As students held up signs Friday to protest the passing of a Utah law to ban transgender girls from competing in high school sports, the pouring rain sent streaks of colorful water down their poster boards.
After a few minutes, the messages on the signs — “Trans athletes are just athletes,” “It’s okay to say gay,” and “Hate has no home here” — were washed away by the rain. But the spirit of the students couldn’t be dampened.
“I think the rain just proved how important [the protest] was to us because we didn’t cancel it,” said 13-year-old student Caroline Drake, who helped organize the walkout. “... We had so many kids out here. We all came out here anyway, just fighting for the cause.”
Students chanted “Let them play” and “They’re just kids” in the parking lot of the school during their seventh period class. Several students wore the transgender Pride flag around their necks. One student laid on the ground and had her friends hold the Pride flag over her like an umbrella.
Drake was inspired by protests against HB11 at West and East high schools in Salt Lake City over the last two weeks and asked her friends, “Why isn’t Clayton doing anything about this?” There is a large community of transgender students at the school, Drake said, and she wanted to show support for her friends who are transgender or nonbinary.
She started planning the protest on Monday, posting flyers around the school and spreading the word on her Instagram account and in a Discord server for Clayton students.
“This was kind of our move to get out there and show people what we believe,” Drake said.
HB11, which bans transgender girls from competing in high 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 recently warned that legislation targeting transgender individuals could fuel more bullying and increase the risk of suicide among LGBTQ youth.
Clayton Middle School teachers and administrators have been supportive of trans students, Drake said, and staff members started an after-school group called V.I.B.E. that offers a safe space for LGBTQ students.
V.I.B.E. stands for Everyone is Validated, Included and Belongs. The group was started in the summer of 2021 and meets twice a month. A school counselor or teacher supervises the students’ discussions, and guests from the Utah Pride Center and LGBTQ advocacy group Encircle have spoken at meetings.
The crowd of more than 200 students who walked out into the rain was full of energy. They danced and chanted the names of their classmates. Drake climbed on a railing and tried to get their attention for a speech, but couldn’t.
“Everyone being here was so great,” said a 12-year-old student named River, who is nonbinary and whose parent asked for only their first name to be used. “I’m sure a few of them just wanted to skip seventh period, but most of them were definitely there to support the cause.”
River said they want their friends who are transgender to be able to play sports when they get into high school. Clayton Middle School doesn’t have school sports teams, but if it did, transgender girls would be able to compete under HB11, which only bans them from competing in high school sports.
“I know that some of my friends who play sports would just be so heartbroken if they can’t compete,” River said.
The weekly walkouts against HB11 will continue next week, as students at Cottonwood and Murray high schools are planning to protest on Thursday.
“If students that are in eighth and seventh grade can come out here and speak their minds, I think that adults should really take that to heart,” Drake said. “... We’re kids and we already know about this. And so I think that that should really affect adults and kind of sway them because we’re so young and we’re out here.”