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West High School students stage walkout over transgender law

Posted at 10:42 AM, Apr 06, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-06 20:07:54-04

SALT LAKE CITY — Students at West High School in Salt Lake City staged a walkout Wednesday in protest over the state's new transgender athletes law that was recently passed in the Utah Legislature.

About a thousand students gathered in front of the school, with many student body leaders talking about the affect the law is having on friends and colleagues.

West High School walkout

The House voted 56-18, while the Senate voted 21-8 for House Bill 11 on March 25, overriding Gov. Spencer Cox's veto of the bill that bans transgender children from participating in school sports.

Chants of "H.B. 11 has to go!" and "Our trans family matters!" were heard during the short walkout, along with other signs intended to show legislators students won't stop fighting for transgender rights.

One of those who spoke to the crowd was sophomore Dani Maalaeou who identifies as trans non-binary and competes with the school's track and volleyball teams.

"I'm non binary and I'm proud of that and going to these meets knowing that I'm trans, knowing that I'm non binary, it's kind of just getting told over and over, you don't belong, you're not going to be good at it at least," said Maalaeou, who hopes what happened at the school will spark a change down the road, not just for West High School, but for other schools as well.

Maalaeou says that is one reason they felt it was important to speak out.

"We don't have to be scared just because a few laws are made, It's not going to be an easy road that was obvious to begin with, but we can do this," said Maalaeou.

West HS Walkout

Mar Arellano helped organize the walkout and wonders why things went down as they did inside the Utah State Capitol.

"We don't have to be scared just because a few laws are made, It's not going to be an easy road that was obvious to begin with, but we can do this," said Maalaeou.

Others got up on stage and shared their anger towards those who voted to pass the law.

"It's showing that you guys hate us, or that you want us gone. And showing us that no matter how loud our voices are, you guys are trying shut us down. That's not going to happen," said Mar Arellano, who helped organize the walkout. "Right here we're fighting for our rights and right now we're here showing you guys that as much you want us gone, we're here to stay."

Arellano, who is also non-binary, is hoping the walkout shows lawmakers and others how important this issue is.

"You see all the kids who came and showed up, every kid who came and supported us, you see it matters to you guys," Arellano said.

The demonstration was fully-supported by the Salt Lake City School District.

"We support their First Amendment rights to demonstrate like this, we just want to make sure they're doing it in a safe and organized way," said district spokesperson Yandary Chatwin.

As for those impacted by the new law, like Maalaeou, they say they will continue to speak up and speak out.

"You make as many bills as you want, we will be here, we're not going to go away just because you make a law saying we don't belong, we do belong."

Just before the rally ended, one speaker ended their speech by simply saying, "We belong."