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LGBTQ+ Vermonters and allies rally to support queer, trans youth by listening

People in jackets, with two wrapped in pride flags look up at the Statehouse steps. There are about 70 kids on the steps of the Statehouse. The sky is gray.
Abagael Giles
Vermont Public
On Transgender Day of Visibility, more than a hundred kids and some adults took to the Statehouse steps. They gathered there as part of Outright Vermont's annual Leadership Day.

Last week, transgender and LGBTQ+ youth from all over Vermont gathered at the Statehouse steps.

They were part of a national youth march for Queer and Trans Youth Autonomy organized by Queer Youth Assemble, on Trans Day of Visibility.

Young people shared their stories and called for adults to protect trans kids. LGBTQ+ adults were listening in the crowd.

About 100 people came to speak or listen — many of them in high school and middle school.

High school senior Charlie Draughn emceed.

He thanked the crowd for being there, and for listening.

"Thank you so, so much to everyone who was here," Draughn said. "Thank you to the amazing youth who shared their voices. ... Thank you to the adults who listened and heard and hopefully, will one day act."

After the event, Draughn read from the speech he delivered on the Statehouse steps.

He spoke about how gender-affirming care and support from his mom had saved his life.

He talked about how it feels to watch lawmakers and adults debate whether he has the right to that care.

“My life is not your debate. It is not a political issue,” Draughn said. “I am not hurting anyone.”

People stand facing away from the camera, some draped in rainbow and other multicolored flags
Wilson Ring
Associated Press
Hundreds of people gather on the lawn of the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier, on Friday, March 31, 2023 in support of transgender rights. The Vermont rally was one of many being held across the country on Friday. The rallies come at a time when Republicans in some state legislatures across the country are considering hundreds of separate bills that would limit transgender rights. 

Analysis from NPR finds that state lawmakers across the country have introduced a record number of bills targeting trans people in the last two years, with more than 85% focusing on trans youth.

In Vermont, a group of Republican lawmakers introduced a billthis year that would let health care providers decide not to provide care for someone if doing so goes against their values. But with a Democratic supermajority in both chambers, it’s not likely to get far.

Lawmakers this session did pass a “shield law” to protect providers here from legal penalty in another state.

More fromVermont Edition: How a 'shield law' could protect out-of-staters coming to Vermont for abortions

The American Medical Association saysdenying care leads to worse overall health for transgender and nonbinary youth and the debate can harm kids’ mental health.

Despite the national rhetoric, Charlie says Friday felt good. In particular, it felt good to have adults listen.

“It felt so important and so big because I never really got that support for a really long time when I was a kid. You know, I didn’t have the words to explain who I was,” he said.

Helen Linda was one of those adults.

“I grew up a queer kid in Vermont in the ‘90s and it’s so much worse now. And it was not supposed to get worse,” Linda said. “What I’m witnessing now is dangerous to kids in a way that I never experienced. So I’m here to show them that you can grow up to be a queer person in your 40s. And that’s all that I’m here to do, is just be a vision of the future.”

Dana Kaplan leads Outright Vermont, a nonprofit that supports LGBTQ+ youth in the state.

“For a lot of young people, coming from a state where they can often be the only LGBTQ person in their town or in their school, it is so powerful to just soak in an environment where you are seeing signs that say ‘We love you just as you are,’” Kaplan said. “It’s a really different experience from their daily lives… That in and of itself is pretty life changing. For people to know ‘I am not alone. I belong. And there are people who love me just as I am.’ It’s really simple, but it’s very, very profound.”

More from Vermont Public: How a Vermont binder business is helping people feel more at home in their body

DJ Craig Mitchell was doing sound at the event.

“To come and support the youth is really important. Anything to make sure that kids are OK, that they feel safe and loved,” Mitchell said. “I was one of those kids. I was a part of the very first Outright Vermont group back in 1989, so many years ago. But I can honestly say that without Outright Vermont, I would not be here today.”

Rain Nissen-Reilly grew up in Vermont, but didn’t find the support they saw at the Statehouse that day.

“I’m a queer Vermonter in my 30s and when I was growing up, there was not any kind of support like this. And I felt the results of that negatively. So I think it’s really important to show the queer youth of today the support I didn’t get growing up. And it felt … it felt like we did that today,” Nissen-Reilly said. “That felt good.”

Nissen-Reilly said community is key.

More from Vermont Public: The Stone Church wraps up concerts, workshops focused on women and nonbinary Vermonters

“I’m so proud of these kids. I’m so proud of them. And I’m so proud of the adults in their lives that are being supportive of them. And I hope that they know that. I hope that they know that they’re supported and loved.”

As the speakers wrapped up for the day, Draughn and other young people led the crowd in a chant, after a false start and a little laughter.

With signs raised, the crowd chanted: “We’re here. We’re queer. We’re fabulous, don't mess with us. We’re here. We’re queer.”

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, help is available

Have questions, comments or tips?Send us a message or get in touch with reporter Abagael Giles@AbagaelGiles.

Abagael is Vermont Public's climate and environment reporter, focusing on the energy transition and how the climate crisis is impacting Vermonters — and Vermont’s landscape.

Abagael joined Vermont Public in 2020. Previously, she was the assistant editor at Vermont Sports and Vermont Ski + Ride magazines. She covered dairy and agriculture for The Addison Independent and got her start covering land use, water and the Los Angeles Aqueduct for The Sheet: News, Views & Culture of the Eastern Sierra in Mammoth Lakes, Ca.
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