Colorful light blue, light pink and white transgender pride flags along the State Capitol lawn blew brightly against the backdrop of a gray, windy and rainy Friday.
Twin Cities mother Cat Weller and her 7-year-old daughter Charlie watched a group march around the Capitol grounds celebrating Transgender Day of Visibility. The day has been celebrated across the world annually since 2009 to honor the triumphs and struggles of transgender individuals.
“We brought her today to show her there are people fighting for her,” Weller said. “We have a trans child who is growing up in a state and might not have to fight as hard as other kids do, but she’s going to have to realize that this kind of action is what it’s going to take to keep her safe.”
Weller said her daughter came out to the family at 4 years old.
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“She was clearly telling us exactly who she was, and once we started listening, behavior problems straightened out, sleeping problems straightened out,” Weller said.
Like many of the attendees, Weller said she was proud of the state of Minnesota for becoming increasingly seen as a place where people can receive the gender-affirming care they need.
Two weeks ago, Gov. Tim Walz signed an executive order to protect the rights of people from Minnesota and other states to receive gender-affirming health care in the state. The House passed a similar bill supporters argued would provide more permanent protections. The Senate will next consider the measure.
Eight states – Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Iowa, Mississippi, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah – have issued bans on gender-affirming care for transgender youth, including medication and surgical services.
Meanwhile, Arizona has outlawed surgical treatments and dozens of other states have bans under consideration. That has meant that transgender youth and their families have had to look to other states like Minnesota for care options.
“To think in other states people are in fear for their kids’ lives, education and freedom,” Weller said. “Then, to know my kid can show up at the Capitol with a trans flag on and we feel relatively safe and we feel like we are making progress when we talk to our leaders, it’s a big difference.”
Rep. Leigh Finke, DFL-St. Paul, the state's first openly transgender legislator, authored the bill that would make Minnesota a “trans refuge.”
Finke told a crowd of supporters in the Capitol rotunda Friday afternoon they should be proud of what the state, which formed its first Queer Caucus this legislative session, has accomplished.
“But if we zoom out only a small amount the image of our success changes,” Finke said. “At a shocking rate and in a terrifying number of states our rights are being decimated.” Finke said.
Republican lawmakers in Minnesota and other states have raised concerns about the long-term impacts of gender-affirming treatments for transgender children or youth.
Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, said ahead of the House floor debate on Finke’s bill earlier this month that, “It allows children, regardless of age, to seek and receive radical medical treatments.”
Gender-affirming care includes a wide range of social and medical interventions that can include hormone treatments, puberty blockers and gender-reassignment surgery. Major medical associations support gender-affirming care and note it improves mental health outcomes in the short and long term.
“A peaceful future is all that our community seeks,” Finke said.
For Cat Weller, who's daughter is transgender, living in Minnesota feels safe for the time being.
“It’s like a deep breath,” Weller said. “But not a full breath.”
Nationally, the White House observed Transgender Visibility Day by sharing a new report providing behavioral health professionals, researchers, policymakers and other audiences with a comprehensive research overview and accurate information about effective and ineffective therapeutic practices related to youth of diverse sexual orientation and gender identity.
The White House reports that over half of transgender youth say they have seriously considered suicide in the last year because of the discrimination and rejection they face.
Those seeking mental health resources can call or text the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
MPR News politics reporter Dana Ferguson contributed to this report.