‘I don’t want to have to leave the state’: Jackson youth rally for transgender rights

Roughly 70 residents took to the town square on Saturday with rainbow Pride and transgender blue, pink and white colors to protest state bills targeting trans youth.
Sky McNaughton, 12, was one of the middle schoolers who organized the Saturday rally. She identifies as trans and may have to move out of state to receive gender-affirming care. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)


Sounds of chants, cars horns and ABBA songs filled the Jackson Town Square Saturday, as around 70 community members took a stand for trans rights at a youth-led rally.

Locals are upset about several bills making their way through the state legislature, and some families even said they plan to move if lawmakers pass legislation targeting trans youth.

Jack Carter-Getz is a 7th grader at Teton Science School’s Mountain Academy. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

Jack Carter-Getz, 13, is a middle schooler at Teton Science Schools. It was his second year in a row organizing a protest to fight state legislation.

This year, Carter-Getz is particularly concerned about one bill which could criminalize gender-affirming care for trans kids. It’s part of a wave of similar bills gaining steam in conservative states.

“I don’t think that the state should be allowed to tell anyone what they should do with their bodies,” he said.

Battle over gender-affirming care

Carter-Getz’s friend since preschool and fellow organizer, Sky McNaughton, 12, said she would be directly impacted by this law. She identifies as trans and receives this kind of gender-affirming care. 

She said her family is planning to move to Boulder, Colorado if Wyoming lawmakers pass the bill, and she’s not happy about it.

Sky McNaughton may no longer be able to play hockey on the girls’ team if Cheyenne lawmakers pass another bill restricting who can be on school sports teams. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

“I don’t want to have to leave the state or have to stop gender-affirming care,” McNaughton said. “I want to be able to stay here. I want everyone who’s part of the LGBTQIA+ community to feel supported in this community.”

If passed, the bill would make it so anyone helping a minor transition is guilty of child abuse — a felony that could come with up to 10 years in prison. 

McNaughton’s mom, Jen McNaughton, is a local social worker and often works with trans youth. According to McNaughton, the bill could also prevent her from doing her job — another reason her family would have to move.

She’s lived in Jackson since 2000 and doesn’t want to leave.

“My friends are here, my family’s here, my husband’s family’s here,” she said. “I love this community. I cannot believe that I will move, but I can’t stay. I can’t protect my kid here. I can’t keep my job here.”

‘I just feel unseen’

Parents like McNaughton have written hundreds of letters to state lawmakers. They said they’ve received few responses. 

“I just feel unheard, unseen, that our kids don’t matter, that my child isn’t a member of this community and shouldn’t be here,” McNaughton said.

Community members wave pride flags in front of Jackson’s famous elk antler arch. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

One local organizer and therapist, Cheyenne Syvertson, who identifies as queer, is organizing a postcard campaign to lawmakers and hopes it could change their minds about legislation affecting the LGBTQ+ community.

Syvertson pointed to another piece of state legislation dubbed the “don’t say gay” bill. It would ban all discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms kindergarten through third grade.

Local Republican state Sen. Dan Dockstader introduced the bill and didn’t respond to requests to comment.

“It’s massively disappointing to see that introduced, to have your representative introduce a bill that does not represent your people or your values,” Syvertson said.

One local middle school teacher who attended the rally, Matt Bisk, said conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity are happening at least at the middle school level. 

He thinks it’s important for younger kids to be able to have these discussions as well and fears they could miss out on critical ideas.

“Any individuals who might feel differently from the gender they are assigned now [wouldn’t] have an outlet to express themselves … or find a way to understand what they might be feeling,” Bisk said. “I think it can be really damaging to students who don’t have that.”

Transgender kids & sports

Another bill moving through the legislature could restrict trans kids from participating in sports with the gender they identify with. For kids like Sky McNaughton, that means no more playing on the girls’ hockey team.

“We want her on our team,” said McNaughton’s friend and fellow organizer, Fiona Morgan, 13. “Like the entire LGBTQ community here, well, we just want them to feel safe and not have to leave the state.” 

Some say these bills could just be a start. Another parent, Anika Youcha, worries about what lawmakers could do next.

The Saturday event brought together students, parents, teachers and other community members in support of LGBTQ+ rights. (Hanna Merzbach/KHOL)

“I think once they cross over into this kind of damaging territory, there’s no limit on how far they’ll go,” Youcha said. “[These kids’] lives are already full of struggle and insecurity. And I think something that we can do is to make it easier for them to live and be happy and not harder.”

“Take away hurdles,” she added. “Don’t install more.”

Faced with these uncertainties, Saturday’s protest was still a moment of joy for community members. They waved pride flags, danced and repeatedly chanted “equal rights, equal rights.”

Morgan, for one, couldn’t hold in her excitement. 

“I’m so happy right now,” she said several times. “This is great that so many people showed up.”

Members of the LGBTQ+ community will have another opportunity to gather on Feb. 18, with a Pride event at Continuum Hotel in Teton Village.

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About Hanna Merzbach

Hanna is KHOL's senior reporter and managing editor. A lot of her work focuses on housing and local politics, but also women's health — and whatever else she finds interesting. You can hear her reporting around the country and region on NPR, Wyoming Public Radio and community radio stations around the west. She hails from Bend, Oregon, where she reported for outlets such as the Atlantic, High Country News and Oregon Public Broadcasting. In her free time, you can find Hanna scaling rock walls or adventuring in the mountains.

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