Yesterday, in response to growing anti-trans legislation and sentiment, Texas Democrat Beto O’Rourke posted a photo of himself to social media wearing a "Don’t Mess With Trans Kids" T-shirt. The image and garment were seen as a rebuke of Republican Gov. Greg Abbott, who O’Rourke is running against for governor. Abbott infamously has antagonized trans kids by ordering the Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate parents of trans and nonbinary children for “abuse” as a result of providing them with gender-affirming care. The directive is under review and has temporarily been blocked by a judge.
“I will always fight alongside you to ensure that you’re able to live freely as yourself, free from attacks and discrimination,” O’Rourke wrote in a post.
Don’t Mess With Trans Kids is an effort started by Stephanie Lopez. Launched in 2021, the project gives 100 percent of proceeds to Equality Texas to assist in its efforts which include fighting anti-trans legislation in the state. Through it, Lopez sells items such as shirts, tank tops, stickers, and other merchandise with the phrase “Don’t Mess With Trans Kids” emblazoned on them.
With Abbott’s recent actions, interest in the brand has spiked. In February, $19,826 was raised according to the brand’s Instagram account. As of March 20, $89,782 was raised. Of that, $79,271 was from sales and $10,511 was from cash donations. Lopez has confirmed to The Advocate that since the launch, it has raised approximately $120,000.
In addition, others like Nyle DiMarco, ALOK, and more have supported the cause.
Here, The Advocate speaks with the organizer behind it all. (Note: This interview was conducted earlier this month.)
When and why did you start Don't Mess With Trans Kids? What was happening at that time?
I had just moved back to Texas from San Francisco in 2021 — right when anti-LGBTQ bills were being introduced in our regular legislative session. The attack on trans youth hit me particularly hard. It brought back painful memories of the anti-trans opposition we saw in response to HERO [the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, which voters ended up repealing] — which you probably remember better as the “bathroom bill.”
I was really ashamed of Texas, to be honest, and the typical ways I would normally try to take action just didn’t feel like enough this time. One day I passed someone along the bayou wearing a "Don’t Mess With Texas" shirt and I said to myself, More like, “Don’t Mess with Trans Kids.” That slogan is so quintessential Texan and it felt really good to put a twist on it and think about people defending our trans community and youth with that same spirit they defend other Texan values and ideas. That’s when I launched the campaign. It was April 2021 — three months before the first of three special sessions called by Governor Abbott for the purpose of continuing debate over transgender kids having the right to play sports on the teams that align with their gender.
What is your connection to this issue?
Everyone has a connection to this issue. It’s not just a problem for transgender children and their families — we are all affected by this. Denying trans youth lifesaving gender-affirming care and crucial life experiences like playing sports has been devastating. I can’t detach myself from the suffering experienced by the kids and families that are the targets of these policies because it affects my entire community: my friends, my extended family, my coworkers and their children, and, closest to my heart, my own spouse, who is trans. I think that’s why we are seeing such an uprising in support for the trans community after Abbott’s and [Attorney General Ken] Paxton’s directives to DFPS to investigate parents of trans children. Parents everywhere understand that loving and affirming your kid is not child abuse — quite the opposite — and to try to criminalize parents of trans kids is horrifying.
What was the reception like before 2022?
The message has really resonated with folks from the get-go — there were so many out-of-state Texans who reached out to get a tee and helped spread the word.
What was the biggest/most notable moment before 2022 around this issue?
The hours-long floor debate in the third special session that ended in the passing of HB 25, the anti-transgender sports ban. The debate itself was brutal, but the community solidarity and support was the most hopeful thing to witness.
How have things changed in 2022?
I wouldn’t say things have changed, I’d say they have progressed. The bills we saw surface in Texas are part of a nationally coordinated effort to erase trans people. Copycat bills are actively being debated in states all across the nation and policymakers are emboldened as bills pass in other states’ legislatures.
How much have you raised since starting?
Almost $80,000 and quickly counting! And I’m so proud to say that 100 percent of the profits sold from apparel, stickers, and other goods are donated to Equality Texas.
Do you plan to add anything soon?
It’s hard to say! I’ll put it out there that my intention for this year involves finding and working with volunteers to keep up the momentum, collaborate with other activists, and get this message spread as far as we can.
Is there anything else you want to say?
We need national attention on these issues. We need the support of businesses, people in power, and public figures. There have to be real consequences and disincentives for states who want to pass anti-LGBTQ+ bills. As a society, we have to hold lawmakers accountable, and it would be a lot better to do it before the bills are passed!