I’m not going to lie — these last few weeks have been tough. It’s felt like an assault: headline after headline about state after state proposing, passing and signing bills that would harm transgender kids like my own.
I haven’t felt this anxious since February 2017, when the Trump administration rescinded the guidelines for transgender children in schools. Back then, my daughter Gia had just become the first student to socially transition at her middle school in our small, mostly white and somewhat conservative town in Connecticut.
Our journey, though, began much earlier, when Gia began wearing my shoes and turning my shirts into dresses at age 2. She soon graduated to her own princess dresses and shoes, dolls and other girl toys, but after starting kindergarten, she kept this part of herself hidden from most everyone outside of our immediate family. Then, at age 11, she slipped a note under our door: "Dear Mother and Father, can we move to a different country because I think I don’t want to be a boy lots of times ... We’ll discuss later.”
Moving out of the country was out of the question. My husband David and I weighed the possibility of sending our child to another school to start over, with a new name and a new identity. But going "stealth" would mean carrying yet another secret. More than anything, our child wanted to be free.
Knowing there was no way for her to transition privately in a town where she had gone to school with the same kids since first grade, we worked with the school and the superintendent to get this right. The entire middle school staff went through training and we met with all of Gia’s teachers before school started. Then, we sat down as a family to compose one of the most important letters of our lives, introducing Gia and her new pronouns; stressing that she has the full support of extended family, doctors and the school; and inviting everyone to join us in supporting Gia on her journey.
"Making this step requires Gia to be brave and courageous — and she cannot do it alone," we wrote. "We ask that you be respectful and supportive of Gia and remember that while Gia’s outward appearance may change, she is otherwise the same person with the same personality, humor and interests."
Then we sent it to Gia’s entire middle school. The response was immediate. Gia’s phone lit up with text messages of love and support from friends, and new requests from kids wanting to follow her on Instagram. Emails and text messages poured in from parents we knew from class parties, soccer games and the local Starbucks, congratulating us and offering hand-me-downs. We were all blown away by the overwhelmingly positive response. Gia’s transition in school was seamless, without incident or even a negative word.
A week later, our house was filled with 12 boisterous teenage girls for Gia’s 13th birthday party. When she wavered about returning to the co-ed cross country team she’d run for since fifth grade, her coach reached out — her teammates had been asking for her — and they welcomed her back, naming her captain of the girls' team. Gia had always been an A student, but now her teachers were saying how happy she seemed in class. Our daughter was thriving. We felt fortunate to live in a state where there was legal protection and public support for transgender youth.
Then Trump was elected and his administration quickly targeted transgender people. I reached out to the school, which reassured me of their commitment and promised to look out for any potential incidents. Thankfully, Gia’s days passed smoothly, and soon being transgender became the least interesting part of her. Knowing how different our positive experience had been from the experiences Gia had read about or seen on the internet, we decided to share our story with the rest of the country.
In 2018, on the anniversary of the Trump administration rescinding the guidelines, Gia and four other transgender teens from across the country helped launch the national storytelling campaign The GenderCool Project, which tells the stories of powerful, smart, talented young people who just happen to be transgender. The following year, Gia became an HRC Foundation youth ambassador, and David and I joined the Parents for Transgender Equality Council. Since then, Gia has appeared in a Gap Pride campaign, guest starred on the season 2 finale of Pose and written a children’s book on being transgender for the Kids Book About series. She’s in the enviable position of having to decide between multiple top colleges, where she has received scholarships.
So even as Republican-led state legislatures line up in a concerted effort to roll back transgender rights and visibility, I know that this time is different — 2021 is not 2017. Gia and other trans youth are not alone. They have the support of their families, peers and communities, as well as some 70 percent of Americans who support transgender equality. This is what happens when you replace opinion (fear) with real experiences with trans people. Most of these state legislators don’t personally know a trans person and can’t even cite a single case of a trans person participating in the school sports in which they want to ban them. This is a civil rights battle.
As Tyler Perry said recently while accepting the Humanitarian Oscar at the Academy Awards, we have to refuse hate. We have to refuse these hateful anti-transgender bills and the hateful rhetoric that drives these bills. We have to refuse to let that hate define or terrorize our transgender youth. And we have to replace that fear and hate with love and real experiences of trans youth.
It’s up to all of us — parents, teachers, neighbors and friends — to remain steady in our support and affirmation of transgender youth, the way our community was for us. And I have no doubt that, in time, we will win this battle, because as the HRC slogan goes, Love Conquers Hate.
Luchina Fisher is a member of the HRC Foundation’s Parents for Transgender Equality Council.