Jeff Younger for Texas House
Students at the University of North Texas shut down a speech by an anti-trans legislative candidate seeking to make it illegal for children to begin transitioning Wednesday, yelling “Fuck these fascists!” and “Protect trans kids.” Jeff Younger, a Texas House candidate who has refused to acknowledge his own transgender daughter’s gender identity and lost custody of her in 2019, in a court case that gained national attention, spoke at an event at UNT Wednesday organized by the campus group Young Conservatives of Texas. Younger intended to speak about “the threat of leftist ideology, the utmost importance of conservative social issues, and what conservative [sic] can do to win,” according to a Facebook event, which acknowledged protests were likely.
Videos shared by UNT student Ismael Belkoura, which were later deleted from Twitter, showed students drowning out Younger during the event, yelling “Fuck these fascists!” Belkoura told VICE News that at least 50 students showed up to protest the event, as opposed to only five or six students attending “in support of Younger.”
James Jackson, a UNT employee and alumnus who is transgender himself, took part in the protest and described it as heavily policed. “I'm a trans person and UNT staff and alum, and I don’t want someone like Jeff Younger speaking at our university,” Jackson told VICE News.During the event, Younger misgendered his own child and a UNT student, falsely claimed there’s no such thing as a transgender person, and compared the students with Russia—whose government is notorious for its state oppression of LGBTQ+ people—Belkoura told VICE News. In turn, students accused Younger of being a “deadbeat father,” a reference to a court order last August in which a judge granted full custody of Younger’s daughter to his daughter’s mother and wrote that Younger “failed to timely make the payments for child support.” Younger denied the charge. Jackson said he left after about half an hour, but during the time he was there Younger mostly encouraged the students to yell at him. “He was indicating for us to get louder, egging everyone on basically,” Jackson said. “Just to incite.” Younger did not respond to a request for comment from VICE News.
Afterward, more than a hundred students continued the protest outside, chanting “Protect trans kids” and “Fuck Jeff Younger,” Belkoura said. Younger’s appearance, which was originally scheduled for Feb. 23 but rescheduled for Wednesday due to bad weather, happened as the state’s Republican leadership has dramatically escalated its hostility to transgender children and their families. In February, Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the state’s Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate the parents of transgender children who are transitioning for child abuse. Abbott was sued earlier this week by the ACLU, and according to the lawsuit the agency had launched an investigation into one of its own employees who has a 16-year-old transgender daughter. University of North Texas police eventually arrived at the scene, as did Texas Highway Patrol officers dressed in riot gear, according to Belkoura. A video shared online showed a UNT police vehicle accelerating through a small crowd of protesters.
UNT police did not respond to a request for comment from VICE News, but a Denton Police Department spokesperson confirmed to independent Dallas journalist Steven Monacelli that a person was taken to the hospital and said they’d been hit by a UNT police vehicle, and that “the case will be forwarded to another agency for investigation.”
On Wednesday, Travis County Judge Amy Clark Meachum temporarily blocked the investigation into the state employee and their family, and set a hearing on a request to block the Abbott administration from implementing the policy statewide for March 11. “We will fight to protect all trans youth across Texas,” Chase Strangio, the ACLU’s deputy director for transgender justice, said following the ruling Wednesday.
Jackson said he was disappointed in the university for allowing the campus group to “incite more hate.” In February, a day before the event was originally supposed to be held, UNT President Neal Smatresk sent a letter to UNT community members which acknowledged transgender students and employees are targeted by “the intolerant views of a handful of campus members” but said that the university “honor[s] our First Amendment rights, even when we don’t agree with others’ opinions.”In a letter to the university Thursday afternoon, Smatresk described the event as “contentious” and claimed that a group of protesters “swarmed police, who were working to safely escort” YCT organizers and Younger off campus.Smatresk acknowledged reports that a protester was injured but said the event “end[ed] without any reported serious injuries,” and claimed that “UNT Police have continuously worked to create and maintain an environment safe for all students to express themselves, regardless of topic.”
A YCT flyer for the event included a call to “criminalize child transitions.” “[YCT] wants to make their stake on this university and make their own group here to push queer and trans people out is what it feels like,” Jackson said. “And it feels like the university doesn't support those queer and trans people.” YCT did not immediately respond to a request for comment.At the same time, however, Jackson said it felt “amazing” to see so many people protest in support of trans people.“I was so proud of our students for being there, protesting, for going against having a speaker on our campus inciting stuff like that, and supporting trans people even if they weren’t trans themselves,” Jackson said. “It was wonderful to hear them just saying ‘trans rights’ and 'trans rights are human rights.’”Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.