Transgender youth, elected officials and supporters of the LGBTQ+ community gathered at the Oregon State Capitol Friday afternoon to warn of increasing anti-transgender political rhetoric and to call for continued support for transgender youth.
“We can no longer allow the transphobic and targeted attacks on our community to go unchecked,” said Nancy Haque, executive director of Basic Rights Oregon. “In Oregon we say gay. We say trans. And we will fight to make Oregon the best state in the country for our trans youth to live in.”
According to an NBC analysis, more than 230 anti-LBTQ laws were introduced nationwide this year (as of March). Oregon is no exception to the growing anti-LBTQ policy, Haque said.
In Newberg, the school board banned teachers from displaying Black Lives Matter and Pride flags. The policy was later amended to include a ban on any type of political symbol, including BLM and LGBTQ symbols. Two teachers in Grants Pass were fired for violating district policy by using school supplies and school district time to publicly oppose trans-inclusive policies, and were quietly reinstated months later.
In April, community members in Salem gathered to protest the Salem-Keizer school district’s new transgender student policy. and organizers of the Keizer Pride Fair canceled the event this month over fears of harassment after the Reawaken America Tour, which featured election and COVID-19 conspiracy theorists and prominent figures pardoned by former President Donald Trump, drew thousands to Volcanoes Stadium .
The city of Keizer welcomed “right-wing extremists, white supremacists and bigoted groups … repeating the anti-queer rhetoric of last year’s invaders,” event organizer Claire Snyder said of the decision.
“To all of our young people, to our children, whoever you are, who you love, whoever you are, whoever you are, whatever your race or background, or your zip code or not, please know I have your back,” Gov. Kate said Brown, a surprise guest at Friday’s event.
Every child deserves to grow up in a loving and affirming home, Brown said. She added that she is committed to supporting and protecting trans youth. Oregon has been a leader in protecting the LGBTQ community, but the public must “remain vigilant,” she warned.
It was a warning echoed by other speakers.
Billie Henderson, 19, shared her story of coming out during her junior year of high school at West Linn High School.
They were called insults for years and at one point her car was destroyed. A strike organized against a Chick-fil-A food truck was met by counter-protesters shouting insults and a chant reading “We are not anti-gay”. We just want Chick-fil-A,” Henderson said. She’s been hurt a little by the experiences, but Henderson has grown confident in her identity.
“I know who I am,” she said.
They wanted to speak out because there are youth without supportive families who are still trying to figure out who they are, Henderson said. “We have to keep fighting, we have to get loud.”
Emma B., a 13-year-old transgender youth, shared her own experience.
Emma knew they were transgender since she was three years old.
“I’m a girl,” was one of the first things she said to her parents, she said. When Emma started kindergarten, the school prohibited Emma from discussing her gender identity with her friends. At her third school, school politics were better, but bullying by other students started.
By the time she was 10, Emma was ready to start taking puberty blockers, but insurance refused them. Her family had to drive 2 hours from their home in Arizona to meet her. Shortly thereafter, the family moved to Oregon.
“There are kids out there who don’t have a voice, who don’t get a chance to speak. But they deserve the right to feel safe and supported in their school and community,” Emma said.
The governor urged those at the rally to continue to be vocal in their support of LGBTQ youth, saying their efforts are especially important now with a majority-conservative US Supreme Court.
“Don’t you think that in Roe v. Wade will stop. They won’t stop until they reverse the progress of the last 50 years unless we stop them,” she said.