Transgender teen defends trans rights in Senate testimony: ‘These are human rights hanging in the balance’

‘We are just like your kid, just like your neighbour, and you. We also deserve the ability to be happy’

Alex Woodward
Wednesday 21 June 2023 20:13 BST
Trans teen defends affirming healthcare in Senate testimony

While her friends are spending their summers on vacation, Harleigh Walker is lobbying members of the US Senate in defence of her rights.

Ms Walker, a 16-year-old trans girl from Auburn, Alabama, testified to the US Senate Judiciary Committee on 21 June to debunk false claims regarding gender-affirming healthcare, a subject that has consumed state legislatures across the country, threatening to ban girls like her from getting the care they need.

Her home state was among the first to pass legislation banning affirming care for trans youth. A federal judge has blocked the state from enforcing it.

“There has been so much misinformation shared around what it means to be a transgender person, and what healthcare looks like for transgender youth like me,” she said in her prepared remarks.

“Most of what I’ve been hearing is inaccurate at best, or just outright falsehoods and misrepresentations,” she said. “The laws preventing people like me from having access to the healthcare that our doctors and parents agree is necessary to keep us healthy don’t keep us safe. They do the opposite.”

Yet the committee heard a deluge of transphobic rhetoric and outright false statements from Republican lawmakers and their witnesses who repeatedly misgendered trans women, falsely described affirming healthcare, conflated sexuality and gender, and grossly mischaracterised changes to Title IX protections.

Republicans sought to steer a hearing that was meant to examine LGBT+ protections and threats facing trans people into discussing cisender women who feel threatened by the existence of trans women in sports.

Senate Judiciary chair Dick Durbin urged members to “reject this divisive and hateful rhetoric” and reminded them that “our children are listening, and they are in danger. “

LGBT+ Americans are “are asking for no more – and no less – than the full freedom to live as who they are,” he said in his opening remarks.

Immediately following Ms Walker’s opening statement, the committee heard from Matt Sharp, senior counsel from the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group that has helped draft and defend legislation targeting LGBT+ people across the US.

“I am asking for you to help us stop certain people from using the transgender community as a political pawn. Please stop attacking our lives for votes or money. These are human rights hanging in the balance,” Ms Walker said in her opening statement.

“Help us communicate that they are impacting people’s lives and our pursuit of happiness,” she said. “We are just like your kid, just like your neighbour, and you. We also deserve the ability to be happy.”

Alabama is among 20 states that have sought to ban gender-affirming care for young trans people under 18 years old. But an increasing number of state-level and federal court decisions have blocked several states from enforcing such laws.

Ms Walker and her family were among families with trans children that successfully sued Alabama in an effort to overturn the law in 2022.

After she came out as trans, Ms Walker and her family worked with her paediatrician and medical professionals to find appropriate care. Her health providers listened to her, focused on getting to know her, and determined the best course of care.

“No one suggested, forced, or influenced me to ‘choose’ to be transgender. It is not a choice. I just knew that this is who I am,” she said.

Harleigh Walker, left, testifies to a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on LGBT+ discrimination protections on 21 June. (REUTERS)

“One of the things that stuck out as they talked to my parents and me was that if I ever decided to stop, or if this care wasn’t right for me, it was OK, and they would support me on that, too,” she added. “This is the opposite of what I hear in the news or in the legislatures. It makes me wonder why legislatures think they should get to tell my parents and my doctors that I can’t get the care I need to be healthy and happy.”

She was bullied in school, misgendered, deadnamed, and threatened with violence, she said. Her state’s lawmakers refused to talk with her about legislation that would outlaw her care. Without explicit federal protections that would make her feel safe closer to home, she has considered leaving Alabama for college.

“I am not miserable in my life, I’m not depressed. I’m just trying to be a teenager in America,” she said. “But I keep having to jump through hoops that other people my age don’t have to.

Democratic House members on Wednesday reintroduced the Equality Act, federal legislation that would update existing anti-discrimination protections to outlaw discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. It faces a dim chance of passage in a Republican-controlled House.

“Kids shouldn’t feel helpless at school against being bullied or discriminated against just because they are different,” Ms Walker said. “Leaders in our state and country have the ability to help, but instead so many legislators have decided to promote bullying and discrimination.”

If you are based in the US and seek LGBT+ affirming mental health support, resources are available from Trans Lifeline (877-565-8860) and the LGBT Hotline (888-843-4564), as well as The Trevor Project (866-488-7386, or text START to 678-678).

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