there are a few things that aren’t up for debate. 1) the fact that we exist, 2) the fact that gender-affirming healthcare has saved our lives and allowed us to thrive, 3) the fact that our gender is just as real as cis people’s, 4) the fact that our presence in the world does nothing to threaten others. Our joy is ours, and today and every day, we celebrate, grow, and embrace it.”