James van Kuilenburg

I’m That Trans Teen Who Got Kicked Out Of A Ted Cruz Rally

This is what really happened

Ever since I was a little kid, I've been interested in politics. But after I came out as transgender, I began to realize just how important politics were to me considering how much weight lawmakers hold over my life and body.

This election season, the presidential candidates — particularly those in the GOP — have proven that they are among those expressing hateful ideas about transgender individuals. Of all the GOP candidates, Ted Cruz has perhaps proven that he is the worst of them all — especially since he released attack ads against trans people.

So when I heard Cruz was coming to visit my town, I wanted to attend his rally. I wanted to see Cruz regardless of his prejudices because, political views aside, he was a presidential candidate running in a race that will undeniably change the country. I wanted to hear him firsthand and better understand his platform because that is my right as an American citizen.

But when I attended Ted Cruz's rally on Thursday, April 21, I hardly expected that I would be forcibly removed.

My mom and I decided to attend the rally together. Tickets were free, but we reserved them in advance online. The night before the event, my mom and I discussed our goal for attending. I didn't want to protest or disrupt. He wouldn't expect a trans person to attend his rally and listen, but I intended to do just that.

I also wanted to express my opinion peacefully, so we brought signs. One read "Ignorance breeds hate," and the other, "Human rights are not up for debate." I also wore a shirt bearing the logo of the National Center for Transgender Equality, and draped a transgender pride flag around my shoulders.

At the rally, however, the front-door staff requested that my mom and I leave our signs outside. We did, entered the theater where the rally was taking place, and were just playing around on our phones when someone suddenly grabbed my shoulder.

Above me stood a man in a suit, a cop by his side. The man in the suit explained that the staff requested that I leave immediately. I asked why, but the man only repeated himself. Out of frustration, I asked to speak to someone in charge. They told me to lead the way.

I began to feel a distinct sinking in my stomach as I walked up the aisle of the event space. The speech was scheduled to start soon and, by the looks of it, I wasn’t going to get to hear Cruz speak. There was also something wrong about the way we were being paraded out, and I suddenly became aware that no one around us was even paying attention.

As we neared the lobby doors, I noticed members from the media were standing nearby. I began to yell. I told them that I was transgender and that I was being kicked out. The man in the suit grabbed my shoulder again and pushed me forward. He told me to walk to the lobby quietly without making a scene. He misgendered me — he called me "ma’am." I corrected him.

By the time we reached the lobby, I was angry. I didn't understand why I was being treated like a criminal. The event staff told me that they had the right to ask me to leave because the rally was a private event. I explained that we had reserved tickets beforehand, but they then accused me of being part of a protest incident that had occurred outside. I reminded them that I had been standing quietly, and they were silent for a moment. They repeated that I had to leave and told me that the campaign didn’t want me there. I looked at my mom. I hadn't had any interest in disturbing this event, but if they really wanted me to leave, I would. I shrugged and told my mom that this was pointless. We walked out.

I began to cry when I got outside. I didn't care that I was being thrown out, but was horrified that the campaign did so just because I was transgender. I was not the only non-supporter in that crowd, but I was the only one denied the opportunity to hear Cruz speak. I had done nothing to deserve that treatment.

When my mom and I told the volunteers at the front door what had happened, they laughed in our faces. They didn't believe I had been kicked out and assumed that we made up the story for attention.

I refused to leave until the event ended. I flagged down as many people as I could in a quiet, peaceful manner, including the media. Journalists listened to my story and protesters across the street joined me. They hugged me and wiped away tears.

Soon after the event, my story spread across the Internet. I was on the front page of my local newspaper's website, and Teen Vogue, Jezebel, and BuzzFeed covered the story, too. I got calls and emails from across the country, and a Facebook post I wrote explaining what happened was shared over 1,000 times in 24 hours. Suddenly, a Facebook event called "Stand With James" was created in my honor. I cried as I read messages from countless transgender people thanking me for bringing visibility to this issue.

Trans rights are a hot-button issue in the news, social media, and even at the dinner table. But this exposure hasn't encouraged others to value us as individuals. Our experiences and our stories have been replaced with fearmongering sound bites that express little concern for the trans youth damaged by them. Given the harmful rhetoric trans individuals are exposed to on a daily basis, it's perhaps no coincidence that 41 percent of trans people attempt suicide.

Ted Cruz's campaign never commented on the issue, nor reached out to me. But I don't think it matters that they clearly don't care about the implications of excluding me from their event, because I learned that other people do. Many people have asked how they can help me, but this is not about me nor my personal experience. This is about the systematic erasure of trans youth and our voices — and it’s time we start talking about it.

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