Opinion: Trans youth in Florida are becoming activists in the fight for their lives

Visibili-T is dedicated to transgender members of our community in Central Florida and Tampa Bay, some you know and many you don’t. It is designed to amplify their voices and detail their experiences in life.

This issue, we present an opinion piece written by Samira Burnside, a 16-year-old high school sophomore, an activist for LGBTQ+ rights and a student journalist for the Queer Notion. Burnside is also a volunteer for the Human Rights Campaign in Florida.

Youth activists are leading powerful movements across the nation. From climate change to gun violence, young people who are sickened by injustice and our elected leaders’ inaction are marching, speaking out and — in many cases — fighting for their lives.

I wasn’t always an activist. Despite coming from a lineage of activists, being an activist myself was not how I expected to spend my teenage years. The political issues adults faced felt impossibly large, I didn’t know how I could even begin to tackle them. But the wave of anti-trans legislation across the U.S., and specifically Florida, has become an unignorable call. It was never a choice for me to begin fighting, it’d be like choosing to remain in a burning house instead of picking up a bucket and trying to put out the fire.

About two years ago, I came out to my father, and the rest of my family shortly after, as transgender. I’m lucky. Everyone around me is accepting and supportive. Since coming out, I’m happier than ever before. I’m more eager to make friends and put myself out there, and I’m closer with my family. My transness was almost a complete non-factor in my home, in my friendships and in my state — until Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Florida Board of Medicine and Florida’s Legislature made it one.

I first felt the real impact of their discrimination in November 2022 when my health care provider called to tell me that “Ron DeSantis” had “passed a law” that would prohibit them from providing me care. “We are so sorry to be doing this to you,” they said. This was, of course, a lie. The Board of Medicine was still crafting their policy to ban trans youth from receiving gender-affirming care. Trans youth already in care would still be able to continue their care. And, it was a policy, not a law.
But health care providers began halting care nonetheless because DeSantis and extremist legislators made them fear that they could lose their medical licenses if they continued providing care to patients like me.

I had a similar experience earlier this year. The evening before the Board of Medicine’s ban on gender-affirming care policy went into effect, the doctor I saw for hormone therapy canceled my appointment without any warning. We had to scramble to find another provider that evening because I feared that if I wasn’t already under a doctor’s care, then I wouldn’t be eligible to continue hormone therapy under the new rule. Thankfully, I was able to get an appointment with a provider that evening, just hours before the rule took effect at midnight.

I am forever grateful to the LGBTQ+ legal experts, medical professionals and activists who testified for hours against the policy. I never met them, but each testimony was like a little brick that allowed me to secure and continue my care.

What’s happening in Florida right now is scapegoating. DeSantis and extremist legislators think the trans community in Florida is small enough that we won’t defend ourselves, so they use us as political capital to appease their base. The unfortunate reality is that we live in a state with an anti-LGBTQ+ super-majority in the statehouse, under a governor who has chosen to make attacking our community the cornerstone issue in the runup to his presidential campaign.

DeSantis touts his “Freedom Florida” campaign, and yet he legislates the rights of all people away under the guise of a moral panic over transgender people. With these discriminatory attacks, DeSantis and extremist legislators claim that they are protecting “parental rights” but they are doing the exact opposite.

The extreme gender-affirming care ban DeSantis signed into law contradicts guidelines recommended by every major medical association including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association and more because gender-affirming care saves lives. Trans and nonbinary young people in Florida deserve quality health care, just like all kids and teenagers.

Together with our loved ones, trans and nonbinary youth in Florida will continue to turn our fear into action and speak out. We’ve had to become activists but we need people of all political denominations and backgrounds to join us. History has taught us that one people’s eroded rights will tomorrow be everyone’s. We need everyone to rise up against extreme government overreach and fight for the human rights of all people — particularly the rights of parents in regards to care for their children.

We cannot back down. Together, we will fight for our lives and our right to exist freely and authentically — and we will win.

Interested in being featured in Visibili-T? Email Editor-in-Chief Jeremy Williams in Central Florida or Managing Editor Ryan Williams-Jent in Tampa Bay.

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