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Community counters Abigail Shrier event with protest and “Coming Out Day” demonstration

Gender inclusive fraternity Sigma Omicron Rho organized alternative programming in the Amphitheatre to advocate for transgender rights

Protestors lined the outside of the building before the event carrying LGBTQ+ and transgender flags.
Protestors lined the outside of the building before the event carrying LGBTQ+ and transgender flags.

“Say it loud, say it clear, transphobes are not welcome here.” The chant rumbled over Minor Hall Wednesday night as over a hundred students, faculty and community members gathered to protest a visit by controversial journalist Abigail Shrier — whose most recent book critiques what Shrier says is a “trans epidemic.” 

Hosted by the Jefferson Council and the Common Sense Society, Shrier spoke at 7 p.m. in Minor Hall on topics such as gender ideology and freedom of expression. Her book, entitled “Irreversible Damage: The Transgender Craze Seducing Our Daughters” was published in 2020 and explores the causes underlying an alleged increase in teens identifying as transgender across the United States.

News of Shrier’s invitation to Grounds sparked pushback among many students, particularly LGBTQ+ oriented groups. Leading up to her arrival, which fell on National Coming Out Day, students chalked messages such as “Stop trans hate” and “Protect trans youth” outside of Minor. 

Gender inclusive fraternity Sigma Omicron Rho and the National Lawyers Guild led a demonstration near the entrance to Minor before Shriers’ talk. Protestors lined the outside of the building before the event carrying LGBTQ+ and transgender flags, then moved to the Amphitheatre during the event.

The two groups organized alternative programming at 7 p.m. to advocate for transgender rights. Oliver Lesher, Sigma Omicron Rho president and fourth-year College student, situated the ideas in Shrier’s book within the context of growing anti-transgender rhetoric in America.

“Throughout this book, [Shrier] refers to the increase in transgenderism as a disease on American society,” Lesher said. “That's rhetoric, and that is rhetoric that is very, very dangerous.”

Lesher said, however, that the SOR demonstration would focus more on National Coming Out day and the strength of transgender individuals than on negativity. 

“Tonight is not about them,” Lesher said. “It's about us, it’s about queer people, it’s about trans people, it’s about our allies. It’s about continuing to live in American society. That is what is on the line here, every single day in this society.”

Access to gender affirming care has faced continual threats, with a federal appeals court currently considering cases that may affect individual state's requirements to cover health care for transgender people with government-sponsored insurance. While treatment remains protected in Virginia, 21 other states have enacted bans on this form of healthcare.

Fourth-year medical student Brian Sun cited diverse forms of care, such as voice training, binding, therapy and using correct pronouns, countering claims that gender-affirming care rushes patients to transition.

In Virginia, minors can’t begin hormone treatment without parental consent and a therapist’s approval. Sun also cited a study which found most transgender individuals first experience gender dysphoria between ages 3 to 7 and wait an average of 20 years before transitioning. 

“More and more young gender diverse people are coming out not because it's a trend,” Sun said. “No, it's because of the groundwork that the inspiring trans heroes have given us the courage, the power and the ability to really come out and be who we are.”

Sun said he has witnessed gender-affirming care transform patients’ lives and hopes to become a practitioner in the field.

“I've been blessed to be part of many instances of individuals just starting hormone therapy,” Sun said. “Seeing their faces as they receive the first prescription, it's all an expression of simultaneous excitement, joy, gratitude and it's so rewarding to accompany such amazing people on the journey.”

In the K-12 classroom, Governor Glenn Youngkin’s “model policy” for the treatment of transgender students focuses on “parental rights.” The guidelines define a transgender student as someone whose “parent has stated in writing that the student’s gender differs from the student’s sex.” Teachers must otherwise rely upon a student’s biological sex.

While the model policy serves as a suggestion rather than a hard law, it represents Virginia’s official stance on transgender issues in the classroom. Critics have questioned the policy for prioritizing parent’s judgment over student’s personal choices.

Fourth-year Engineering student Chijindu Ene said that as a transgender woman whose family created a hostile environment, Virginia’s model policy would have threatened her autonomy at school.

“There is no need for the queer community at large and the trans community in particular to give any credence to a policy that seeks to undermine our humanity,” Ene said. “It is already clear the governor does not seek to consider our humanity. How do you respect students when you cannot even respect a core tenet of their identity?”

SOR asked students to share coming out stories ahead of the event, but reported that no other students felt comfortable enough to speak. Instead, members read anonymously submitted letters, ranging from one writer’s excitement over being accepted as transgender to a non-binary medical student who finally came to love his body at age 30.

Lesher also shared their own coming out story. He said revealing his true self to the family right before coming to the University was one of the most difficult, yet ultimately freeing decisions. 

“For years, I lost my faith just like so many transgender people do,” Lesher said. “Now, I'm the happiest I've ever been. I've become proof that transgender people are living happier and healthier lives.” 

Multiple faculty members lent their voices to the conversation. Corinne Field, associate chair and professor in the Department of Women, Gender and Sexuality, said her department supports the respect of all people.

“We believe that maintaining the University as a public institution necessitates positive investments into gender-inclusive resources to ensure that transgender people can thrive here,” Field said.

The SOR demonstration lasted until the end of Shrier’s presentation. Some attendees joined protestors who returned to Minor with signs as attendees filed out of the building.

The LGBTQ community center also hosted a National Coming Out day event at 7 p.m. for those who did not feel safe at the Amphitheatre. The Queer Student Union and oSTEM — a group that supports LGBTQ+ students in STEM fields —  led an additional support space from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. in Newcomb Hall's Queer Center.

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