As people crowded into polling places on the University of Iowa’s campus on Tuesday afternoon, a group of students from Iowa City’s South East Junior High School marched to the campus to show support for transgender rights.
Two eighth-graders, Sam and Lucas, mounted the steps of Schaeffer Hall to rally their fellow students, who had walked out of school to make their voices heard.
“I’m sure you all know what we’re all protesting for,” Sam told the approximately 60 students, as well as a few interested adults. “Even though we’re here mainly to support trans rights and to be against the repeal of them, we’re also here because we’re a bunch of teenagers who don’t have the right to vote yet, but cannot let any more harm be done.”
In recent weeks, the Trump administration has taken steps that would undermine civil rights protection for transgender Americans, and is considering creating a new legal definition of gender “as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth.” Such a definition would have the effect of erasing transgender people from all federal regulations.
“You want to know what?” Lucas asked the crowd. “I may be a beautiful painting, but I sure as hell will not be erased.”
There was a “Support Trans Rights — Don’t Erase” rally on the Pentacrest three weeks ago, but the South East students wanted to stage their protest on Election Day, because even though they are half a decade or more from voting age, they already understand the impact political decisions have on their lives.
“I’ve heard a lot that we kids, that we’re not allowed to talk about politics,” Sam said. “It directly affects us. Even if you’re not gay or trans, or a person of color, you’re still going to be affected by [politics]. But everybody tells us to stay out of politics.”
“If you have a sibling who is 18, go tell them to vote,” Lucas added. “Because we need their votes.”
About a dozen students went up on the steps to share their stories of coming out, finding acceptance, experiencing rejections. A few even mentioned thoughts of suicide they’d had.
Lucas, who has an outgoing personality and a mildly crass style of speaking, went first.
“I came out to my friends in the fourth grade. I came out to my family last year — it took me that long — and the second I did, I was ridiculed by my brothers,” Lucas said. “They said they wouldn’t call me ‘he,’ until I got a penis. You know what I said? ‘I’ll get a bigger one than you.’”
The march and rally was originally planned by City High School students, Sam told Little Village as the rally was winding down after almost an hour.
“I first learned about it on Instagram about two weeks ago,” Sam said. “But something happened. I think the person doing the planning got the flu, and the whole plan fell apart. But we didn’t want to just let this end. So, me and my friend Lucas took it into our hands.”
Sam and Lucas are both members of GLOW, a club for LGBTQ students and their allies at South East. “The name stands for ‘gay, lesbian or whatever,’” Sam explained.
The two friends quickly organized the two-and-a-half mile march and rally on Tuesday morning.
“We went to the principal’s office and told them that we were still going to do this,” Sam said. “And we did.”
“We’re missing the last three periods of the day, and I know not all the teachers were supporting this,” Sam continued, “but we need to get our message out.”