Agua Perrodin does not dream of fame or fortune. The 23-year-old transgender woman from Colorado Springs just wants to live in peace and security and someday experience the joys of motherhood.
“It’s very hard to imagine a future where I can live the life I want to live here in the Springs and in this country,” Perrodin said. “There is a very fulfilling life that I still want to have, but it can feel impossible because when your family turns against you and when your community has decided to portray you as a villain and when your country as a whole decides to… to focus on other things, what hope is there?”
Anti-transgender rhetoric is at an all-time high nationally and locally, fueled by years of politicians and pundits pushing bigotry at a vulnerable group, LGBTQ advocates and mental health experts say.
Examples include Colorado State Board of Education member Steve Durham equating watching a drag performance with child abuse during a public meeting, Rep. Lauren Boebert calling trans women in a radio interview this week “men who… dress up as caricatures of women,” described, and Denver’s archdiocese advises its Catholic schools not to enroll transgender students.
Late Saturday night, just before Transgender Day of Remembrance began, a gunman entered an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, killing five – including two transgender people – and injuring more than a dozen.
Being trans in America in 2022, transgender Coloradans told the Denver Post, means waking up every day and taking action, willingly or not, to fight for your right to exist — to fight for your life.
“Rhetoric has big consequences,” said Garrett Royer, associate director of LGBTQ advocacy group One Colorado. “Young people are ashamed of being who they are. It’s putting pressure on people to get back in the closet and we won’t know what the long-term impact of mental health is on the community.”
But there is hope and goodness in the world, said April Owen, clinical psychologist and director of the Transgender Center of the Rockies.
There are resources. There’s a community of LGBTQ people and allies fighting by your side, allowing you to shed the armor and just be, Owen said.
“It can’t be good for anyone’s mental health to have to keep fighting to be told that they’re valid, that their needs are real,” Owen said. “In this climate, people feel erased and judged and unappreciated, and that wouldn’t be good for any of us, especially in an ongoing affair. Some people don’t have the ability to wake up and fight every day to have their basic needs met. It is very harmful.”
“I’m so happy in my own skin”
When Reina Hernandez felt overwhelmed by hateful rhetoric, the 17-year-old transgender woman from Denver reached out to LGBTQ organizations like Rainbow Alley, a place for LGBTQ youth hosted by the Center on Colfax, and the online chat Options of the Trevor Project.
Hernandez talks to a therapist and uses art to express himself. The teenager finds pleasure in painting, drawing and photography.
“I had previously attempted suicide. And then I realized I should only live once and live in a life where I’m truly happy and I should be my authentic self without fear of anything else,” Hernandez said. “I’m so incredibly grateful. I’m so happy in my own skin. I find myself loving every part of me more and more every day.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, LGBTQ youth are four times more likely than their peers to attempt suicide. They are not inherently suicidal because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, but they are at higher risk because of the way society treats them, according to the Trevor Project, a nonprofit focused on Suicide Prevention Efforts Focused Among LGBTQ Youth.
The Trevor Project’s 2022 national survey of LGBTQ youth mental health found that 45% of respondents had seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year, including more than half of transgender and non-binary youth.
When hateful rhetoric feels too overwhelming, Owen said, it’s time to turn off the news. Instead, surround yourself with loved ones and start a family, she said. When you’re ready, Owen said, mental health professionals are available at places like the Transgender Center of the Rockies.
“Look at the people who have come before us and fought for our rights and helped make progress,” Owen said. “Look at the good politicians like (transgender state legislator) Brianna Titone speaking out for our community and our governor and people offering support and good voices.”
fear for safety
As Hernandez envisions an ideal future, the teen envisions a world where she can be her happiest, most authentic self without the impending fear of being killed for who she is.
“I want basic human rights and respect,” Hernandez said. “I’m tired of being treated like I’m different or a stranger. i have human feelings I live and breathe the same air and it is unfair that people like me continue to be subjected to this oppression.”
She finds strength in activism.
Hernandez testified before the state school board during a session where board members voted to restore previously removed references to learning about LGBTQ history in state social studies standards. Hernandez told the board her existence was not political and her identity should not be up for public debate.
She told how a fun night at a school event with her friends last year turned discriminatory after a group of kids started throwing rocks at her and said she was burning in hell.
“I’m better for it,” Hernandez said. “Growing that kind of thick skin is important because there’s so much hate and rhetoric against us that you can’t really be weak, you know?”
August Caudill knows it and wishes others knew it too.
The transgender, non-binary, 15-year-old said she’s heard adults label her identity as “attention-seeking.”
“They say we’re too young to understand what we want but I just wish they could see the struggles like the harassment, all the hurtful and horrible things and the everyday life that comes with being queer and trans says Caudill Denver, said. “People don’t look for that kind of negative attention. They are just who they are.”
Caudill loves helping people. They love music and photography. They love activism and make people laugh.
“I wish people could just see who I am underneath instead of looking at me and getting angry,” Caudill said.
Since coming out, Perrodin hasn’t had the support of most of her family, whose religious beliefs lead her to exclude her.
She has a few trusted people in her support system who mean the world, Perrodin said, and a job working with dementia patients that inspires her to strive for better care for everyone.
When Perrodin, who grew up in Colorado Springs, heard about the Club Q shooting, she said she was disgusted but not surprised.
Around 2020, as anti-trans rhetoric mounted, Perrodin said she began to fear for her safety so much that being herself in public felt dangerous. She no longer went to Club Q, a place where she once found community.
“It’s a really ugly and terrible thing to be right and I wish I wasn’t,” Perrodin said.
Embrace the uncomfortable
People who want to help the LGBTQ community should start having uncomfortable conversations, Owen said.
“A lot of people don’t want to include politics in their family gatherings, but sometimes we might need to call out someone who says something ugly or wrong or is attacking,” Owen said. “Don’t just show the LGBTQ community that you’re an ally; Show your family and friends that these are things cis people care about. I think that makes a world of difference.”
If Perrodin could go back in time and mentor her younger self consumed by shame and fear, she wishes she’d said it’s okay to cross your legs and dress how you want, and to love whoever you want.
“The most helpful thing to hear when I was younger was that if there is a God, God shouldn’t want to control who you are because you are who you are. And anyone who tries to tell you to be something else is wrong,” Perrodin said.