Hundreds of transgender youth gathered in front of the Capitol to celebrate pride and freedom.
The trans youth prom is a show of defiance amid record-breaking anti-LGBTQ legislation in the US.
Nearly 500 bills targeting the LGBTQ community have been introduced so far this year.
On Monday, in front of the Capitol in Washington, D.C., dozens of transgender youth danced their way through the "Tunnel of Love," an archway created by their parents and other trans adults. This was their arrival to their prom.
The trans youth prom wasn't just a celebration of pride and freedom, but also an act of defiance against the record-breaking slew of anti-LGBTQ rights in the United States. Since the beginning of the year, at least 490 bills targeting the LGBTQ community have been introduced in state legislatures across the country — almost double the 278 such bills introduced last year, according to recent data from the American Civil Liberties Union.
In the face of mounting adversity, more than 160 youth, ranging from ages 5 to 20, traveled from more than 16 states for the prom. The event was organized by four trans teens from across the country.
"With folks coming from all over the country, Trans Prom shows that the trans community is made up of people: people who have feelings, aspirations, who know how to party and enjoy themselves," Hobbes Chukumba, one of the event's trans youth organizers, told Insider. "Trans Prom is a chance to show the world that trans youth are youth who deserve to be treated with respect, support, and love."
A record-breaking year of anti-LGBTQ legislation
This year has already seen a dramatic increase in anti-LGBTQ legislation, ACLU data shows.
In 2022, 20 of the nearly 280 bills introduced became law, including 17 aimed at restricting the rights of transgender student athletes. Given the spike in anti-LGBTQ bills this year, which totals nearly 500 so far, the stakes for transgender rights are even higher this year.
Most bills targeting LGBTQ rights this year are related to education, such as Florida's so-called "Don't Say Gay" bill, which was expanded last month to ban in-school discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity through 12th grade.
But there's also been a recent shift in focus toward new types of bills. More than two-thirds of the healthcare-related bills introduced this year are aimed at blocking trans youth from receiving gender-affirming care. And this was the first year states have explicitly targeted drag shows.
"So many people are fighting for life and death in the United States," Chase Strangio, a lawyer and transgender rights activist, told Insider over email. "For trans and non-binary people, we are fighting to define and live freely as who we are without government repression and violence."
Strangio has worked on many of the most prominent cases involving LGBTQ rights in recent years, including North Carolina's notorious "bathroom law," which was repealed in 2017; the ACLU's challenge to Trump's trans military ban; and the historic Aimee Stephens case before the Supreme Court, which concerned LGBTQ discrimination in the workplace.
"It is a big deal for people to fight back against their government and try to make changes not only for themselves but also for future generations," Strangio said. "We are fighting to expand the contours of our lives, the possibilities of our futures, and the nature of our freedom."
A future of hope and resilience
At the prom, 20-year-old DJ and trans activist DJ Nico spun off a playlist curated by the kids, from Taylor Swift's "The Man" to "Born This Way" by Lady Gaga. Stormie Daie, a drag artist and educator, performed on stage, along with the kids attending the prom.
The dance's color theme — pink, white, and blue — was a nod to the transgender flag. Chukumba, a junior in high school, wore glow-in-the-dark blue socks with pink accents, a blue Alfani suit, and matching blue tie with pink accents. Grayson McFerrin-Hogan, another trans youth organizer, wore a green skirt with green heart-shaped sunglasses.
"The trans youth prom signifies that no matter what happens and who votes on our lives, we can still celebrate," McFerrin-Hogan, who's in the sixth grade, said.
After the prom, the kids and their families marched to the US Supreme Court Building.
Chukumba said he remains hopeful.
"Today's youth have an incredible ability to understand, empathize, and accept others, but more important than that, the youth of today are both courageous and creative advocates for the causes they believe in," he said. "I see today's youth turning the tides with their advocacy."
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