In celebration of LGBTQ+ Pride Month, throughout June MPR News is featuring transgender and nonbinary Minnesotans making an impact. See more at mprnews.org/changemakers.
Hildie Edwards is a 12-year-old singer, performer and actor who lives with her parents and younger sister in Eagan, Minn. She enjoys doing impressions of famous people (Jennifer Coolidge and Dolly Parton, to name a few) and recently played the role of Olaf the snowman in her school’s production of “Frozen.”
Edwards also testified at a Minnesota Senate Judiciary Committee hearing in February in support of the trans refuge bill, which protects access to gender-affirming health care for transgender people in Minnesota, whether they live here or are traveling from another state.
She delivered a four-minute speech at the hearing about the role Minnesota plays as a place where trans people are able to find safety, be supported and thrive.
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“Basic human rights should not be an end goal. I look forward to the day where Minnesota laws not only allow me to exist, but when they are written to make sure trans kids like me are affirmed and celebrated for the amazing people they are,” Edwards said during her testimony.
Poised and confident in front of crowds, the almost-8th grader is often asked to participate in events or speak at rallies, whether performing at Twin Cities Pride or taking the podium at a protest outside the Capitol.
Last month Edwards traveled to Washington, D.C., for Trans Youth Prom, a party organized by four trans teens to celebrate transgender kids around the country as many state governments limit their rights to use bathrooms, play sports and more. Edwards and about 100 other trans youth marched from the U.S. Capitol to the U.S. Supreme Court, dressed in their finest prom attire.
Editor’s note: Our conversation with Hildie has been edited for length and clarity.
How did you get started in advocacy work?
When I was little I faced gender-based bullying, specifically because I was trans, which is not good. Long story short, [a school] had to pay me a settlement that’ll pay for my college one day.
That eventually led me to the point where my parents were like, “At a certain age you can start telling your own story.” Because I have more words for it I feel like.
One time they were like, “Do you wanna speak at this thing?” And I was like “yeah,” and then I got invited to more and more of these things. It’s kind of just been like a buildup, you know?
Were you ever hesitant to say yes?
I’m one to try new things, plus I love being in front of crowds. It’s the best of both worlds – fighting for your rights, and being cheered on.
How about performing?
Acting’s been a bit more recent. I’ve been doing it for about two to three years now. I have an agency. I’ve been in two commercials – one for Expedia, and one for [the Human Rights Campaign]. Performance wise, I’ve been singing on the [Twin Cities Pride] Power to the People Stage since a very young age. I’m going to be on the Rainbow Stage this year.
Can we have a sneak preview?
I’m still kind of planning, but I’m thinking “Over the Rainbow” like Judy Garland. I might do it a cappella. Me and mom were just thinking in the car, what if I did “Just a Girl” by No Doubt? I love music.
What have you been listening to lately?
I really like The Cure.
OK, so you like sad music.
Sad, sad ‘80s boys indeed. And like ‘90s and early 2000s. I have a wide range of music I listen to.
What are you up to this summer?
I’m going to Camp Aranu'tiq in New Hampshire. I get to go there for two weeks, and it’s a camp just for trans people. It’s like a bunch of trans kids from all over the country. You get to sign up for different things. There’s tubing. I love the tubing.
What should Minnesota do to better protect trans people and trans kids?
I think we’re on a very good path. I definitely think that a lot of the people who are making the laws and passing the laws are doing really well, so I’m just going to ask for them to keep doing what they’re doing. Especially with Rep. Leigh Finke, who’s a trans woman herself and is a fashion icon. Without her, I don’t really know what we’d do.
Also, don’t be a silent ally, as I like to call it. When you see hate right upfront, you have to fight it. You have to try to squash it out, because it’s not OK.
What are your dreams?
I have so many alleys I could go down. One is an actress. I really want to go into horror movies. I want to be a scream queen. Not gonna lie, I want to be the next Florence Pugh. I’d also love to go into drag. I’d love to be on SNL. Musician wise, I want to be a bit of Liza Minnelli, mixed with Stevie Nicks, mixed with maybe Sissy Spacek.
So not a politician?
No. I’ll probably keep speaking out at things, but I don’t want to go into the politics stuff.
Who are your trans and nonbinary heroes?
My first one is Andrea Jenkins. I’ve known her since a very young age. I look up to her a lot. And Rep. Leigh Finke. Then pop culture wise, definitely Kim Petras. And then Jonathan Van Ness, obviously. They’re iconic and amazing. Quinn Villagomez — I see her as like an older trans sister in a way. She’s invited me to so many cool things. She asked me to come talk on her radio show. And definitely Rox Anderson, too, who was the first person to actually give me a platform to sing on.
What’s something everybody should know about trans people?
I have been this way for a long time. I don’t think I’m going to change. You certainly aren’t going to change who I am with a couple words. My community has been here for centuries. We’re not going anywhere. We are not going to be erased. I am happy. I am loved. I am affirmed.
I get to advocate for my rights. So many kids don’t get this and feel like they can’t because of their age. I’m just proving a point that kids have opinions, too, and we’re actually pretty loud about them, because we’re moody.