Vermont youth were part of nationwide demonstrations Friday for LGBTQ+ rights and visibility, with school walkouts in communities including in the state capital.
Montpelier students descended on the Vermont State House Friday, protesting measures in other states which advocates label as dangerous to queer youth — a group already at higher risk of bullying and self-harm.
"It’s a struggle to hear all these things going on, how people across the country are being affected and I think that takes a toll on everyone because we are a community," said Merrick Moldun, a junior at Montpelier High School.
Demonstrators said they were particularly worried about guidance from the governor of Texas to treat parents seeking gender-affirming health care for their transgender kids as abusers. They also decried a bill in Florida that would limit teachers there from discussing gender identity or sexuality with young children.
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"We’re going to make sure that parents are able to send their kid to kindergarten without having some of this stuff injected into their school curriculum," said Gov. Ron DeSantis, R-Florida, in an NBC News report.
Opponents fear more restrictions could come.
"We really stand up to the hateful policies being passed in Florida and Texas," Rep. Emma Mulvaney-Stanak, P-Burlington, told the Montpelier youth who gathered inside the Vermont State House after an outdoor rally.
The students pleaded with lawmakers to focus on policies that build safe and supportive spaces in Vermont for all kids.
"As someone who is Black and a part of the LGBTQ, I just feel more vulnerable," said Halle Fulton, a Montpelier High School junior who attended Friday’s demonstration and State House gathering.
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"As a trans person in a community that I sometimes don’t feel too welcomed in, hearing about the bills being passed in Texas and Florida makes me feel kind of scared for people that are there," added Mei Ploof, a Montpelier eighth grader. "I feel scared for them and I feel scared for myself."
Charlie McCaffrey, a Montpelier junior who worked as an organizer of Friday’s student rally in the capital city, said the aim of the event was to send a message that no one is alone in any struggles they are facing.
McCaffrey, who said they used to live in both Texas and Florida, told NECN & NBC10 Boston it is "terrifying" to hear of the legislation coming out of those states.
"As a person with connections there, it is especially terrifying," McCaffrey said. "To think about my baby cousin— what if he grows up to be queer? Will he even be able to disclose that part of himself to the world without fear of being hurt or silenced or even be considered 'against the law' to speak about that?"
Sen. Becca Balint, D-Windham County, is a former teacher who became the first openly gay person to lead the Vermont Senate as president pro tempore. Balint praised the courage of the youth advocates when she spoke to them outside the State House.
"They give me tremendous hope for the future," Balint said of the student activists.
Balint even extended an invitation to parents in Texas and Florida who may be worried whether their LGBTQ children will be seen, loved, and respected in those places.
"I would say, 'Consider coming to Vermont,'" Balint said in an interview with NECN & NBC10 Boston.
As for the young people who led Friday’s demonstration, they pledged to stay vocal and visible in the future.