Philly’s trans students stage walkout to rally for their rights

Trans students and their allies marching around City Hall. (Photo by Jason Villemez)

Amid record numbers of anti-LGBTQ laws around the country centering on sports and healthcare and general education, Philadelphia’s trans students and their allies walked out of class on April 25 and staged a rally for their rights. They walked down Broad Street, leading chants and holding signs that read “Trans rights are human rights,” “Being Trans is Not New,” and “Trust Young People.” And when they gathered at City Hall by the hundreds, their message was clear: enough with anti-trans legislation, and equality for all trans people.

“We shouldn’t be here right now,” Wes Allen, one of the organizers of the walkout, said to the crowd. “I’m currently absent on an extremely important testing day at school, and I’m missing a rehearsal for a concert that I have tonight at school, because I’m walking out for my rights, for my life. And all of you are too.”

Most who attended the rally were not old enough to vote for the legislators who determine whether they can receive gender affirming care or participate in school sports, so they gathered together to make their voice heard. They called on state legislators to oppose three bills in the Pa. House (138, 216, and 319) related to trans youth. They called on Gov. Josh Shapiro to sign an executive order declaring Pennsylvania a sanctuary state for trans people. And they called on the city of Philadelphia to allocate more funding for school district staff education programs as well as gender neutral facilities.

But beyond the political demands, those who spoke at the rally also educated their friends, family members, and allies about who they are and what they’ve gone through to get to this point. 

“I don’t know who I would be if I hadn’t accepted myself by now,” Max Shallapi told the crowd. “I think about that version of myself sometimes. Maybe she lives in a universe not too far away from this one. I imagine she would be more bitter, less open to new people, less talkative. I don’t know if she would have taken the steps to meet all the amazing friends I have right now, or even to get out of bed most mornings. I have no way of knowing how much it will take for her to live her life.”

Shallapi also stressed the negative impact that transphobic rhetoric has on trans youth.

“The numerous bills across the country that are being drafted out of fear of transgenderism are hurting kids like me, whether they live in Texas or New York. CPAC speaker and Daily Wire host Michael Knowles, in a rant about people like me, a rant we’ve heard all too often by now, said “For the good of society… transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely, the whole preposterous ideology on every level.” He now claims that this wasn’t a call for the eradication of trans people, but how else am I supposed to read that? How can people not see what’s happening before their eyes?”

Photo by Jason Villemez

Students from several Philadelphia schools participated in the walkout, including Central High School, Masterman School, Science Leadership Academy, The Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts, Friends Select, Franklin Learning Center, and Academy at Palumbo. They were joined by other area students, teachers, parents, and allies.

In 2023, record numbers of anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in states around the country. Much of that legislation focuses on trans people and specifically trans youth. 17 states have passed laws that restrict gender affirming care for minors, and 15 more are considering similar laws. According to the Williams Institute, 146,300 trans youth have lost or are at risk of losing gender-affirming healthcare. For trans students, that harsh reality complicates their educational choices.

One student at Science Leadership Academy told the crowd, “I’ve been looking at where to go to college, and because of all the anti-trans legislation, I have to eliminate most U.S. states.” The student also said their mother is scared for them to leave Philadelphia for college due to them being trans. 

States with Democratic-majority legislatures, such as Minnesota, are being referred to as “sanctuary states” due to their legislatures passing protections for the trans community. But such states number far fewer than those that have passed or are seeking to pass anti-trans laws.

At the conclusion of the rally, Allen reminded the crowd to march peacefully and said “we are not giving them a reason to demonize us more than they already do.” 

Then, with the same energy as when they arrived, attendees resumed their march, chanting “We will not be quiet, Stonewall was a riot,” “HRT, HRT, for all and for free,” and “We’re here, we’re queer, we will not disappear.” After circling City Hall, the march continued up Broad Street and concluded at the Philadelphia School District Building.

“I’m absolutely thrilled over how our rally went,” Finn Giddings, one of the organizers, told PGN. “Turnout for these is very hard to predict but it far surpassed my admittedly pessimistic expectations. Everyone genuinely felt like they wanted to be there. It was really beautiful to see everyone come together in support for their trans community members. Our team’s hard work really paid off today, and I’m sure for many of us this is just the beginning of a career in defending what’s right.”

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