This trans activist got canceled but she’s not going to let “meme-brained fascists” stop her

Trans activist Adria Jawort
Photo: Provided by Adria Jawort

On October 7, a grassroots coalition of LGBTQ+ leaders organized a National March to Protect Trans Youth. This collective gathered in Orlando, Florida to denounce Gov. Ron DeSantis‘s (R) transphobic and racist policies. 

One of the speakers at the rally was writer Adria Jawort, a trans woman and activist who was recently banned from a Butte, Montana library ahead of her presentation on the history of trans folks and two-spirit people in that state. City officials invoked the state’s “anti-drag” law to stop her, even though Jawort is not a drag queen. 

In response, Jawort became part of a federal lawsuit claiming the law is unconstitutional and deprives people of free speech and other protections.

This isn’t the first time Jawort has battled politicians, and it most likely won’t be the last. 

She spoke with LGBTQ Nation about her work for trans equality.

LGBTQ Nation: Tell me about your participation in the National March to Protect Trans Youth.

AJ: Florida has been a ground zero in passing unconstitutional, discriminatory laws targeting LGBTQ people. So when I was offered a chance to speak at a grassroots rally via organizer Melinda Butterfield to go right at the snake’s head that is the DeSantis administration, so to speak, I eagerly accepted because I wanted to show solidarity to my trans siblings in Florida as we see that ripple effect.

Fascism is an accelerationist ideology and has to keep fueling its bigotry flames with more hatred fuel. This always means escalation. 

For instance, authoritarians claimed Don’t Say Gay bills would only apply to young children, and now it’s all levels of education. This includes banning history that isn’t told from a white nationalist perspective. Why isn’t any reporter ever asking DeSantis why he had a Nazi speechwriter, Nate Hochman?

They claimed they just wanted to target trans children’s healthcare and social transitioning, but of course that targeting quickly moved onto adults, too. Because the fire must be fed as they care more about culture war nonsense than actually governing. 

So when we rally for our trans youth, we are protecting the most vulnerable these fascists want to erase first while regurgitating BS stories about all kinds of children being mutilated or millions of children on puberty blockers to justify it.

LGBTQ Nation: What did it feel like to find out your presentation had been canceled simply because you were trans?

AJ: There was a moment of shocked disbelief and even sadness, as I was really looking forward to it. This was on the first day of Pride Month of all days. Then I went to the gym, calmed down, came back, and my messages and emails had blown up, so I knew this was a big news story. 

I then set to work identifying the white nationalist culprits who’d been harassing the librarians with complaints, who’d been getting harassing calls to the point they decided they better have police present.

It was also [a] double whammy of discrimination, seeing as it was an Indigenous-based history lecture. Like what, now we Natives aren’t allowed to share literal history to a room full of adults? I’d facetiously said I could be targeted because I was a “flamboyantly dressed” trans woman in an offhand tweet mocking what a stupidly worded, vague law it was. I also noted there might be young children, because who knows if someone would bring a small child? 

Still, after I was canceled, that same afternoon I made a sign and stood outside where Humanities Montana was having an in-person meeting. They have a white nationalist on their board, Jeremy Carl, who’d just written a disgusting hit piece against [Democratic state] representative Zoey Zephyr praising the antisemitic and transphobic Kiwi Farms as a source. I also had just resigned from being on the Humanities Speakers Bureau.

LGBTQ Nation: What made you decide to become a plaintiff in the case against the anti-drag law?  What has that experience been like?

AJ: It was a no-brainer…It actually seemed like a “here we go again” scenario since I’d just been through a vicious 2021-2022 libel lawsuit battle where I sued a renowned conservative bully pastor who’d fallaciously claimed I’d yelled in the face of a 75-year-old state senator and I’d personally harassed Republican lawmakers. Some of the Upper Sevens Law attorneys representing us in this anti-drag case were the same ones who represented me in that.

While I’ve become a de facto face of anti-drag laws targeting trans people… this time I was mentally prepared for the scrutiny. If Nazis are some of your staunchest defenders of a bill, maybe realize you’re on the wrong side of history.

LGBTQ Nation: Other than voting, what can allies do to support trans kids who live in conservative states with anti-LGBTQ+ laws?

AJ: A lot of times, these kids feel especially alone, like they were somehow born wrong. They don’t feel safe, and they see LGBTQ allies and adults around them being called “groomers” and “pedophiles” who want to have sex with kids just for daring to be accepting of who they are.

You don’t have to respond to every stupid troll, but call people out for using language claiming they want to have sex with kids. Call it out for the disgusting behavior it is. Be supportive of any safe spaces or events that can be offered – or even organizations like mine on the frontline trenches combating hate. 

LGBTQ Nation: What advice would you give trans kids who live in states affected by anti-LGBTQ+ lawmakers?

AJ: I spoke recently to a group of activist teens, and they appreciated I didn’t try to placate them with generic feel-good statements. I told them, basically, progress comes from being scrappy and not presuming brain-rotted, meme-brained fascists who worship people like Matt Walsh ever want to be “civil.”

They want you erased from the public, if not dead, if you’re trans. Popular right-wing pundits openly celebrated and blamed the mass shooting at Club Q in Colorado Springs on the LGBTQ community.

They are persistent and will use “state’s rights” abortion laws to attack trans people, so you must be persistent, too.

While Martin Luther King Jr., noted, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” it came from a long, hard-fought struggle. King Jr. was shot four days after that speech.

Sure, it’s a slough, and everything seems to go backward sometimes in red states to the point where even small victories almost seem pyrrhic, but remember, you are in the trenches, so carry that “f**k you” swag like those old Nazi resistance fighters, ya know?

There’s a rebellion manifesto quote from the Star Wars show Andor. It said, “Tyranny requires constant effort. It breaks, it leaks. Authority is brittle. Oppression is the mask of fear. Remember that.”

Know someday we’ll all just sit together proud of the struggle we collectively made it through. It was tough, but we made it.

Do not give up, and know you are valued. Remember that.

LGBTQ Nation: Is there any way social media can be used as an effective tool to combat hate?

I’ve put my veteran journalism and research skills to use at the very people who want to cower me. 

A fellow researcher… noted that without us publicly calling out white supremacists trying to gain a foothold in our communities to spread hate, they no doubt would’ve been more successful than they’ve been.

In late May, 18 white nationalists and Nazis from across the region descended upon the middle of a drag queen story hour. Antifascists had gotten word they’d been planning something, and we gave out warnings. The police were informed and promised to be extra vigilant, but once the Nazis showed up they were nowhere to be found after telling a friend of mine “both sides” needed to stop being hostile, as if we were at fault for enjoying our day when masked Nazis showed up screaming we were all “pedophiles.”

A wall of LGBTQ activists, allies, and then even drag queen Pride organizers stood in front of the drag queen story hour event doorway, protecting us from white supremacists screaming outside, trying to terrorize children inside. Afterwards, we set to work identifying who a lot of these Nazis were – including one who’d recently been to prison for stabbing an interracial couple.

We’ve recently identified another Nazi, and as is their biggest fear, we’ll ask their employer how they feel about having an LGBTQ-phobic, Jew-hating Nazi working for them. We aim to make being a bigot a losing proposition.

We protect our own.

LGBTQ Nation: As you are an indigenous person, is there support within your tribe?

AJ: I am very pleased to say my Northern Cheyenne tribe passed a resolution designating June as Pride Month. That’s a huge step, as a lot of people don’t realize how culturally conservative a lot of Indian Reservations are due to colonization. In 2016, one Montana Indian reservation actually passed a bathroom bill law to “protect the children” after two horrific instances of violence occurred that of course trans people had nothing to do with.

I am reminded how two years ago the American Indian Caucus joined me and my fellow Two Spirit and trans man, Steven Bear Two Teeth, in testifying against a so-called Religious Freedom Act in which the core intent was to allow LGBTQ discrimination based on religion.

While a deviation for the caucus, it showed appreciation to us Two Spirit people whom they’d seen passionately organizing and fighting on behalf of pro and anti-Indigenous bills. But that’s our traditional role within tribes: to be a voice. Transgender representative and now one of TIME 100’s most influential people, Zoey Zephyr, always noted how the American Indian Caucus were some of the first and staunchest lawmakers against actions taken to silence her voice, and that’s because we know what being on the receiving end of discrimination feels like. Institutional racism and anti-LGBTQ bigotry are intersectional.

LGBTQ Nation: You must be afraid for your life every day. What keeps you motivated as an activist?

AJ: Because ugly-minded people want me to be terrorized and afraid. I won’t let them [win]. Yet, I’m not naive and do take safety precautions more seriously now. 

There are other LGBTQ people who’ve been attacked who don’t get the layer of protection I get from being a semi-public figure, like a trans woman who was smashed into a wall with a car and another teen beaten severely by a group of thugs who were going to “beat the gay out of him.” While police are investigating it, in the meanwhile, this poor young person is terrified, knowing these thugs have their wallet and all of their information. A very feminine presenting Native friend of mine who was going to transition was smashed in the head outside of a bar a couple blocks from where I live for no known reason and died. Her murder is unsolved.

I think about these people all the time. And me doing activism, I feel like I am doing something that might help stop this from happening again in the future.

LGBTQ Nation: What are your plans for the future?

AJ: I just want to grow my startup nonprofit, Indigenous Transilience. It’d be nice to not have to travel and pay for everything on our own dime or rely on the individuals who are often struggling themselves. But I’ll do it regardless because it is my passion.

I gave my history lecture to Standing Rock middle and high school students – that’s the rez where the NoDAPL (No Dakota Access Pipeline) pipeline protests took place – and they loved it. That’s given me a lot of hope for our future, and I want to keep doing stuff like that.

But also, what every close friend of mine says – and I agree – is I need to be able to finish my novel, which is based on a lot of that insanity I dealt with coming out as trans in a red state. The insecurities. Self-acceptance. The hate. The love. The tears. The spiritual beauty felt, as only good art is wont to do. 

If I didn’t transition, there was probably always going to be the self-resentment of not loving myself enough to quit using, and it’d likely cause me to relapse from my addiction. These are the struggles many of us red-state LGBTQ queers go through and sometimes feel alone in dealing with, but somehow, the writing always understood.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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