Park City students walk out over anti-LGBTQ legislation: ‘We won’t be silent while our rights are being taken away’

PCHS students characterize legislation as dangerous and unnecessary

Hundreds of Park City High School students and staff adorned in rainbow colors walked out of class on Thursday to protest anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in Utah and elsewhere in the United States.

The demonstration was led by senior Jace Deininger, the co-president of the high school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, as part of a nationwide movement on Transgender Day of Visibility. He learned of the protest from a friend who shared a TikTok of a Texas teen hoping to organize the LGBTQ+ community and its allies in response to bills that have gained support in Utah, Florida and Texas.

On March 25, the Utah Legislature overrode Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto of H.B. 11, a bill that bars transgender girls from participating in school sports. In Florida, the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill prohibits public school teachers from educating certain grade levels about sexual orientation and gender identity. Legislation in Texas says gender-affirming care for trans children constitutes child abuse.

Park City students were quick to condemn the legislation and hoped to send a message to elected officials that they do not support bills that target LGBTQ+ people while also showcasing their support for the local queer community.

“We won’t be silent while our rights are being taken away,” Deininger said to the crowd.

He was always interested in sports and played on teams growing up, but after moving to Park City from Boston in 2018 and then coming out as transgender the following year, Deininger said that he no longer felt comfortable competing.

Although he considers PCHS to be a welcoming place for out students and teachers, he said there are still instances of hate speech and violence toward the local LGBTQ+ community.

Reading a note from an anonymous student, Deininger spoke of their experience being deadnamed — when a transgender person is called the name they were given at birth but no longer use after transitioning — in the hallways. The student also said an LGBTQ+ flag on their car was vandalized with homophobic slurs.

Deininger told the crowd he has many fears as a trans person both at school and in public, such as introducing himself, using the bathroom or locker room, or going to the doctor’s office, that cisgender people cannot understand. He hoped the walkout would show Park City, the state and the country that hostility toward LGBTQ+ people, or treating them as second-class citizens, would not be tolerated.

“We deserve to live without our identities being a hindrance,” Deininger said. “We deserve to live free. We deserve the same protections. I am a human being — I deserve life.”

Student Evan Romero, who identifies as transgender, told the crowd he’s spent his entire life being afraid — even fearing that he may be murdered — because of someone else’s lack of understanding. Often, he’s been told that he’s wrong just for existing, Romero said.

“Why is it so wrong to be happy?” he said.

Senior Summer McGuire, who is another co-president of the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, said she was shocked to see politicians passing legislation that “marginalizes the marginalized.” She said the bills do not benefit anyone and only cause fear and misinformation to spread.

“You can try to erase us but know that we’ll never leave,” McGuire said, adding that the LGBTQ+ community has a long history of perseverance.

Sophomore Hugh Arbabi said transgender activists have been involved in the LGBTQ+ movement since the Stonewall Riot in the 1960s, which is seen as the beginning of the modern gay rights movement, and encouraged the queer community and its allies to step up and defend trans rights.

Other speakers criticized people who preach equality and tolerance yet believe the notion that more young people are coming out as queer because it’s trendy. Their message emphasized that it’s a sign of progress that more people feel safe expressing their gender identity and sexual orientation compared to the past. According to Deininger, there are about 100 students signed up for the school’s Gay-Straight Alliance, with roughly 20 participants in each twice-monthly meeting.

Several speakers also spoke directly to LGBTQ+ youth and told them that being queer is not a bad thing. They told stories of coming out and finding acceptance despite being told by others that their identities are something to be ashamed of.

Senior Ava Bowlen echoed the message. She said that she often felt like she was alone as a queer person in the school but looking at the number of people who attended the walkout, she knows she shouldn’t feel shame.

“You are not broken. You are not wrong,” she said.

Speaking to the crowd, Park City High School student Jackson Smith said people need to come together to take a stand against discrimination because it’s the only way for change to occur. He feared division would only tear the community apart.

Natalie Best, a junior, also criticized the people who want to “go back to the binary” and erase queer representation.

“That will never happen. … The LGBT community will never go away,” she said. “One day we will win.”

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