Meet the Minister Fighting Against Anti-Transgender Bills in Texas
Texas mom Annaliese Cothron drove an hour and a half from her San Antonio home to the Austin State Capitol this year for a rally supporting trans children, including her own child. It’s a journey that she has taken so many times that she has lost count of it.
Trans youth in the state have been the target of more than 50 bills this year that would restrict their participation in sport or deny them access to certain health care, among other restrictions.
Cothron was leading the crowd in a chant, but they started to tire. So she asked Reverend Remington Johnson, a Presbyterian clergyman and another activist, to pick up the megaphone.
Johnson, a trans woman who has testified nearly half a dozen times against anti-trans bills, showed up that day wearing roller skates and hot pink shorts and wearing a huge trans flag. , Cothron recalled. She picked up the megaphone, and the first thing she said was, “Trans kids are magic.”
Cothron, who has an 8-year-old who is not binary, said the moment had stuck with her.
âThis, to me, was so powerful,â she said. “Nobody talks about my kid like that, because they don’t have the same experience that a trans person really needs to know how truly unique, magical and powerful trans children really are.”
Johnson, a healthcare chaplain who previously worked in a hospital to help those who are sick or dying, said her role in life was to be a caregiver and “justice.” She returns to Capitol Hill over and over again despite the toll it has taken physically and emotionally, not only to defend herself as a trans woman, but also to bring a certain levity to a space that has been traumatic for people and women. trans families.
âBedside care, care on the Capitol – it’s one and the same,â said Johnson, who is studying for his master’s degree in nursing at the University of Texas at Austin. “These are all systems, and there is suffering swirling around, and I feel like my role and my responsibility here is to at least introduce myself.”
Activism as an “exercise in self-love”
Johnson, 35, grew up just outside of Texas in rural Oklahoma Panhandle, in a family of Mennonite descent. She said she was not brought up with liberal or conservative ideals; she was “a sort of raised tabula rasa” – her parents encouraged her to put herself in other people’s shoes.
Johnson said that as a high school student she had an experience with her family that made her feel like she couldn’t speak openly about her identity. One evening, while her family was visiting the gay-friendly resort town of Provincetown, Massachusetts, two tall women walked past, she said.
âI remember when I was a kid just saying, ‘I don’t know what this is, but I love everything about it,’â Johnson said. âI don’t know if it was drag queens or trans women or what, but it was magic. But it was also the same time that I heard my family members say that they did not agree with these people. So it was that kind of whiplash.
She said her coming out process was gradual after that. She told a therapist in college how she felt about her gender, and the therapist suggested that she might be a trans woman, “and I was like,” Thank you very much, “and I didn’t. ‘never been back,’ Johnson said.
She has battled internalized transphobia – a battle that continues to this day and plays a role in her activism, she said.
She moved to Texas in 2008. Nine years later, Republicans in Texas introduced a bill that would have required trans people to use toilets that match the sexes listed on their birth certificates. Although Johnson was trans at the time, she said, she didn’t feel ready to participate in activism because she felt she “was the problem.”
“I just felt like the bogeyman the Republicans were talking about, because I was this huge, built, powerful figure who was going to use the bathroom with them,” she said. She didn’t feel ready to plead at the time, but when the 2020 legislative session began she decided she wanted to be there.
âI want to show myself and because a lot of the things these lawmakers and anti-trans were saying are things my loved ones told me during my transition and internalized transphobia I’m telling myself,â she said. . âSo part of this is an exercise in self-esteem and self-compassion and a tangible reminder that there is nothing wrong with me. “
“Fixing things, that’s what I do”
Among families fighting anti-trans bills on Capitol Hill, Johnson’s presence is known as the healing. She developed this skill, putting people at ease, during her work as a healthcare chaplain, when helping people make difficult decisions, such as undertaking high-risk operations or returning home. house with a hospice, or end of life, care.
She said she introduced herself to a woman in hospice care as “a restorative”. The woman replied “What are you going to fix?” And Johnson said, “I’ll fix it this. “
“And I did, I corrected thisJohnson said. âI couldn’t cure his cancer, but I could help him build a relationship with his care team. I can help him build a relationship with his family.
âFixing things is what I do,â she added.
Even outside of her activism, in her personal life, she corrects. She started working with wood and built the cabinets and counters and redone the floors and windows in her last house. During the pandemic, she learned to longboard herself and now builds her boards herself.
Her friend Meghan Jacobson has said fixing things and taking care of people is at the heart of who Johnson is.
“She worked in a hospice because she recognizes the uniqueness and importance of those moments that many other people shy away from,” Jacobson said, adding that Johnson had saved her life over the past year by being there. connecting with a mental health care provider and just being there to support her.
Parents defending the rights of their transgender children in the Texas’ Capitol tell similar stories.
Linzy Foster, from Austin, has been to Capitol Hill a dozen times this year to advocate for her 7-year-old trans daughter. She said she’s been dealing with a lot of anxiety recently and that at a press conference last month she was breathing heavily. Johnson, who was sitting next to her, noticed it.
âShe just put her hand on my back and rubbed my back, and we just had this little moment,â Foster said. An Austin American-Statesman reporter took a photo; Foster said when she saw him she “broke down in tears.”
âBecause it’s just symbolic – she’s fighting her own battle, but she keeps showing up for the parents so we can show up for our kids,â Foster said.
The energy on Capitol Hill is often heavy and traumatic for parents, Foster said, and Johnson makes everyone laugh.
For example, at a press conference, Johnson described how Republican lawmakers in Texas and elsewhere tried to pass toilet bills after the Supreme Court ruled in favor of marriage equality in 2015. “What happens is they try to vilify women like me who have a little bit of waist, and we are just too charming and beautiful to want to pee next to it,” he said. she declared, causing a burst of laughter.
Johnson said she tries to bring humor and joy to her activism because she wanted trans people watching “to feel safe, at least for a little while.”
âI want them to see someone standing up in front of them, and I want to feel like I’m a good representative,â she said. âI want to feel like mothers can look and say, ‘Oh my God, my child can grow up and everything will be fine.’ I want to offer a little moment of lightness, power and hope.
âIt’s not a trans tragedy. It’s trans joy. ‘
Although someone wouldn’t know it from watching her speak on Capitol Hill, Johnson said she was traumatized by her activism this year and the trauma got worse as she kept coming back.
She compared the experience to a sports injury. Sports have been and still are a big part of her life – that’s part of why she fights so hard for transgender children to have the right to play. She plays on a gay rugby team in Austin.
âRunning on Capitol Hill is like playing through an injury,â she said. âThere was a traumatic wound in my soul. And I see it, and I got it professionally checked, and they say, ‘You can keep playing on it, but it’s going to hurt you.’ “
But she stressed that activism is not just about trauma. She said after the Supreme Court ruled last year that LGBTQ people are protected from employment discrimination under federal law, she rode 26 miles around Austin on her longboard made house with huge trans pride flag. âPeople would honk their horns and stop to take pictures,â she said. “It was really special.”
For Cothron, Johnson’s positivity and joy shows him that his non-binary child can grow up to be fulfilling.
âIt’s not a trans tragedy. It’s the joy of trans, âsaid Cothron. âAnd Remington is here to really embody that. â¦ For me, the fact that my child can have role models who are adults and who fight – and not just who fight but also who thrive – is so important.
For Johnson, it’s the trans experience: âbeing able to walk through the discomfort and come out to the other side with that vibrant, joyful presence,â she said. âThis is who we are. This is who I am.
To follow NBC output to Twitter, Facebook & Instagram