Manual students walkout in protest of Anti-LGBTQ bills

Caleb Masterson

Manual students walked out of their fourth block classrooms and poured into the front Manual courtyard at one p.m today to protest Anti-LGBTQ and Anti-Trans bills working through the Kentucky General Assembly. Many carried signs and sported Pride flags to protest bills currently in the Kentucky General Assembly targeting LGBTQ+ students. 

The walkout was spearheaded by Elijah Wolff (10, YPAS) who urged the Instagram account “@manual.activists” to promote the walkout that would take place at Manual. After seeing multiple schools across Louisville and Kentucky walk out, he knew Manual should be next.

“No one else did it, so I was like ‘Oh! My turn’ and then I designed the fliers. I designed the slideshows,” Wolff said.

Wolff at first wasn’t sure how many students would show up for the cause because of his underclassmen status and confusion surrounding the event. But as he walked to the front courtyard from YPAS and saw the throng of students, he knew the walkout was going to succeed.

“I knew there were going to be a lot but I heard them before I saw them so when I just heard the screaming I just thought ‘yes!’” Wolff said.

The crowd of students grew to over 200 in the warm, sunny weather and gathered around a circle where speakers spoke out against the legislation being proposed, shared their experiences as LGBTQ+ youth and hyped up the crowd with chants.

“Hey-ho! Transphobia has got to go!” Students chanted as they gathered in a circle around students speaking passionately in opposition to the numerous bills being considered, including HB 30, HB 470 and SB 150.  

HB 30 would prohibit transgender students from using the restroom/locker room correlating to the gender they identify with. This bill is labeled an “emergency” bill. Similar to proposed “bathroom bills” that stirred up major controversy in the past, HB 30 reasons that allowing transgender students to choose their preferred restroom would pose dangers to student privacy.

SB 150, passed by the Kentucky Senate, would require teachers to disclose to parents if their child identifies as a gender different from their birth sex and prohibits schools from creating policies that mandate teachers to use students’ preferred pronouns. 

Kentucky has introduced multiple bills targeting LGBTQ+ youth, including SB 150, HB 470 and HB 30. Graphic by Ava Blair (Ava Blair)

HB 470 would ban medical gender transition care for any person under 18. For minors currently prescribed with gender transition hormone medication, they would be forced to detransition.

Some students took breaks from the high-energy chant circle to connect with other LGBTQ+ students. Cove McGhe (12, YPAS) walked around with face paint to paint Pride flags on students, rallying against the bills’ desire to keep students’ gender identities hidden from others at school. 

Ava Wiseman (9, HSU) walked out in hope that it would make some change and get the government’s attention.

“It was super positive, everyone was just having a lot of fun,” Wiseman said about the environment of the walkout.

Manual isn’t the first school in Kentucky to walk out in opposition to these bills in session. Atherton, Brown and Ballard high schools held similar walkouts in February, along with schools in Danville and Lexington. This is part of a nationwide wave of anti-LGBTQ+ bills in recent years. 

“They can pass those laws but we’re not going nowhere. We’re here to stay because this is who we are,” Mytreya Charles (10, VA) said.

Although passion was high with chants and pride flags, many students also feared disciplinary action from school administrators. Teachers were directed to record students’ absences for follow-up by administrators. It is unclear as to what actions will be taken.

Many students did not walk out in fear of the disciplinary actions that the school might take, including Claire Dixon (10, J&C). Dixon explained that she was in total opposition of the bills being passed, but was nervous about the repercussions of taking action.

“I was afraid of the consequences from the school if I walked out,” Dixon said. 

However, many walkout participants felt that the harm that may come from the proposed bills outweighed the possible consequences they may face. Some teachers expressed support for the walkout as well. 

“I’m hearing about human rights, and young people are human. They may not be able to vote, but this is part of the role they play in fighting for these rights,” Mr. Tim Holman (Social Studies) said.

Youth are particularly hard-hit by anti-LGBTQ+ bills sweeping the nation. In states such as Alabama, Florida and Tennessee, bills particularly targeting LGBTQ+ minors and students have gained traction and even been signed into law. Many LGBTQ+ students worry about what their future looks like. 

“Eventually, they’ll keep taking away rights. Though they may not be your rights today, it could be yours tomorrow. So, we got to fight as much as we can before all rights are taken away,” Lucy Roy-Bachman (9, YPAS) said. 

Other students joined as allies to their transgender and nonbinary friends. Ndiaye views these bills as an extension from past anti-trans bills in Kentucky that banned transgender female athletes from playing. HB 30 would force transgender and nonbinary student athletes to use restrooms and locker rooms of their assigned sex at birth. For low-income transgender student athletes who depend on their athletic scholarships, this means misgendering themselves whenever they play. 

“That’s their chance to get their families out the hood,” Makhtar Ndiaye (12, HSU) said in support of his nonbinary friends who play sports. “Why would you take that away from them just because they don’t fit the norm? That’s crazy.”

A similar walkout took place last year in May after a draft of a Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade was leaked to the public. Wolff cited the previous action as inspiration and a blueprint for organizing his walkout. He hopes legislators in Frankfort take Manual student’s actions seriously and listen to their perspectives.

“I don’t quite understand why suddenly my life is about politics, […] these people who have no idea what it’s like to be someone like me” Wolff said. “It’s so many people that have gotten into it and done their part and I’m just thankful for everyone for doing their part.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of the story incorrectly identified a student in the featured image as “Sophia Mills (11, VA).” This has been fixed.