COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. — As a Colorado Springs school district prepares to decide whether teachers can ask students for their chosen name and pronouns, transgender children and their advocates held a rally outside the district’s building Wednesday evening to make their message loud: protect transgender students.
Nearly 70 community members marched around the building with Transgender Pride flags, rainbow flags and signs that read “asking pronouns saves lives.”
As they walked, protestors chanted “protect trans kids,” and “spread love not hate.”
“The goal is to make sure the board of education knows that these are their constituents, these are the students they’re serving, the parents they’re serving, and they do not want the board to pass this proposed pronoun policy that would restrict teachers from asking for students pronouns,” said Liss Smith, communications and advocacy director at Inside Out Youth Services, a nonprofit serving LGBTQ+ youth in El Paso County.
Smith said research shows that asking a young person’s name and pronouns can reduce suicide rates by 56%. Suicide rates for LGBTQ+ youth are four to five times higher than those of their straight, cisgender peers, Smith added.
“We also know young people don’t always feel safe at school, so when a teacher asks for a student's pronouns, they’re sharing that they’re a safe person,” Smith said. “They’re familiar with pronouns and they’re saying 'I’ll do my best to affirm you and celebrate you.' And that may be the only place that student feels affirmed.”
The board is expected to hold the discussion on pronouns at its March 22 meeting, as part of a larger agenda item adopting a proposed diversity, equity and inclusion amendment into the school’s policy manual. Though that meeting is weeks away, activists wanted to make sure the message campaign began as soon as possible so board members knew how important the issue was.
“The school board wants to pass policies that will make it more difficult for teachers in their classrooms. Kids and families need to be welcome no matter who they are,” said Kathleen Brannon, a former District 11 teacher. “We are all different and we’re wonderfully made and we just need to be able to accept and welcome our differences.”
Most protestors were parents, teachers and other adults in the community, but the children who attended said they struggled to feel safe in schools when their basic identities are not respected.
“Especially when we’re talking about youth, it’s hard for them to come forward without being asked,” said Jasmine Bible, a parent with children in District 11. “We’d love for it to become more commonplace so they don't have to feel weird about it.”
Others pointed out that the LGBTQ+ community in Colorado Springs has dealt with immense tragedies over the last year, and children should not have to keep suffering. Club Q, one of the area’s only LGBTQ+ bars, was the target of a mass shooting in November, leaving five dead and 18 injured.
“We all know people that were affected by Club Q and we want Colorado Springs to be better for everyone, but we can’t do that if we have people who want to push an agenda,” said MJ Johsnon, a parent of children in District 11. “We’re here to protect all kids and all pronouns.”
Across the street, the Mom’s for Liberty, a conservative organization comprised of parents who made a name for themselves protesting against COVID-19 restrictions, could be heard chanting “let kids be kids.”
Those in support of transgender kids said the message is twofold: let all kids be themselves by affirming children’s identities and letting them know they’re safe.
“Let kids be kids in all the ways. Let kids authentically be themselves and support them in doing that,” said Stoney Roberts, the southern Colorado field organizer with One Colorado, a statewide LGBTQ+ nonprofit. “I’ve been a queer kid in this ecosystem and I know what it’s like. I can only imagine how much of a difference it would’ve made if somebody would’ve asked me my pronouns.”
Alison Berg is a multimedia journalist at Rocky Mountain PBS. You can reach her at email@example.com.