“Please keep me safe,” Libby Gonzales told state lawmakers recently.
One of the most eloquent opponents of Texas’ proposed gender bathroom law began identifying as a girl four years ago, when she was 3.
It was at that age that Frank and Rachel Gonzales started to realize their child, Libby, wasn’t living the life she was born to live.
It wasn’t always clear to them how best to support their first born. While on a family trip to California, Rachel took Libby — then still called by her birth name — to the toy store. It was there that things “came to a boil.”
“I said, ‘You can pick out anything from the gift store,'” Rachel recalled. Libby pointed at a fairy costume with a pink skirt and wings. “This is what I want.”
Long before that moment, the Gonzaleses say, they saw the “early signs” their child was not her “authentic self.” There were times when they thought maybe their child was gay. It wasn’t until around the age of 4 or 5, when their child began to verbalize more to them who she really was, that they accepted it, too. Their child was transgender.
In the months and weeks that followed, Libby began to transition. She asked to grow out her hair; she gravitated to more stereotypically girl toys and said she felt more comfortable wearing girl clothing.
It was around January 2016 when she asked her mom whether Santa could turn her into a girl next Christmas.
“At that point, I said, ‘You don’t have to wait until next Christmas, it’s January. Let’s go shopping,'” Rachel recounted. That was the weekend her son became her daughter.
Now, at age 7, Libby is living the life she has always wanted to, as a girl.
“The weekend that she finally expressed to us that she could not go on living another day with anyone thinking that she’s a boy, we cried a lot,” said Frank. “We weren’t upset to have a trans kid; we just knew what was ahead of us and what was ahead for her. It’s really scary as a parent.”
They soon began to educate themselves about what being trans meant. They spoke to doctors and professionals both inside and outside the trans community, hoping to better understand their daughter.
“It’s not something that we immediately jumped on board with,” Frank said of his daughter’s transition. “We were very cautious; we were very hesitant, maybe too hesitant in hindsight, to accept her in her authentic self. In her authentic life.”
“It’s really hard as a parent to go through a transition with your child,” Rachel said. “When you have a transgender child, it’s not just the child that transitions, it’s the family and the community.”
In the months since Libby transitioned, the parents said, even their more conservative neighbors have been accepting of their daughter.
It’s the Texas state government they worry about the most.
This year, the Legislature proposed “privacy” legislation that would restrict public restroom use for transgender people. Under the proposed law, more commonly known as the Texas “bathroom bill,” trans men, women and children like Libby would be required to use the restroom based on the gender that’s on their birth certificate, not how they identify.
During the regular session, the bill hit a dead end after a contentious debate. Vowing to get a bill on his desk, Gov. Greg Abbott called a special session in June with an agenda that included another effort by conservative lawmakers to pass a modified version of the bill.
“Another way to avoid a patchwork quilt of conflicting regulations is for Texas to establish a single statewide rule protecting the privacy of women and children,” Abbott said before the session began.
“People want to do business and raise their families in a state that has safe communities, and this law helps achieve that,” the governor’s press secretary John Wittman said in a statement to CNN.
The bill has faced economic pressure from major corporations who have threatened to re-evaluate their business relationship with Texas if the bill is passed.
Abbott, along with Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, has been among the most vocal supporters of the bill. They have sided with proponents who say parents need reassurances that their children are protected in all circumstances while at public school and in intimate spaces.
The Gonzaleses believe the law would make their daughter less safe.
“The current legislation, which is cloaked in saying that it’s a women’s privacy bill, where the governor himself is calling it a transgender bathroom bill … would put my daughter in direct harm,” Frank said. “It would force her — and her school to force her — into a hostile environment to publicly out her every time she needed to use the restroom.”
“The probability of my daughter being victimized in a restroom is exponentially higher than anyone else,” Rachel added. “It’s such a shame that people are so closed-minded that they want to persecute my daughter for living a life that she was born to live simply because they don’t have an understanding of who she is.”
Libby’s parents believe the bill is not about who should go to the bathroom where. “I think this is mainly a response to legalizing gay marriage,” Frank said. “This is the next battle that conservatives have decided to dig in on.”
During the special summer session, the state Senate passed a version of the bill, and now the House is considering its own version.
Libby’s parents say her transition has been in appearance, clothing and behavior only. There has been no medical intervention in her life so far. And though she is only 7, Libby says she knows who she really is and always has known.
Barefoot on the floor of her Dallas home, Libby giggled as she pet her dog Luna. Libby’s hair is long past her shoulders, and she wore a white dress with a big matching white bow pinned into her hair. Tiny earrings shine beneath her curly locks.
“What it feels like to be transgender is to be yourself in your very own way,” she read from her own testimony at the Texas Capitol earlier this year. “I love my school and my friends, and they love me, too. I don’t want to be scared to go to the restroom or anywhere in public. And I never want to use the boy’s restroom. It would be so weird.”
Her soft voice got louder as she read the last sentence from a worn piece of crumpled paper. “Please keep me safe,” she says. “Thank you.”
All her parents want is what any parent wants for their child: the best. They balk at those who call them bad parents and who ask, “How can Libby know at 7 that she’s a girl?” They hope other parents acknowledge that they’re doing the best they can.
“My daughter is a girl. She was born a girl. She is a girl,” Rachel said defiantly. “She lives the life of a girl, and there is no reason that she should be going into the boy’s restroom, ever. How does your child know who they are? I can’t explain that. I can’t explain how I know I’m a girl. I can’t explain how my daughter knows she’s a girl, but I can support her in that life that she was obviously born to live. And I don’t have to understand it to know that she needs my love and support to keep her safe.”