This past May, I sat in front of legislators to testify against their attempts to ban gender-affirming health care for transgender children in Texas, including my own transgender son. Despite COVID-19 and my aversion to public speaking, I traveled to Austin many times this legislative session to plead with staffers, tell them how these bills harm our children, and beg them to at least abstain from voting. By the end of May, I’d been there so many times I lost count.
Each time I wondered, will this make a difference? I live in Houston, so each time I rallied, testified or advocated in-person in Austin, it meant taking off from work, spending money on gas, possibly a hotel, sacrificing time with my kids and subjecting myself to vocal opposition that was not afraid to harass me as I defended my child’s rights.
I had just spent Mother’s Day weekend in Austin, holding a sign that said “Protect Trans Kids” while someone’s child sobbed quietly next to me and another buried her face into her dad’s leg. I spent days and nights waiting to testify against myriad bills that threatened my child’s access to doctors and therapists who made his well-being their priority. Bills that threatened those doctors with loss of their livelihood if they treated my child in accordance with the best practices outlined by the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, and the American Psychological Association.
I sat in rooms filled with trans adults and children, parents of trans kids, social workers, and doctors as we listened to lie-filled testimonies. I watched as rage boiled over into parking lot screams or collapsed in glassy-eyed defeat. My life this year alternated between obsessively checking the Legiscan website for updates and checking in with my teenager, who was deeply aware of the “debate” regarding his humanity surging in Austin. We protected him as much as we could, but his body still displays the scars from that debate.
When I sat in the Capitol last May, I wondered if it mattered what I wrote on my sign. I joked to my husband that I should bring my violin and play a sad version of “Texas Our Texas,” funeral dirge style. Would anyone read our signs? “It doesn’t matter,” we told each other, “we are doing this for our son.” Kids don’t always listen when you tell them you love them; sometimes, you have to show them. As we loaded the car for the long drive, I grabbed my violin at the last minute. “Will they even let you play that?” my husband asked. I shrugged. As we silently climbed the granite stairs leading to the House chamber, I anxiously wondered if I was breaking an unwritten rule. I launched into a solemn-tempoed “Texas Our Texas” and kept an eye out for security. I watched representatives pause when they heard the familiar tune, only to turn away when they read the signs.
The 2021 legislative session ended with zero bills passed into law. It’s a welcome but momentary reprieve. Now, we face an endless slate of special sessions, where dehumanizing trans Texans is again more important than solving any of the challenges our state faces. Texas is our Texas too, but we don’t feel safe or welcome here anymore. Our family, deeply rooted here for generations, is searching for a new place to call home. Will our son ever feel safe again?
Quinn Kovar is a fourth-generation Texan and former public school orchestra director who currently parents two children, four dogs, two cats, and one bird.