August 5, 2021

Trans Day of Visibility: Activists Chase Strangio & Raquel Willis Demand Action on Anti-Trans Laws

11 min read

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The Quarantine Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn now to look at a wave of anti-trans laws being enacted across the United States, with dozens more anti-trans bills making their way through state legislatures.
This week, the Arkansas Senate approved one of the most harmful bans on access to healthcare for transgender youth. The measure would prohibit the use of gender-affirming care, including hormones and puberty blockers — care that has been life-saving. Unless Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson vetoes the bill, Arkansas will become the first U.S. state to ban gender-affirming care to trans youth.
Earlier this month, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi enacted new laws aimed at banning trans athletes from joining sports teams. In Tennessee, the legislation forces trans students to show legal documents revealing the sex they were assigned at birth in order to participate in middle and high school sports. And in South Dakota, Republican Governor Kristi Noem issued two executive orders Monday banning trans women and girls from playing school sports.
As attacks against the trans community intensify, so has their resistance, with trans youth leading the fight against violence and discrimination. This is trans seventh-grader Kris Wilka, who plays football for North Middle School in Harrisburg, South Dakota. His last school refused to let him play on its team because he’s trans. Wilka said football has saved his life.

KRIS WILKA: If football did not exist, I don’t think I would be here. … Respect the person next to you and the person behind you, and just let them live their life the way they want to, and make them feel accepted, because that’s all anyone ever wants.

AMY GOODMAN: Today is International Trans Day of Visibility, which this year was marked with a week of action urging people to be active in the fight against anti-trans legislation, violence and discrimination.
Joining us now are Raquel Willis, activist, award-winning writer, former executive editor of Out magazine and former national organizer for Transgender Law Center, and Chase Strangio, the deputy director for transgender justice with the ACLU’s LGBT & HIV Project. Raquel and Chase co-wrote a new piece in The Nation titled “Visibility Alone Will Not Keep Transgender Youth Safe.”
We welcome you both back to Democracy Now! Chase Strangio, let’s begin with you. Can you review for us the laws that are being voted on across this country? Start with the latest, Arkansas.
CHASE STRANGIO: Yeah, we are truly witnessing an escalation of attacks on trans people, unlike anything I’ve ever seen in government. This week, the Arkansas Senate passed H.B. 1570, a sweeping bill that would strip young people of healthcare that we know they need to survive. It is going to the governor’s desk. We only have four more days for him to veto this bill.
And young people and their families across Arkansas are already planning for the worst. People are considering fleeing their homes, having to relocate to other states. Young people are in sheer panic. We have to understand, this is medically supported care, approved by every major medical association, that people need to stay well, to stay alive. And we are on the verge of having that stripped away from hundreds of people across the state of Arkansas.
And unfortunately, there are similar bills pending currently in Alabama and Tennessee, part of this wave of anti-trans legislation that started at the beginning of 2021 and has escalated throughout the state legislative sessions.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Chase, to what do you attribute this sudden wave of legislation in various states across the country?
CHASE STRANGIO: I mean, you know, this year is particularly egregious and sweeping, but this is something that has been the culmination of work from an anti-trans, anti-LGBTQ lobby for the past at least seven years. And, of course, we can trace this history going back much, much longer. We can look at the moral panic of Anita Bryant, of Phyllis Schlafly, and even just looking in hundred years in the past in the ways in which colonial powers used regulation and control over sexed bodies to exert power. So there’s a long history here.
I think what we’re seeing today in state legislatures is a particular effort to pivot from the anti-trans restroom bills into a new form of regulation of trans young people and trans bodies. And they have seen an opening, because they built alliances, even with some people who would consider themselves liberals and progressives, who have either remained relatively complacent or who have joined forces in the attacks on trans young people. So, right now we’re seeing an escalation in supermajority Republican legislatures, where we are not countering that escalation with the appropriate level of resistance, given the magnitude of harm that is going to result.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I’d like to bring Raquel into the conversation. Raquel, you tweeted that, quote, “The GOP continues to terrorize communities on the margins all across this country. This is why we must come together on these fights. … As a Black trans woman from Georgia, it’s not lost on me how these fights against people of color and LGBTQ+ folks are connected.” Can you elaborate on that?
RAQUEL WILLIS: Absolutely, yeah. You know, I’m from Georgia. And when I think about my life, all of my identities have played a role in the way that I’ve navigated society and, of course, the ways that I have been made a target. And so, when I think about the recent passage of voter restriction back in Georgia, I think about the ways in which it’s all about policing communities of color. And that is completely tied to this fight and this onslaught against trans people. It’s about policing our bodies, right?
And so, this is about us interrogating what power looks like and how it is wielded within our society. It makes absolutely no sense for these people to be trying to control the lives of vulnerable communities. And when I think about trans children, it is so horrible how they are being stripped of their childhood and not even looked at as the humans that they are.
AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask Chase about one of the ACLU’s clients, Andraya Yearwood, a Black trans studio athlete. Andraya is a recent high school graduate who ran on her school’s girls’ track team. Let’s go to her in her own words.

ANDRAYA YEARWOOD: One of the issues that our community is facing, and has been facing for a while, is, I think, misinformation in general — who we are and what our community stands for and who our community is. And I think one thing to, I guess, combat that is, again, education and more education within our school system, so that people don’t say, “Oh, that’s a man,” or, “Oh, that’s a woman,” and continue to misgender us. And I feel like education is very important in having people understand, again, like, what we, as a community, and we, as people, stand for.

AMY GOODMAN: Chase, can you tell us about Andraya?
CHASE STRANGIO: Yeah. So, I just want to start by saying Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller, two young trans athletes from Connecticut, two young Black women, who have endured so many attacks simply for existing and participating in school sports alongside their peers, as they have every right to do. Andraya is a young person who graduated from high school. She was a track athlete. She trained every day for four hours, worked so hard, loved the sport. And how is she rewarded for that? She is the centerpiece of an attack campaign, with pieces on Fox News targeting her, a lawsuit brought by Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of cisgender athletes trying to block her from running in her senior year — which, ultimately, all of their senior seasons were canceled because of COVID.
But the lawsuit continues, even though she has quit the sport altogether due to the ongoing harassment that she experienced. The lawsuit is continuing, because they are trying to strip her and Terry of their past titles, and any win that they have achieved, they are trying to get it erased from records, even records that are hanging in their individual high schools. They have been the subjects of so much misinformation and assault and claims that they have displaced cisgender athletes, when all that they were doing was running, consistent with their rights under state and federal law, winning sometimes, though they lost to cisgender athletes.
And I think an important clarification point here is that there are claims that cisgender athletes are going to be somehow displaced in scholarships by transgender athletes. No out transgender woman or girl athlete from high school has ever achieved or received an athletic scholarship to compete in athletics at the collegiate level, because there is so much discrimination. Terry and Andraya never once got a recruitment call, even though all of the cisgender athletes who are trying to block them from participating are currently on athletic scholarship in Division I schools. We have a serious conversation to have about how much discrimination trans people are facing, and yet they are still escalating attacks.
AMY GOODMAN: If you can also elaborate on that, Raquel, and talk about, well, the piece the two of you co-authored for The Nation, “Visibility Alone Will Not Keep Transgender Youth Safe”? What will, Raquel?
RAQUEL WILLIS: Yeah. I mean, I think a big part of the work that Chase and I have been partnering on over this last week, as we’ve expanded Trans Day of Visibility into Trans Week of Visibility and Action, is really getting people to be about that action. And so, that means we can’t just rest on some of the social strides that we’ve made, whether it’s in Hollywood or on different screens in these different sectors. Those things are powerful and great, and we definitely need to see more of our stories in media and in these ways. But we also need to be using that action to change our material realities and protect our rights. And so, this week has really been, for us, all about getting people mobilized, so that they can contact lawmakers, let them know that trans people have a whole group of folks who support us, are behind us, who love us and want to see us safe and protected.
You know, when I think about trans youth, I think about two trans youth who actually really inspired me because of the ways that their lives ended just a few years ago. So, within months of each other, Leelah Alcorn, a young trans girl, and Blake Brockington, a young trans boy, died by suicide, right? And we know, based on the things that they said and the people who knew them, and, of course, a suicide letter that was Leelah had published online after she passed, is that they felt like they were not being supported, that there was no future for them as openly trans youth. And I’m afraid that if we don’t get involved and be active, we’re going to see that trend continue.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Chase, if you could give us a quick take on how you see the Biden administration, the actions it’s taken on behalf of the trans community in the first three months of the Biden presidency?
CHASE STRANGIO: I mean, I think we’ve seen some important federal executive actions coming down from this administration, and I hope to see way more aggressive and robust actions from this administration enforcing federal civil rights laws. I also — you know, as we think about what today represents, I also want to hold the fact that the law alone isn’t going to save us, that we are ultimately going to have to energize and mobilize and build power for our communities.
If I think of the two things, two central things, for me, as a trans person, that saved my life, were sports and healthcare. And those are things that are being stripped away from our young people. And yes, we already have the legal rights. All of these bills are illegal. They violate Title IX. They violate the Constitution. But we need mass mobilization, resources going to our trans-led organizations and support for our communities, materially, beyond what visibility can afford and even beyond what the law can afford.
AMY GOODMAN: Chase, you spoke to Joanna Brandt, the mother of a 15-year-old trans boy, ahead of Arkansas’s state Senate vote earlier this month. This is Joanna speaking about the importance of gender-affirming care for her son Dylan.

JOANNA BRANDT: Today, after two years of therapy, doctor’s visits, and almost 18 months of gender-affirming hormone therapy, Dylan is happy, healthy, confident and hopeful for his future. His outside now matches how he feels on the inside, and he is a support to other LGBT kids. Trans girls are girls, and trans boys are boys. Denying them access to gender-affirming healthcare is denying them the right to be themselves. My son will be devastated if he is forced to stop his hormone treatment. All of the progress that he has made, all of the plans to be able to graduate from high school and go off to college, presenting outwardly in the full expression of how he feels on the inside, would come to a screeching halt. It would be heartbreaking, not only for him, but for all the other trans youth in Arkansas that dependent on this care.

AMY GOODMAN: Chase Strangio, it looks like the governor is going to sign this legislation. Is that right?
CHASE STRANGIO: You know, I am hopeful that we can mobilize for a veto, and I think everyone should take action. We have a few days. Tell him. Tell him to veto it, because it will send a message to trans young people. And even if he does veto it, it’s a simple majority override in the state Legislature. So, we are preparing litigation, because we want trans people to know that we will defend their ability to access this life-saving care through any possible tool that we have in our toolbox.
AMY GOODMAN: And your final comments on this Day of Trans Visibility, Raquel Willis?
RAQUEL WILLIS: Yes. I mean, I think that we have to continue to have a nuanced discussion about what visibility means. There are so many great strides that come from it, but it also makes our community more of a target.
And the other thing I want to say is that it’s important for us, along with being in contact with lawmakers, to make sure we’re supporting the organizers and organizations who are on the frontlines of this work every day. So, donate. Support their work. And we’ll continue to move forward.
AMY GOODMAN: Raquel Willis, leading transgender activist, we will link to your and Chase Strangio’s piece in The Nation, headlined “Visibility Alone Will Not Keep Transgender Youth Safe.” Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice with the ACLU.
Next up, many states are excluding incarcerated people from life-saving COVID-19 vaccines. We’ll look at how a New York judge has ruled this unfair and unjust. Stay with us.