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A transgender Vermont high school student who was the target of a transphobic hate campaign is breaking her silence.
“I want to be able to go out there and kind of just say, ‘I am trans, I am here,’” said the 14-year-old first-year student at Randolph Union High School, who asked to be identified as Rabbit in this interview. The Vermont Conversation and VTDigger are protecting the student’s privacy out of concern for her safety.
In late September, Vermont television station WCAX aired a news story about the girl’s volleyball team at Randolph Union High School. Rabbit had recently joined the team, and WCAX featured a single student who objected to Rabbit’s presence in the girl’s locker room.
The story was immediately picked up by right-wing media outlets including Fox News, the New York Post, the British tabloid the Daily Mail and the conservative Heritage Foundation. This unleashed a “wildfire of bigotry and hatred,” according to Rabbit’s mother, and a torrent of transphobic hate messages to Rabbit, her family and the school. The school district website was hacked and forced offline after the site was flooded with transphobic messages. Rabbit temporarily left school in fear for her safety.
But the damage had been done.
“I was in danger,” Rabbit said. “And not only me, but the trans youth community of Randolph and of Vermont due to this disgraceful and defaming news article.”
This incident comes as transgender people are under unprecedented attack, especially in Republican-led states. Four states have enacted a partial or total bans on gender-affirming care, and 20 other states are trying to pass such bills. Texas Gov. Greg Abbot declared that parents and health care providers who provide gender-affirming care to trans youth can be investigated for child abuse. Some 85% of trans or nonbinary youth say their mental health has been negatively affected by these laws, and more than half have considered suicide in the past year, according to the Trevor Project, an LGBTQ+ advocacy group.
“So much of Rabbit’s story absolutely mirrors what is happening across the country and here in Vermont,” said Dana Kaplan, executive director of Outright Vermont, an LGBTQ+ advocacy and support organization. “There's a continuous barrage of messages that are targeting queer and trans young people telling them that they are not valued, that they're not cared for, that they're not allowed to exist, that they're not allowed to access their joy, and really typical things that all young people need to be able to do to develop self confidence (and) to thrive.”
At the same time, there has also been an outpouring of support for Rabbit from everyone from her volleyball teammates to strangers who sent her letters.
“I just want you to remember that we’re children,” volleyball team captain Lilly Patton said to a crowd of about 350 people who attended a public meeting in Randolph in October. “It’s one child on the receiving end of all this hate. You’re saying all these things to a child who is already at high risk, who already doesn’t feel accepted. This child didn’t do anything to anyone, especially you adults. I was there. She was where she was supposed to be.”
Rabbit said she appreciates these allies.
“Any message of support that you can give to trans youth or trans people in general … make it known because, oh my god, it helps so much,” she said.
“My hopes and dreams are to show people that they can just be who they are and that they don't need the approval of others or the approval of even their family members,” Rabbit said. “You just need to be you.”