(CNN)For over half an hour on a March afternoon, Arkansas legislators, activists and pediatricians outlined reasons why they considered gender-affirming health care dangerous, arguing in support of a bill that would ban transgender minors from accessing that care.
Four parents of transgender boys on the challenges and joys of raising their sons in a world that can be hostile
Brandi Evans had two minutes to testify against it.
The mother from Bauxite had listened as proponents of the bill claimed transgender teens like her son are too young to receive hormone therapies, which can help trans boys develop sex characteristics that may reduce their gender dysphoria. At one point, the representative who introduced the bill likened gender confirmation surgery, a treatment that is not part of the standard care for transgender minors, to genital mutilation.
When it was her turn to appear before the House committee, Evans spoke quickly but stoically, hardly pausing between sentences to make sure she got out every word. She opened with a statement meant to startle.
"If this bill is passed, it could kill my son," she said.
In a few words, she told legislators how her 14-year-old son Andrew had lived with severe depression before he started testosterone treatments. She kept next to her a stack of articles printed from academic journals that she said proved how harmful it can be to deny trans youth gender-affirming care. She didn't once look up at the lawmakers in front of her until she pleaded with them to vote against the bill, for the sake of her son and other trans kids in Arkansas.
"He is now able to live a happy and normal life as his authentic self," she told lawmakers. "You will be taking that away from him, and it will cause him his imminent death."
Evans had anticipated that the bill would pass. She quickly scheduled a mastectomy for her son. She located a doctor in Louisiana where Andrew could continue his testosterone treatments and an out-of-state pharmacy that could fill his prescriptions. She started raising money with other parents of trans kids to bus them to Louisiana if they couldn't get the care they needed in their home state.
The bill, which became law in April, was blocked by a federal judge this week -- a "huge relief," Evans told CNN, if a temporary one. She's not letting her guard down just yet, though.
"While it would be another out-of-pocket cost, I'd rather pay through the nose," she said of her child's health care costs if the bill had remained in effect. "That [price] pales in comparison to these children's lives."
CNN spoke to Evans and three other parents of transgender kids and teens whose lives revolve around advocating for their children in a year when more than 30 states have introduced legislation that targets trans young people.
Much of this legislation aims to block trans youths' access to school sports, restrooms and health care that the American Medical Association has called "medically necessary," be it through hormone therapy or medication that temporarily blocks puberty.
Activism is an organic extension of being parents who would do anything for their child -- kids who love "Minecraft" or gymnastics or bad jokes, not keeping track of the 2021 legislative session.
It's exhausting, incessant, heartbreaking work to defend your child's right to compete in their favorite sport at school or to get hormone therapy that makes them feel more like themselves, the parents said -- but it's essential to keep going. They'll fight for their children as long as it takes for all trans people to feel safe and affirmed.
All four parents said their activism just kind of happened. They wanted to protect their kids, they found groups of likeminded people and spoke out against anti-trans policies. The fact that they were often elevated by national organizations for their advocacy work wasn't as important as doing the work itself.
State legislatures' recent focus on the rights of transgender children -- involving debates over whether some are too young for gender-affirming health care or whether it's "unfair" to cisgender students to compete against trans athletes -- gave their activism a new urgency, the parents said.
Evans said she was "thrust onto this national stage" when she testified against the Arkansas bill (called the "Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act"). In the whirlwind few months since her March testimony, she's been approached by the American Civil Liberties Union and national news outlets that heard her speak.
"I was happy just working in the background -- then this happened," she told CNN with an incredulous laugh. "I've always been an ally, but I never thought of myself as an activist."
Before her son came out, Lizette Trujillo was "doing all the right things'': She was the first person in her family to attend college. She'd married, had a child and ran a small business. Her life in Tucson, Arizona, was her little slice of the "American dream," she said.
Her son, Danny, told her he was trans around the same time her husband was waiting to receive his citizenship, Trujillo said. It was a stressful time that made her realize how vulnerable her son was to discrimination. After joining a group of fellow parents of trans kids, she grew more outspoken against policies that target trans people, she said.
"It felt really frustrating to be in a space where, you know, from an intersectional lens [with both trans and Latino identities], you're always behind" in terms of personal success and societal acceptance, she said. "To know that the system doesn't work in your favor ... it angered me."
Anger has played a role in all four parents' efforts to speak out against transphobia. Stephen Chukumba of New Jersey told CNN he'd never considered what it meant to be trans until his son, one of his four children, came out as trans. He quickly caught up on the proper vocabulary and history and learned the myriad ways in which trans Americans have been excluded from society.
"I found myself really incensed by it," he said of transphobia. "I just can't sit idly by."
Amber Briggle would agree. It was rage that spurred the owner of a massage business to alert local media in 2016 to a Facebook post by a candidate for sheriff in Denton County, Texas, in which he endorsed physical violence against transgender people. The same year, she invited the state attorney general who criticized trans-inclusive policies to her house for dinner with her husband, daughter, and her son, Max, who is trans.
She may not have changed the attorney general's mind that night, she said, but her dinner did get the attention of the Human Rights Campaign, which invited her to become a founding member and eventual national co-chair of the Parents for Transgender Equality National Council. She did a TEDx Talk, too, about supporting her son's transition and started a blog about what it meant to be his mother in a state with hostile policies toward trans people.
Writing was a release between her visits to the Texas Capitol and regular attendance at protests (especially this year, when the Texas legislature introduced a slew of anti-trans bills) and a way for readers to get to know a trans child -- "it's hard to hate up close," she said.
"I think activism is equal parts anger and love," she said. "I just operate from there. You just keep moving. We have no choice."
When asked about their children, all four parents are effusive and proud, gushing about their sons' stellar grades and athletic prowess. Their children are resilient and mature beyond their years -- but beyond the tough front they put on to face the world, they're just kids, the parents emphasized.
Trujillo's only child, Danny, is a "super happy" kid about to turn 14. He drums, he skateboards and he commands a basketball court. It's been thrilling, she said, to watch him develop his music taste (he just discovered Nirvana) and personal style -- the small but significant pieces that will make him more of who he is.
Chukumba says that of his four kids, his trans child -- whom CNN agreed not to name to protect his privacy -- is the one who never needs to be told twice to take out the trash or leave the recycling bin at the curb. His son has taught himself the flute, bass, ukulele and piano, Chukumba said. He's a jokester, too: The high school freshman will walk into a room, drop a "dad joke" and wait for the groans to roll in, something he gets from his dad.
"He is a kind soul -- he's a person who goes out of his way to help other people," Chukumba said. "When it comes to this particular dude, yeah, I'm riding with this dude 'till the wheels fall off."
Briggle's son Max is an accomplished athlete -- he's a gymnast and a second-degree black belt in Taekwondo who defies gravity on the regular (he can do "a zillion back flips in a row," she said). He loves his sister so much that he volunteered to continue remote learning to keep her company even after his school reopened because she has a history of respiratory issues, Briggle said. He's sensitive, friendly, considerate -- a "model child," Briggle said.
The fact that Max is trans is part of him, but not all of him, his mother said.