Vt. Community Members Work to Combat Anti-Trans Messages

Residents have been scraping off stickers critical of transgender identities 

NBC Universal, Inc.

Community members in Burlington, Vermont are working to blunt the impact of rhetoric from stickers they view as hurtful to transgender neighbors.

“It’s protecting our trans and queer youth,” Olivia Taylor said of her mission to go out every Tuesday with neighbors to scour parts of Burlington, looking for stickers that question the validity of transgender identities.

Such stickers have been appearing lately in parks or along the city’s bike path. Related messages argue trans athletes don’t belong on sports teams consistent with their gender identity.

Taylor insists those stickers simply don’t reflect Vermont values, so is determined to take them down.

“Removing these shows kids in the community that we care,” Taylor told NECN & NBC10 Boston while on one of her walks to remove stickers. “It shows possible bullies that that’s not an OK thing, and if it just makes one person feel a little more safe, then it’s good.”

While the stickers are maddening to people who disagree with the rhetoric, prosecutors believe right now, there’s not much they can do about them.

Sarah George, the state’s attorney for Chittenden County, blasted the messages as mean and transphobic in a conversation with NECN & NBC10 Boston. However, since the stickers don’t contain direct threats, George said legal precedent around free speech means her office may struggle to win a criminal case in court.

Advocates for the LGBTQ+ community have repeatedly said that policies or language that exclude or minimize transgender people’s humanity is dangerous, citing research that has shown trans youth are at greater risk for self-harm.

“A majority of our community is in support of LGBTQ people,” noted Rep. Taylor Small, P/D-Winooski, who is Vermont’s first openly transgender state lawmaker. 

Small said she sees the stickers as part of a national rise in anti-trans language and even violence. 

Earlier this year, a series of bomb threats targeted Boston Children’s Hospital. Federal authorities who charged a Massachusetts woman alleged the threats were motivated by the suspect’s objections to hospital policies around affirming care for trans and non-binary youth.

Small said she is grateful to folks who scrape off those slogans and to anyone else working toward a more welcoming, diverse Vermont.

“When we’re able to combat that hate with love is when we start to see the transformation in a community that focuses on care rather than divisiveness,” Small said.

Because some of the stickers have been reported on or near school property, the Burlington School District asked people on Twitter last week to alert school employees to the presence of any such stickers — so they could be promptly removed. 

Burlington’s mayor, Miro Weinberger, a Democrat, is meeting this week with advocates to discuss if the city could do more. Areas that will be discussed at the meeting may include perhaps taking a fresh look at graffiti ordinances or using a restorative justice approach with the people responsible, the mayor indicated in an interview with NECN & NBC10 Boston.

“It is a deeply-held community value, and certainly one that I share, that Burlington should be a place where people of all backgrounds, all orientations, feel welcome,” Weinberger said. “And there is no doubt that the stickers are causing real distress and discomfort within the community, and this should stop.”

Until they do, Olivia Taylor and others promise to keep scraping away, hoping each removed sticker tells trans community members, “We’ve got your backs.”

In recent years, elusive people have posted other stickers throughout Vermont that advertised a white supremacist group. Those stickers appeared on synagogues, college campuses, community centers, and even outside the Vermont State House. 

The latest round of stickers disputing transgender identities appears to be unrelated to those earlier stickers.

Contact Us