More than 100 University of Wyoming students and other Laramie residents took to the streets Sunday afternoon to support the transgender community and push for policies and legal protections on their behalf.
The rally and ensuing march came roughly a week and a half after President Donald Trump’s administration withdrew federal guidelines that directed public schools to let transgender students use bathrooms corresponding with their gender identity. The previous administration established the guidelines on grounds schools could not discriminate under Title IX of the Educational Amendments of 1972, which prohibit sex-based discrimination.
“We all agreed that we should do something at the community level, since nothing’s being done at the federal level to support transgender youth in our community — and especially reach out to the school district and try to get them to bring up a new policy or actually take some action this time to protect transgender students,” said UW student Rihanna Kelver, a transgender woman and former candidate for the Albany County School District No. 1 Board of Education.
Kelver, one of the event’s principal organizers, also spearheaded a solidarity walk following the presidential elections in November.
From 2015-2016, the ACSD No. 1 School Board considered implementing a policy that would outline protections for transgender and gender-nonconforming students in the district. A task force released two draft policies in December 2015, but during a work session in April, the School Board ultimately opted to wait until further guidance was available at the federal level, declining to introduce either policy.
Sunday’s rally began at noon on Simpson Plaza on the UW campus, where members of the transgender community gave brief speeches to the assembled crowd.
“I have one message to my trans family and it’s that I love you and I am proud of you,” said Jude Hair, a UW graduate student. “Everyone here has survived, survived all those bad days and all the things you read and all the things people said to you. And thank you for that, and thank you for being here. You are valued, you are cared for and I am genuinely rooting for you.”
Jason Manning, a student at Cheyenne Central High School, talked about his struggles with his gender identity, dating back to when he was 11 years old.
“To any scared transgender kid still in the closet, parents to a person who’s recently come out or person who’s been out for years, it gets easier,” he said.
Wielding blue, pink and white transgender pride flags and cardboard signs, the crowd shouted chants such as “hey ho, hey ho, bigotry has got to go” and “trans rights are human rights” as it headed downtown.
UW student Natawsha Mitchell, carrying a “trans lives matter” sign, said her interest in social justice inspired her to participate in the march.
“I’m here because the current administration and just the climate in general toward gender-nonconforming people is not good,” she said. “And they deserve not only to do basic things like use the bathroom that aligns with their gender identity but to be respected and appreciated as the full human beings that they are.”
At the conclusion of the march, Kelver called the Trump administration’s actions a “grave mistake” and encouraged the community to stand together to protect transgender youth from injustice. She also called upon the nine members of the School Board to take a stand to protect transgender students in ACSD No. 1.
“I call you out to enact a policy that you turned your back on while I was a senior at Laramie High School,” she said. “Enact a policy now before we lose any of the precious trans youth within our school district.”
School Board Chairman Janice Marshall said Monday that transgender students’ needs at Laramie High School and other schools in the district are being met on a “case by case basis.”
“I don’t think this is something that the School Board will be looking at anytime soon because the legal landscape is still in flux right now as far as guidance on the transgender policy,” she said.
Marshall also noted the board is working to update its sexual harassment policy, adding she hoped that policy would provide protections for all ACSD No. 1 students when implemented. One of the proposed changes would define gender-based harassment as “unwelcome conduct based on an individual’s actual or perceived sex, including harassment based on gender identity or nonconformity with sex stereotypes, and not necessarily involving conduct of a sexual nature.”
ACSD No. 1 Superintendent Jubal Yennie said he didn’t think the district needed a separate policy for transgender students.
“We worked through that whole bullying and anti-harassment policy, 4021, at the same time last year,” he said. “So, that really provides all the protections that a separate policy would provide.”
Decisions involving transgender students are handled at the district level, he said.
“You get back to the issue of gender identity — access to bathrooms and things like that,” he said. “At the high school we put in a couple of additional family bathrooms, so we’re just providing all that structure there to be able to do that. I don’t think that will be a problem.”