The rain and freezing cold hail didn’t stop students at East High from walking out of class Friday to protest the passing of a Utah law to ban transgender girls from competing in school sports.
Even as they got drenched, they proudly carried Pride flags and gave rousing speeches against HB11.
Some students huddled beneath umbrellas, while others opened their mouths to catch the precipitation as it dropped. One held a sign that read “HB 11 is bull----.” Students and teachers shouted, “Trans rights are human rights” and “Let them play.”
The walkout was inspired by the protest at nearby West High School in Salt Lake City last week.
Avi Soule, who is president of East High’s QSA, said he can feel lonely at school as an openly transgender student.
“I don’t know who I can relate to, and I don’t know who I am,” Soule said at the rally. “But because of all you, I know there are people who I can trust, and there are people who will fight with me.”
HB11, which bans transgender girls for participating in school athletic competitions under their preferred gender, was passed into law through an override by the Utah Legislature on March 25 — after earlier being vetoed by Gov. Spencer Cox.
Mental health experts have also recently warned that legislation targeting transgender individuals could fuel more bullying and increase the risk of suicide among LGBTQ youth. The isolation and persecution that Soule faces, he said, “is only worsened by HB 11.”
Soule told the crowd they would need to work together to “create a better future for us all.” The crowd chanted his name in response.
Vasey Payne, a 15-year-old student, also noted that it feels like the Legislature is attacking LGBTQ youth with the measure: “You just sent a message to trans children across Utah that they are not welcome here.”
Daffodil Buchert, a 17-year-old senior who is bisexual, helped organize the event, she said, because she wanted to support transgender students and express frustration about how HB11 will affect them.
She challenged legislators to learn more about LGBTQ issues.
“When you educate yourself and you truly see the humanity of these people it’s much, much more difficult to discriminate against someone with these kind of bills,” she added.
Buchert said she has friends who are transgender who don’t feel interested in participating in sports because they don’t feel welcome at the school in the first place.
Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, who is gay and represents the voting district that covers East High’s boundaries, joined the students Friday. He asked the crowd to vote when they turn 18 and to support candidates they believe in.
“If you feel like you are not represented in the Legislature, you’re right,” Kitchen said. “The way to get over that is to get involved.”
Kitchen, who voted against HB11, asked the crowd to “put an end to it” if they see somebody picking on another student because of their gender.
“We can do better. You all have the power to show up for each other,” he said.
The Legislature made a big mistake in passing HB11, said Will Terry, programs coordinator at Equality Utah. He is glad, though, because it motivated young people like the students at East High to carry on the fight.
The walkout took place after a school spirit event and was approved with school administrators. Students who participated were marked absent from third period, but parents can call to excuse the absence, noted Salt Lake City School District spokesperson Yándary Chatwin.
Buchert said she has friends who have been discriminated against by students and adults in the school. There are allies and some safe spaces like the queer-straight alliance where LGBTQ students can find sanctuary, Buchert added, but there need to be louder shows of support within the school.
“I don’t feel like there is a community where we all come in,” Buchert said. “We have found our own spaces within the school, but not all together.”
The students rallied for about half an hour. By the end, the rain started to clear and the sun peeked through the clouds.