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University of Louisville students rally for transgender rights in response to anti-trans state law

A speaker holds a megaphone. They're standing on an elevated surface and are holding a megaphone. A crowd has gathered around them.
Emerson Kerr
/
Contributed
Multiple students spoke at the rally in support of transgender rights and safety.

Dozens of students rallied at the University of Louisville on Thursday to demand protection for transgender community members, in response to a new anti-trans law in Kentucky and transphobic incidents on the university’s campus.

The rally, organized by the school’s Young Democratic Socialists of America chapter, was spurred in large part by a law recently passed by the Kentucky Legislature that bans gender-affirming medical care for minors, and prohibits school districts from requiring staff to use the correct pronouns for trans and nonbinary students. Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear vetoed Senate Bill 150, but the GOP-controlled legislature overrode his veto at the end of March.

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The rally’s organizers – who spoke on the student quad, surrounded by slogans of support for trans rights written in chalk on the brick walkways – outlined three main demands for University of Louisville administration:

  • Condemn SB 150 
  • Increase funding for the school’s LGBTQ center 
  • Increase the number of providers who can administer gender-affirming care on campus. 

“This care has been going on for decades,” said Andy Rozema, a rally organizer. “It is safe, it is efficient, and it really does help people.” 

University of Louisville spokespeople did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the students’ demands.

SB 150 specifically targets transgender minors. Even though most of the university’s students are over the age of 18, some are minors – like 17-year-old trans student Jo Harvey, who spoke at the rally.

Harvey said they’ve been fighting with their doctor for more than two years to start hormone blockers. They were finally approved to receive this treatment three months ago – but now, under SB 150, their medical care is up in the air once again.

“Now I may have to stop my transition. I can’t do that – I cannot go through with that,” Harvey told the crowd, close to tears. “It is not your job to tell me, as a grown adult, what I should do with my body.”

Trans students also shared their personal experiences dealing with transphobia on campus. Miles Lanham, a junior studying biology, said he was chased by a police officer on campus after writing statements in support of trans rights in chalk.

That incident happened in early February, Lanham said.

“It was a very scary moment, and I don’t want it happening again – which is part of why I’ve been protesting so hard,” Lanham said. “I can’t risk this happening again, not to me or any other student on campus.”

Thalia, another trans student who declined to share their last name in fear of retaliation from the university, said they are considering transferring to another school due to transphobia on the University of Louisville’s campus. They said they were threatened while working at an off-campus job by a customer who said he would try to harm Thalia if he ever saw them on campus.

Thalia said they were also assaulted one year before starting university. They said they came to the University of Louisville under the impression that they would be safe.

“I am quickly finding that I’m not safe anymore,” Thalia said, adding that they feel the university has given them false promises about improving safety on campus.

In a March 23 letter addressed to President Kim Schatzel and Provost Lori Stewart Gonzalez, the university’s Department of Sociology outlined a set of demands for the university administration to “take a stronger stance in support of trans students, faculty, and staff.” The letter calls on the university administration to detail how they will fight SB 150 and other anti-trans legislation, as well as how they will “explicitly and proactively” support trans members of the community.

More than 450 people – students and professors alike – signed that letter. A similar letter written by the school’s Young Democratic Socialists of America chapter has garnered more than 200 signatures.

Organizers of the rally on Thursday said that they plan to hold more actions in the lead-up to the University of Louisville Board of Trustees meeting on April 20.

“I see a lot of people out here who are willing to fight for their rights, and willing to fight for the rights of other people,” said Jared Cassity, a speaker at Thursday’s rally. “This isn’t something that we can be hopeless about.”