I am now thirty-three years old and I have an incredible job and a loving family. I am proud of who I am and all that I have been able to accomplish. But if I were a student in South Dakota right now, chances are I would not survive into adulthood.
I didn’t realize that I was transgender until after college but I struggled through high school. I felt a disconnect from my body and a feeling of shame that prevented me from fully embracing the world. I struggled with thoughts of suicide, drug use and self-harm.
I am so thankful to be alive today. And I am alive in part because even in a time that was far less accepting of LGBT people, I never got the message in high school that being transgender was shameful. I was not ready to come out to myself during those years but I am thankful that my teachers, administrators and government representatives never sent me the message that I was so disgusting that I didn’t deserve to share space with my peers. That message would have pushed me over the edge. That message would have found its way inside my already self-hating consciousness and prevented me from finding the strength that I ultimately did find to survive.
Last weekend, Senator Omdahl said of transgender young people, “ “I’m sorry if you’re so twisted you don’t know who you are,” but we need a bill to protect other people from you. I keep hearing those words and imagining what it would have been like for fifteen year-old me to hear them. I would have been heartbroken.
Today, legislators in South Dakota will vote on House Bill 1008 that will require transgender students to be separated from their peers and forced into separate bathrooms and locker rooms. If this bill passes, there will be many transgender South Dakotans who will face bullying, harassment and perhaps even death. We live in a time of crisis where messages like Senator Omdahl’s contribute to an epidemic of suicide in the transgender community. Almost half of all transgender individuals attempt suicide at some point in our lives.
I have lost too many friends to suicide and watched too many transgender young people take their own lives.
I urge South Dakotans and people across the country to take seriously what it would be like to be a young transgender person being told you are so freakish that others must be protected from you. Growing up is painful and isolating at times no matter who you are. The last thing we need is the government to take part in the bullying of our vulnerable kids.
I was lucky enough to survive to fight on behalf of my community. I hope today’s vote doesn’t prevent future advocates from surviving into adulthood.
We need you.