Trans kids, supportive parents and activists from across Mississippi gathered on the south-facing steps of the Capitol on Wednesday to rally against a bill that would ban gender-affirming medical care for trans minors.
More than 50 people attended the protest against House Bill 1125, called the “Regulate Experimental Procedures for Adolescents Act,” holding colorful signs and wearing the pink, blue and white trans pride flags draped on their shoulders.
Some trans kids who attended, like Theodore Milnor, a 15-year-old freshman at Tougaloo Early College High School, had excused absences from school. Milnor’s counselor gave him one condition: To write a report on the protest and present it to the whole school for kids who couldn’t go.
Before the protest started, Milnor turned to a family friend, Tifani Keith, who’d come with him because his parents couldn’t get off work. He said he was anxious.
“We’re in a very safe and loving place right now,” Keith told him as they walked up the Capitol steps.
Inside the building, conservative lawmakers have fast-tracked HB 1125 without consulting trans kids or providers of gender-affirming care, an evidence-based form of treatment that is supported by every major medical association in the U.S. If the bill passes, providers could lose their license if they continue to treat trans kids, and anyone who “aids and abets” gender-affirming care for trans kids could be sued for damages for up to 30 years, in a provision modeled off a Texas anti-abortion bill.
“It is infantilizing, unfair, discriminatory and frankly unconstitutional,” said McKenna Raney-Gray, staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union of Mississippi’s LGBTQ Justice Project. “This is the kind of thing the ACLU was designed to fight against.”
The bill has yet to pass the Senate but it is backed by a powerful coalition of lawmakers, including Gov. Tate Reeves who has indicated he’ll sign it.
“The fact is that we set age restrictions on driving a car and on getting a tattoo,” Reeves said during his State of the State address. “We don’t let 11-year-olds enter an R-rated movie alone, yet some would have us believe that we should push permanent, body-altering surgeries on them at such a young age.”
Other lawmakers have likened gender-affirming care to child abuse and called the bill a measure to protect kids. But at the rally, speakers said the bill will do the exact opposite: by denying trans kids the opportunity to transition, they say HB 1125 will increase the risk of suicide among a population that is already disproportionately vulnerable to mental illness. Nationally, trans youth attempt suicide at a rate more than four times their cisgender peers due to social stigma and discrimination. Research has repeatedly shown that gender-affirming care significantly boosts the chances that trans kids will live to see adulthood.
Some of the trans kids who attended, like Milnor, have not started gender-affirming care but still view the bill as an attack on their rights.
“This bill is not about health care in my point of view,” he said. “I feel it is more about ostracizing trans people.”
Gender-affirming care is already difficult to obtain in Mississippi. There is likely only one clinic in the state that offers gender-affirming care, with parental consent, to 16- and 17-year-old trans teenagers. The number of kids in the state who have prescriptions to hormones or puberty blockers — treatment that is reversible — could likely fit in a whole classroom, according to in-state providers of gender-affirming care.
In speeches, House lawmakers like Rep. Nick Bain, R-Corinth, a co-sponsor of the bill, could not name a single instance of trans kids undergoing surgery in Mississippi. There is no clinic in Mississippi that offers gender-confirmation surgery to trans kids, according to providers.
“Believe me, the gentleman from Corinth did not come up with this idea one afternoon in the duck hunt,” said Clint Faulkner, a father who drove up from Sumrall with his child to attend the rally. “He got a call from a special interest group. … That’s what bothers me.”
Multiple speakers asked, rhetorically, why lawmakers are prioritizing HB 1125 instead of other health care issues in Mississippi, like the rural hospital crisis or the worsening rate of maternal mortality, one of the highest in America.
“My question, as always, is this,” said Lance Presley, a reverend at Broadmeadow United Methodist Church in Jackson. “Why is it that every time folks in this building start talking about protecting our children, it’s never about making sure that our children in this state have adequate nutrition, it’s never about making sure that the kids in this state live past childhood?”
“Why is it always – when they talk about protecting children – why is it always about hurting the kids who are already hurting most,” he continued.
Ashley Moore, the mother of a trans child, echoed Presley’s point.
“What are we doing?” she said. “We rank last in so many things, and we’re trying to take away our children’s rights? Gender-affirming care is evidence-based. Everybody seems to be overlooking that.”
Moore said that she was so scared to speak out against the bill she was shaking, but that, “I am even more terrified of what will happen to my child and my family if this is passed.”
Leviathan Myers-Rowell, a 16-year-old high school junior, talked about what it’s like to be a trans kid in Mississippi, an experience he said lawmakers don’t understand. He quoted a comment that Sen. Joey Fillingane, R-Sumrall, made in a Senate committee claiming that parents are forcing gender-affirming care on trans kids.
“This is horrifying to me because it just isn’t true,” Myers-Rowell said. “There are no parents out there who actually want to choose the gender assignment of their children … the reality is being trans is hard, and nobody chooses this.”
After speeches finished, protesters marched two blocks to the Governor’s Mansion, waving flags and chanting “protect trans youth.”