Callum Bradford is a 16-year-old transgender student in Chapel Hill. He is also a transgender male who receives gender-affirming care. We interviewed him to hear his thoughts on two anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in North Carolina.
Within days of starting the 2023 legislative session, North Carolina Republicans introduced two proposals that would put LGBTQ kids and teens at risk.
In the state Senate, Republicans are fast-tracking a new version of last year’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill that could force teachers to out transgender students to parents. It also bans teaching about gender identity and sexuality in kindergarten through fourth grade classrooms in public schools.
Over in the state House, Republicans introduced a bill that would ban any transgender individual under the age of 18 from receiving gender-affirming medical treatment, such as social interventions or hormone-related treatments that affirm a child’s gender identity. Research shows that such treatment improves the mental health of transgender youth and even saves lives.
The bills are just two of more than 260 bills already introduced in 2023 across the country targeting LGBTQ people, particularly transgender youth.
Callum Bradford is a 16-year-old high school student in Chapel Hill. He is also a transgender male who receives gender-affirming care. We interviewed him last week to hear his thoughts on the bills introduced in the General Assembly and how they could harm kids like him.
This conversation has been edited and condensed for brevity and clarity.
Cardinal & Pine: North Carolina Republicans have proposed their Parents Bill of Rights. Why do you oppose this bill?
Callum Bradford: I oppose this bill just because of the potential harm it could cause to transgender students and students that identify as gender-nonconforming. I think that this bill has certain aspects that can be used in a harmful way. Then in addition to that, I guess the complete restriction on teaching curriculum involving the LGBTQ community from K through four—I think that that’s going to pose a lot of potential issues just because there are a lot of kids that have parents that are gay or are trans and then the kids can’t talk about that and the teachers can’t address that either.
I don’t know if you have a personal story you want to share, but if you do, I just want to create space for that.
I’m a transgender male. I’ve felt male my whole life. I think I started doing more advocacy work when I started doing my Pride, my [Genders & Sexualities Alliance] at my school. I’m the president of my GSA, and we’ve been trying to find ways to do advocacy within our school and within our community. And so, when I saw this bill, I really thought, if any time is good to speak out, now is the time.
One of the concerns that a lot of people have expressed about this bill is that it might force teachers to effectively out students to their parents if they asked to be called by certain pronouns. Are you concerned about that and what it could mean for kids who are trying to figure out their identity?
I’m definitely very concerned about that. I have personal connections with people whose parents are not as supportive and they use different pronouns and a different name at school currently, right now. Their parents don’t necessarily know and are not fully aware of that. It’s just hard to think about because there’s so many possibilities. There are parents that could be very supportive if their kid is not telling them, and then the parents find out. But there are also parents that could not be supportive, and that’s very, very scary to think about the possibilities.
Were your parents supportive in this process?
Oh, for sure. As soon as I came out, they were so supportive. I’m just very lucky to have such supportive parents.
I’m glad to hear that. So what message does this legislation send to trans youth, LGBTQ youth, and their families?
Speaking from the perspective of a student and a trans male, I think for me, it just sends the message that they don’t want us here. They don’t want us to be open about our identities, and they don’t want younger kids to be learning about stuff like this. I think that that’s a very hurtful message. I know of a lot of other people that are feeling the same way, that it’s almost like they’re trying to erase history and erase the LGBTQ community.
This bill is called the ‘Parents Bill of Rights.’ This has been a whole thing in the last couple of years. This movement is largely driven by right-wing activists talking about giving parents more control, and some parents wanting more control. That sounds innocuous, but where does that leave the kids?
I think that leaves the kids with very minimal rights. A lot of people that support this bill are disregarding the fact that students have rights too.
One of the senators who introduced the bill, Sen. [Amy] Galey, has said parents don’t want teachers indoctrinating their kids. We’ve seen that sort of language used a lot in the last couple years of, teachers shouldn’t be doing things that parents don’t agree with. Have you seen that happening in schools? Do you think teachers are doing that?
I have never seen it happen. I have never heard of it happening with any of my friends in the North Carolina public school system. I’ve never had it happen to me personally. I think that it’s something that is thought about a lot by Republicans right now. They’re putting on this narrative that, ‘Oh, this is happening all the time.’ But really it’s not.
Why do you think there are so many parents who think that or are worried about that or seem so compelled by that narrative and these ‘bills of rights’?
A lot of these parents have good intentions and their intentions are to be more involved in their kids’ school experience. But I also think that they are believing a lot of the things they hear, and these things, like I said earlier, are not necessarily happening.
In the last couple years there’s been a lot of backlash against trans kids, trans people, LGBTQ people in general. As part of that, there’s been a lot of parents who’ve spoken out about feeling uncomfortable with their kids having gender-affirming care before the age of 18. I’m curious what you would say to parents who might support this bill because they think that should be their decision and their children are too young to make that decision. What would you say to those parents?
I would say that I can validate their concern. I can validate that these parents, again, have good intentions. That they love their kids. They don’t want anything to go wrong or the kid to change their mind…[But also] I think that it’s hard when you see your kid struggling to the point where they’re having depression, suicidal thoughts, because they’re not feeling like they’re living in the body that they want to be in, or the body that they are. Their brain isn’t fitting their body. I think that it’s hard to say that this kid is going to change their mind.
Speaking of gender-affirming care, Republicans in the state House the other day introduced a bill that would ban it for minors in North Carolina. How does that make you feel and are you worried about that?
My initial thought was, well, this was kind of expected. There are so many other states that in 2023 are already introducing complete bans on gender-affirming care. I’m scared for not only myself, but other people that don’t have as supportive parents as I do. Because I talked to my parents and they said, ‘No matter what, you are going to continue to get your gender-affirming care. We will do everything we can.’ So for me, yes, I’m a little worried that things are going to change. I’m going to have to find a new doctor if this bill goes into effect. But I’m more worried about people who don’t have parents that have the mindset that my parents do.
You mentioned, obviously a lot of states are doing this. How does that make you feel that politicians across the country are introducing these bills?
I feel horrible about it. I feel like I want so badly to educate these politicians. But in some sense, I kind of feel that they don’t want to be educated. Some of these politicians want to help their campaign. They want to put all of their eggs in one basket and have one thing that they absolutely focus on. Unfortunately, for many politicians, this is that one thing, the gender-affirming care. It’s hard because we’re kids. We’re trying to live our lives and we’re trying to just have fun, go to school, and it’s like, kids should not have to deal with politicians across the nation targeting us.
You mentioned not everyone’s parents are as supportive. What would you say to a parent in North Carolina who is uncomfortable with their kid saying they want gender-affirming care or they think they’re transgender, and the parent feels like they might change their mind. What would you say to them?
I would say it takes time. It does take time to feel okay with this. I think the best thing to do at that point is to continue loving your kid and continue learning and validating your kid as well as educating yourself. I think it is a big change to have your kid start gender-affirming care or start changing their name or pronouns. But just think about how much happier your kid will be and how much more supported they’ll feel in an environment where their parents are okay with them changing their name or changing their pronouns, or maybe starting to talk about gender-affirming care. Just even talking about it, I know for me, just made me feel so much better.
So that has been your experience, where talking about gender-affirming care and getting that care has made you feel more comfortable and better about your identity and things like that?
Yeah. I think that when I came out, I was struggling a lot with mental health, with friends, with school, just everything. I think that getting to a place where I felt [like] myself was so important. Like I said earlier, the name and the pronouns were a big factor in helping me feel much better, feeling much more myself. But then also the gender-affirming care piece. If parents are nervous about it, worried about it, that’s okay. My parents were, too. It took a couple of months to—more than a couple months actually—to really get them on board …. But like I said, just talking about it is so, so helpful. To know that your parents are okay with possibly hearing you. We want to be heard. We don’t want to feel that we are just being pushed against by our parents, pushed back into a box that we don’t want to be in.
Since you’ve started your gender-affirming care, do you feel better? Have your parents noticed a difference?
Oh, for sure. I think my parents actually were talking a couple of weeks ago about how much of a difference they’ve noticed, obviously physically and with my voice and everything, but also just mentally, and I feel this way too. I appear so much more confident, I feel much more confident. I just overall have been astronomically so much better.
And that includes your mental health?
Yes. My mental health was definitely struggling before I came out and at the beginning, when I first came out. Because I had known for so long, but I just didn’t really know how to tell anyone. My mental health has definitely been amazing now.
Is there anything else you want to share?
I think that it’s so important to get input from students, get input from youth, because a lot of people fail to realize that this is affecting us. These bills are affecting us more than anyone else. And so, even though it says Parents Bill of Rights, the Parents Bill of Rights is ultimately affecting the students more than the parents, in my opinion. And so, I think that if you’re wanting to educate yourself, if you’re wanting to be more educated on these bills, then talk to students. Just talk to the kids and see how they feel about it.
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