Featured Photo by Kendall Burrill
Story by Serena Vasudeva
Two rallies supporting opposite sides of transgender issues brought more than a hundred people to two downtown Murfreesboro locations Saturday.
Turning Point USA, a nonprofit organization that advocates for conservative ideals in high schools and colleges across the U.S., featured guest speakers that included an 18-year-old woman who started puberty blockers at a young age and had a double mastectomy at 15 and has now de-transitioned. Turning Point named its event, held outside Murfreesboro City Hall as “Teens Against Gender Mutilation.” In addition, several members of the Proud Boys, a pro-white extremist group, showed up to support Turning Point’s platform.
Additional speakers included TPUSA’s faith chapter president Hannah Faulker, founder of Freedom Forever Landon Starbuck, Tre Faulkner and Mya Conrad.
Two hours before Turning Point’s rally, Rainbow Rutherford, a civil rights alliance group, were joined by members of the LGBTQIA+ community to hold a pro-trans presentation at Linebaugh Library. Ray Holloman, a transgender man, gave a presentation on health care and civil rights of transgender individuals.
Afterward, the group left the library to protest Turning Point’s gathering, which was just a short walk from Cannonsburgh Village, where last year a drag performance that was part of BoroPride prompted a decision by the city not to issue future permits to the organization. The decision was unpopular with the LGBTQIA+ community. Turning Point’s rally so close to Cannonsburgh rankled some.
The gatherings were loud but peaceful but one man was arrested for destroying an umbrella featuring the image of a rainbow.
During her speech, Chole Cole called the transgender community a “cult” which she first encountered on social media. She began her social transition as a pre-teen and informed her parents. They were originally against getting her trans-affirming care but were convinced by Cole’s doctor and therapist. She was put on puberty blockers after a year, followed by testosterone and received a double mastectomy at 15, all of which she eventually regretted.
“The possibility that transition could be the wrong path was not addressed to me by my therapist or physicians at all. They told my parents that regret was clinically insignificant.”
Mya Conrad told the Turning Point rally that she has faced bullying and harassment for her belief that teens should not receive gender surgery. She said both peers and educators have questioned her beliefs..
“This movement is not to abuse or bully trans people: it’s to protect the vulnerable. If you don’t play into the trans agenda, you’re cast out as a bully and a bigot. I stand here out of love and compassion for people who are trans,” she said.
As Conrad finished and passed the microphone to the next speaker, several Proud Boys dressed in yellow and black appeared. Insignia on their uniforms indicated they were from Memphis.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, the Proud Boys are a hate group that have previously been involved in the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville and the January 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol.
TPUSA’s rally took place a five-minute walk away from Cannonsburgh Village.
Before the speeches began, TPUSA members congregated around booths.
Landon Starbuck compared the transgender community to a cult that silences disagreements. When talking about the high rate of transgender suicides, Starbuck claimed that suicidal ideation was a form of manipulation transgender teenagers use to get healthcare.
Starbuck said that puberty blockers, medicines that help prevent puberty from happening, are not fully reversible.
According to Oregon Health and Science University Doernbecher Children’s Hospital, puberty blockers do not cause permanent changes to the body.
Tre Faulkner was the last person to take the microphone.
“You are not our enemy! Satan is our enemy!” He said, “You are the ones full of hate. We love you,” directed at the crowd of counter-protesters.
Betty Jo, a gray-haired Murfreesboro resident and Christian, attended the rally and thought positively of the speakers. She was upset with the drums and whistles of the protesters, which drowned out the speakers.
“God created a man and a woman, male and female. To try to change that is going against God. It’s not that we don’t love each other, we tell the truth because we do love.”
Two hours before the rally, protesters crammed into the Linebaugh Library’s club room. It was rented by Shae Crowell, an organizer with civil rights alliance Rainbow Rutherford. The organization invited Ray Holloman, a transgender man, to give a presentation about health care and civil rights for transgender people.
“I think that detransitioners are valid. I think that going to the point that all trans people are lying to themselves, that’s the harmful part about it,” said Holloman.
When the Turning Point rally was about to start, protestors from the LGBTQIA+ community, armed with whistles, sirens and drums entered the event with signs reading, “end the war on queer bodies,” “a surgery is not mutilation,” and “God loves me for being transgender.” Parents with strollers with infants entered alongside protesters with rainbow flags draped around their shoulders. The group continued to make noise throughout Turning Point’s rally.
Theo Baker, president of College Democrats, said Tre Faulkner’s claim that the event was not meant to be hateful towards gay people was completely false.
“Tre Faulkner gave a sermon including Adam and Steve jokes, arguing that the absence of a nuclear family structure caused queerness and transness. In its nature the event targets trans teens and those who assist them, painting them as monsters, part of a cult,” Baker said.
Protest organizers emphasized the importance of peaceful protest for the safety of children on both sides of the rally. Baker claimed rally attendees did not have such ideals in mind, as protesters were harassed by a man filming for TPUSA. He destroyed a rainbow umbrella and was subdued by police.
Electric Peach Tattoo was identified before the event started as a “safe area” in the protesters’ contingency plan.
Kristen Bean, a protest organizer, helped arrange free coffee, tea and water for all attendees on tables outside the tattoo parlor.
D Fitz, also known as Trash, has been friends with Bean since they both began advocating in their teenage years. Alongside Rainbow Rutherford, the pair helped recruit protesters on social media.
“We will not allow TPUSA to step on the garden that we have been cultivating since Stonewall. TPUSA is attempting to put their fascist boots on our flowers of LGBTQIA+ rights, human rights,” Fitz said.
Reaction from the crowd
Alice Kantoz, a transgender woman who lives in Murfreesboro, said she sees herself in the conservative teenage activists from Turning Point. Growing up in Kentucky, she was raised in a Catholic, conservative environment. Her parents pressured her to become a pro-life activist and attend events.
“Some people have started to develop their own views in high school, but a lot of people haven’t and they’re still influenced by the adults in their life and the views they have,” she said.
While some teenagers come to conservative views on their own, many of Kantoz’s old friends have changed their opinions. A few of them have even come out to her.
“I wonder if there are any teens that might be involved with this currently who end up realizing that they are some form of queer later in life because that’s what happened to me,” Kantoz says.
Three mothers, Maggie Thorn, Stephanie Mumpower and Sherri Yandle were part of the Rutherford Alliance group.
Thorn has two children, one of whom identifies as nonbinary. Their partner is transgendered.
“Regardless if I have children, I want to live in a society where people are valued for who they are, Thorn said.
She sympathizes with transgender and gender non-conforming youth, as she experimented as a teenager.
Yandle, a grandmother, said she’s proud of her transgender son.
“He stands up and speaks out against the idiocy of these people that want to put their control over everybody. You don’t like it, you don’t have to be the trans,” Yandle said.
Yandle’s other son has autism. She took issue with Starbuck’s claim that most transgender people are autistic.
“To drag in people with disabilities into this as though there’s something innately wrong with a transgender or any member of the LGBT community like they must have some sort of disorder, that is so incorrect,” Yandle added.
Mumpower offered this observation: “If this is about love, why are the Proud Boys here?”
Mumpower has children, one of which is under the LGBT umbrella. She fears her child will encounter more hate because of the rally.
Alyssa Battaglia, a nursing student, is one of the presidents of the TPUSA chapter at Tennessee Tech University. She traveled from Cookeville to hear Cole speak.
“I fully believe that what people are trying to do to children, teach them or do to their bodies, is abuse.”
“I believe that under 18 you are still a minor and you should not be able to consent to life altering decisions like that,” said Battaglia. She said she believed minors were incapable of giving medical consent in general, but once someone turns 18, they should have the agency and freedom to do as they please.
Julian Clyde, who was there to attend the TPUSA rally, is a transgender man who holds some conservative ideologies. He and his family are from Romania, where gay marriage is not legalized and only 20% of the population support transgender people legally changing their gender. His parents have come a long way to accept Clyde, even buying his testosterone. He transitioned when he was 20.
He often asserts to his conservative peers that he was not pushed into being transgender.
“I say to the conservatives, it’s my money, if I want to pass, that’s my business. If you wanna call me a girl, I don’t care,” he said.
Clyde recalled his teenage years, spent in and out of mental facilities and dealing with self-harm. Because of his own experiences, he believes that teenagers should not be able to medically transition because of a lack of maturity.
“Just let them dress like it. Half the time when you get it out of the system, you get it out of your mind.”
Clyde said that negative side effects from transitioning, like balding, high cholesterol and sexual dysfunction, aren’t talked about often.
Serena Vasudeva is a Social Justice Reporter for MTSU Sidelines.
To contact News Editor Kailee Shores and Assistant News Editor Alyssa Williams, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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