TOKansas lawmakers approved the broadest ban on transgender healthcare in the U.S. on Monday, with legislation restricting trans children’s access to gender-affirming care and punishing the doctors who treat them.
It is one of dozens of states where Republicans are pushing for legislation that seeks to restrict trans youth access to gender-matched sports teams and prohibits gender-affirming health care. As the bills advance, trans children are increasingly speaking out about the effects these efforts have on their lives, with some traveling to their state capitals to demand a voice in the debate.
Here, trans children and their families reflect on their experiences, the role that trans sports and health care play in their lives, and their fight for equality. Interviews are edited and condensed for clarity.
On the subject of the bathroom: ‘This is a basic human need’
Wyatt Williams, 14, South Dakota: At school, I am forced to use the one-compartment staff bathroom. I have to cross all the way through a long corridor, in front of eight classes, go through one door and then another door and then there is the bathroom. The other children are only allowed to walk about 10 feet. [Going to the bathroom] it is a basic human need.
I asked my friends who know I am trans if they would feel uncomfortable if I were in the boys’ bathroom. They would not. It is the bathroom to cry out loud.
And although I’m used to it now, I still have this nervousness when going to the bathroom. I wonder, ‘What will people think of me?’ At 14, I shouldn’t have to worry about my rights being taken away. I shouldn’t have to go out of my way to make other people happy. I am not a problem for society. They say there are things wrong with us because of who we are. It doesn’t make me feel valued in the least. I just hope that by the time I am 18 things will be better, because I don’t want other children to have to grow up to 10 and have their basic human rights debated.
On sports: ‘I have worked very hard’
Ava *, 12, Utah: Swimming for me is a way to be with friends and escape the stresses of life and have fun. I’ve been swimming my whole life. I love it and always have, it’s the best feeling. If I couldn’t keep swimming, I would be very sad. I couldn’t see my friends. It would be quite lonely. It’s a part of your life that you work so hard for, and having it taken away from you is difficult. It just seems like [the lawmakers] I only care what is in my pants and not all the things that I can bring to the team and all my hard work.
When the the invoice was canceledI was very happy and relieved, because it meant that I could, for now at least, keep swimming and hopefully be able to swim on the high school team in the future.
On the expulsion from the team: ‘She knew she was not doing well’
Jeanette Jennings, mother of Jazz Jennings, a trans youth reality star, Florida: When Jazz was eight years old, she was banned from the women’s soccer team. It was ugly. They told us Jazz was welcome to play on the boys’ team, or that he could practice with the girls, but be on the bench for every game. But she wanted to play the games, so she decided to play with the children. He really didn’t like it. He couldn’t bond with them. She had only had friends. He couldn’t play the way he wanted to. She was holding back, she didn’t want to touch the boys. It got to the point where I was feeling so much anxiety. She would go out into the field and stand there, frozen and paralyzed, or crying hysterically. Young children know right from wrong and she knew this was wrong.
You have these politicians out there who have this fear of transgender children, with toilets and now with sports. I do not get it. We fight so hard to win our battles. Seeing it all falling apart now breaks my heart. I am devastated by this. It is discrimination in its ugliest form.
On team support: ‘They are 100% behind me’
Kris Wilka, age 13, South Dakota: I started playing soccer when I was eight years old. Then, in my first high school, they contacted my father and said, ‘We are afraid that he will confuse the other children and it will not be a good experience for him and the other children.’ They weren’t worried about my school education. They were just worried that it might confuse people. I was shocked. And I was worried that I would not be able to continue with football at all.
I changed schools and it was amazing. I told all my teachers that I was trans and they didn’t even care. They treated me like any other student, like any other kid on the team. That’s what i wanted. He didn’t want to be the outcast. I have made some of my closest friends on the soccer team. They are 100% behind me. They are so supportive. I was a starting lineman because I showed that I was as good as the others. They respected that. They gave me the position they thought I deserved.
On healthcare at stake: ‘Treatment has made a difference’
Christa and Jeffrey White, parents of a 12-year-old trans girl, Alabama
Christa: The [gender-affirming care] has made a difference. His confidence just skyrocketed. I can’t even explain how much more vibrant and full of life she is, just knowing she’s being who she is.
These kids are not going anywhere. They are here. They are who they are. And our job as parents, humans, and citizens of the world is simply to help them find themselves and be themselves without question and without anger. Let these children be.
Jeffrey: I am an engineer, so I have read many scientific articles over the years. And I spent quite a bit of time looking at the medical literature on this, which is very clear about the drops in suicide rates that occur when these children are given this treatment. It is a double digit reduction. So having that treatment taken away really puts our daughter at risk, and it’s for no other reason that they just want to tick a check box in their rigid worldview. Science doesn’t care about your worldview.
On standing up to lawmakers: ‘They don’t really listen’
Miles, 14, Missouri: It is not very easy to go to the Capitol. I’ve been eight or nine times so I’m used to it, but the hardest thing is seeing children who are younger than me and knowing what they are going to do. I’m used to hearing legislators talk about my community, so I don’t get very angry anymore. But it is not easy and it is definitely not right. I know they don’t really know me either. So I really don’t take what they say seriously. They don’t know about my experiences, and even if I try to tell them, they don’t really listen.
I want you to know that I am a child like any other child. My personal life journey has definitely not been an easy one. Being trans in itself is not difficult. The hard part is the social vision. People don’t attempt suicide because they are trans, they hurt themselves because of the way society views them. The way they see us affects the way they treat us and that affects our mental health.
Yes this [proposed healthcare ban] would happen, I would have to move to another state for medical care, which means I would have to leave my grandparents, my family, my best friends, all these people that I love, just because other people have an opinion about me or are uncomfortable knowing that he could be in the same room as them.
On fighting bills: ‘It will take a lot to stop them’
Corey Hyman, age 15, Missouri: It will take many of us to stop these bills. It’s going to get a lot out of us, our parents, our fans. [This fight will] it will probably last for many years.
I could be spending this time with my friends. I could be playing with my family. I could be walking my dog. I could be doing anything, but I can’t because I’m worried and afraid that even more bills are going to be passed. Sometimes we do not receive notification of invoices until 24 hours in advance. It’s like, ‘By the way, tomorrow is a Senate hearing that could literally end your life.’ They just don’t care.
The Guardian agreed to identify Ava with a pseudonym to protect her privacy
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism