East High students chant “Let ’em play” as they walk out to protest the ban on transgender girls from competing in sports

The students wanted to support their transgender classmates and challenge lawmakers to educate themselves on LGBTQ issues.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) East High School students are organizing a walkout on Friday, April 15, 2022 to protest HB11’s ban on transgender girls from participating in female school sports. In the same spirit as the West High strike last week, students have spoken out against the law, which they felt was discriminatory and hurtful of transgender youth in the state.

The rain and freezing hail didn’t stop East High students walking out of class on Friday to protest the passage of a law in Utah banning transgender girls from school sports.

Even when they were soaked, they proudly carried Pride flags and gave rousing speeches against HB11.

Some students huddled under umbrellas while others opened their mouths to catch the fallout. One held a sign that read “HB 11 is bull—-“. Pupils and teachers shouted: “Trans rights are human rights” and “Let them play”.

The strike was organized by students from East High’s Queer Straight Alliance and the school government. They were inspired by the protest at nearby West High School in Salt Lake City last week.

Avi Soule, the president of East High’s QSA, said he could feel lonely at school as an openly transgender student.

“I don’t know who to relate to and I don’t know who I am,” Soule said at the rally. “But because of all of you, I know there are people I can trust and there are people who will fight with me.”

HB11, which bans transgender girls from participating in school athletic competitions under their preferred gender, was signed into law by an override by the Utah Legislature on March 25 — after an earlier veto by Gov. Spencer Cox.

Mental health experts have also recently warned that laws targeting transgender people could fuel more bullying and increase the risk of suicide among LGBTQ youth. The isolation and persecution Soule faces, he said, “is only exacerbated by HB 11.”

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Avi Soule, 17, who identifies as transgender, addresses a crowd of fellow East High School students during an organized strike on Friday, April 15, 2022 to protest the ban on HB11 to protest preventing transgender girls from participating in female school sports. In the same spirit as the West High strike last week, students have spoken out against the law, which they felt was discriminatory and hurtful of transgender youth in the state.

Soule told the crowd they must work together to “create a better future for all of us”. The crowd chanted his name in response.

Vasey Payne, a 15-year-old college student, also noted that it feels like the Legislature is targeting LGBTQ youth with the measure: “You just sent out a message to trans kids across Utah that they are not welcome here.”

Daffodil Buchert, a 17-year-old senior who is bisexual, helped organize the event, she said, because she wanted to support transgender students and express her frustration at how HB11 will affect them.

She urged lawmakers to learn more about LGBTQ issues.

“When you educate yourself and really see the humanity of these people, it’s much, much harder to discriminate against someone with these kinds of bills,” she added.

Buchert said she has transgender friends who aren’t interested in playing sports because they didn’t feel welcome at school in the first place.

Sen. Derek Kitchen, D-Salt Lake City, who is gay and represents the constituency that covers East High’s boundaries, joined the students Friday. He urged the crowd to vote at 18 and support candidates they believe in.

“If you feel like you have no representation in the legislature, you are right,” Kitchen said. “The way to get over it is to get involved.”

Kitchen, who voted against HB11, urged crowds to “put a stop to it” when they see someone bullying another student because of their gender.

“We can do better than that. You all have the power to stand up for one another,” he said.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) Vasey Payne, 15, addresses gathered fellow East High School students during a strike Friday, April 15, 2022 to protest HB11, the transgender girl’s participation in the female School sports prohibited. In the same spirit as the West High strike last week, students have spoken out against the law, which they felt was discriminatory and hurtful of transgender youth in the state.

The legislature made a big mistake passing HB 11, said Will Terry, program coordinator at Equality Utah. But he’s happy because it’s motivated young people like the East High students to keep up the fight.

The strike came after a school spirit event and was approved by the school administration. Students who attended were marked as absent in the third period, but parents can call to excuse the absence, Salt Lake City School District spokesman Yándary Chatwin noted.

Buchert said she has friends who have been discriminated against by students and adults at school. There are allies and some safe places like the Queer Straight Alliance where LGBTQ students can find sanctuary, Buchert added, but there needs to be louder statements of support within the school.

“I don’t feel like there’s a community that we all come into,” Buchert said. “We have found our own spaces within the school, but not all together.”

The students gathered for about half an hour. In the end the rain let up and the sun peeked through the clouds.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) East High School students are organizing a walkout on Friday, April 15, 2022 to protest HB11, which bans transgender girls from participating in female school sports. In the same spirit as the West High strike last week, students have spoken out against the law, which they felt was discriminatory and hurtful of transgender youth in the state.

https://www.sltrib.com/news/education/2022/04/15/east-high-students-chant/ East High students chant “Let ’em play” as they walk out to protest the ban on transgender girls from competing in sports

Joel McCord

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