Melissa Harris-Perry: Welcome back to The Takeaway. I'm Melissa Harris-Perry. Texas, it's huge. It extends nearly a thousand miles north to south and a thousand east to west. Houston, Dallas, and Austin are diverse metro hubs, but it's also a state of farmers, and ranchers, and oil and gas producers. Texas Prairies are vast, and its beaches seem endless, but even the sky is big in Texas.
What is not big in Texas is government. The state legislature meets only once every two years. The Lone Star State is shot through with a fiercely independent live and let live philosophy. Even the Democrats are Libertarians in Texas, which is why it's hard to understand why state lawmakers have used this session to introduce an entire slate of bills targeting the healthcare, social lives, and families of trans young people in the state.
When Texas Democrats left the state in order to deny action on a restrictive voting rights bill, they also halted this anti-trans action, but the cruel bills have returned with each special session called by Texas Governor Greg Abbott. On Tuesday, the Texas House held a hearing on Senate Bill 2. A bill that would ban transgender student athletes from playing sports.
I spoke with Landon Richie, an 18-year-old activist and a trans youth who is a fourth-generation Texan. Landon authored a recent editorial titled, I've Been Fighting for My Right to Exist Since I Was 12.
Landon Richie: Since the time I could walk, talk and think for myself, I knew that I was in some way different from my peers and those around me, and my parents while they didn't necessarily squash this part of me, whenever I would express it, they also didn't really know how to encourage me to be myself, especially in the state that we live in. My dad grew up in the Pentecostal Church, left in his 20s, but still much ingrained. He had a difficult time to a degree unlearning some of those values.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Talk to me a little bit about what it means to be an adolescent? Again, middle schooler, who is simultaneously developing and expressing your own identity and having to take the adults in your life on that journey along with you?
Landon Richie: I came out just before the start of my seventh-grade year, and because of the close timeframe, I wasn't able to socially transition at school for that year, so I was living at home as Landon, and at school, I existed as somebody that was not myself. That was particularly challenging. Having to not only navigate the awkward and uncomfortable middle school age experience but also with this added perspective of living a double life, in a sense.
There were plenty of instances where, because of my appearance, I dressed very masculinely. I had a short "boys' haircut", and I would get plenty of questions from people that I did and didn't know about how should they perceive me. I didn't quite have an answer for that, because I wasn't quite sure as well.
The following year or the summer leading into eighth grade, I was able to have my legal name and gender marker changed and attend school as Landon. That was a relatively smooth experience, which is incredibly fortunate, especially since I had gone to school with some of these same kids since elementary. They tolerated me, instead of embrace and accepted me for the person that I was, but overall, I had a really good community at my school. I had a good relationship with the administrators, even though the previous year I wasn't out at school. I did disclose that I was trans to a few friends, to a few teachers that I felt it was relevant, but overall, the issues that I ran into a pretty common experience of most trans kids in school is gym.
It was my personal choice to use the nurse's restroom as my day-to-day restroom, but also my changing room for gym, but I was not allowed to, after changing, go into either locker room to wait for everybody to be ready. Even though I was allowed to be in the boys' activities, because there, for whatever reason, gendered in middle school, segregated by gender, it was still a very isolating experience. Because I knew that a lot of these people had known me from fourth, fifth grade and it wasn't the most affirming or welcoming environment to be in.
Melissa Harris-Perry: As you're describing this, maybe particularly gym. Because I know so many people can relate to the social awkwardness, the agony of gym class. I appreciate that example. It heightens and clarifies, and I think it gives a point of entry for so many of us. Now, can you take that experience, and I want to connect it to the really important op-ed you wrote about feeling tired of fighting for your right to exist. You've talked a little about family. You've talked a little bit about school. Can you expand this out to how that lack a welcoming environment and not only not welcoming, but aggressively countering your right to exist at the level of the state government?
Landon Richie: Yes, for sure. This session has been especially brutal with attacks to gender-affirming, lifesaving care for trans minors, including puberty blockers, which are completely reversible, and access to sports teams. Even the proposed criminalization of parents and doctors who support their trans kids, by classifying gender-affirming care and support for transition as child abuse.
When you are growing up in this rhetoric-filled environment, hearing it every day on the news, seeing articles written about the ways in which the state is trying to limit your rights and essentially limit you from being yourself, it's incredibly, at least in my case, challenging to go through your day-to-day, knowing that this is happening at the highest level in your state. That experience, that challenge is heightened for kids who don't have the same support that I have.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Does this make you want to leave your home state, leave Texas?
Landon Richie: I know many families with younger kids that are moving, but it's also a matter of because I can, I want to stay and fight for as long as I'm able.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Landon, if instead of leaving Texas, you are staying to fight, what's your dream for what Texas might look like a decade from now, or two decades from now?
Landon Richie: I like the imagery of everybody within the state being an invaluable part of the fabric of Texas. I think really what I want to see, which is instead of attacking vulnerable communities, trans community, people of color, low-income families, people with disabilities. Instead of these sessions being wasted on oppressing people, I want our government and our state to start showing up for those who need it.
Melissa Harris-Perry: Landon Richie, 18-year-old trans activist in Texas. Thank you so much for joining us today.
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