Trans youth leader: ‘Fear and apathy are the oppressor’s greatest tools’

Talk by Samira Burnside at the Oct. 7 National March to Protect Trans Youth in Orlando, Florida. Burnside is editor of

Samira Burnside SLL photo: Gary Wilson

Good afternoon everybody, thank you so much for coming out. It’s one thing for trans youth stuck in Florida to see thousands gathered in Washington, but it’s another for them to see them gathered back home, for them to know that people care right here.  

My name is Samira Burnside, I’m a 17-year-old trans woman, I’m one of the organizers of this march, I’m the founder of The Queer Notion, and today, Oct. 7, is my birthday.  

This year I have taken two trips to Washington, D.C., I have become a Google search result, I have done interviews for Time Magazine and spoken in front of crowds much larger than my 5th grade Tropicana speech competition.  

In this work I have found immense joy. I have found community in the struggle. I used to sit at home and watch as the news rolled with cynical apathy, saying to myself, “Well, nobody cares, nothing will change, activism is far too dangerous to be worth it. Look at what happened to everyone who’s ever stood up before me, to Malcolm X, to Fred Hampton, to Dr. King, to the many whose names we don’t know because their flames were snuffed out too early.”

But that fear, that apathy, is the death of every movement, it is the greatest tool of the oppressor. If you can put down a movement before it’s started, then there is no need for real action – the threat will do.  

That fear has thoroughly suffused itself throughout Florida. Organizations like Equality Florida and the Human Rights Campaign have put out statements advising trans people against traveling to Florida, urging them to uproot their lives and flee. Tampa Pride this year was quiet. Queer events have started hiding their addresses out of fear, becoming invite-only, insulating themselves from the wider community. 

Organizations like Metro Inclusive Health and many others felt the way the wind was blowing way back in December and abandoned trans kids to predatory online HRT scams and out-of-state care before the laws even told them they had to. 

‘Fear suffused the queer community’

There are buses that take kids up north to safer homes. There is a new class of political migrants. Every day, another one of my friends resolves to flee. Most folks I know at least have escape plans, many have abandoned their in-state dream colleges for the ability to live their lives. 

This fear has suffused every single level of the queer community in Florida. Lovers afraid again to hold hands in public, rainbow flags quietly taken down, flashing signs on roadsides calling for our deaths. 

But the Nazis advertise their events brazenly: details, dates, times. It’s all intimidation, it’s all intentional. They want us scared. 

And by they I mean DeSantis;

And by they I mean Republican legislators who vote along quietly with their venomous allies on hypocritical platforms; 

And by they I mean the Democrats up in Washington who sit around and pay their dues to the Rainbow Caucus and have meetings with trans youth like ME, that leave halfway through and take a few pictures for social media and that talk about how much their heart aches for us before sending me back home and not taking a single action to protect kids like me; 

When I say THEY I mean the Democrats who campaign on our tears; 

When I say THEY I mean the Democrats who fuel this endless cycle of legislative violence against us so that they don’t have to make any real change, because the other side will kill us and at least THEY will keep things the same, but complacency is violence too, it’s just a little quieter. 

But we can’t be complacent. We can’t let them skate by on fear alone any more — we need to pressure them into real, direct action for our community if they want our votes. And to do that, we need action from our communities.

We need formidable, resilient, PRIDEFUL queer communities that commit to the grassroots organizing that this community was founded upon, so that one day maybe some queer kid won’t have to.  

‘Live in a burning house’

I’ve thought a lot, as I have thrown myself further and further into this work, about the lives I could have lived if I didn’t HAVE to do this. I think about my yesterday art school dreams and my love of film and direction, I think about all of the out of state colleges I could have considered. I think about the many different lives that could have sprung out ahead of me as I enter adulthood and the way that this fight has narrowed my options so severely.  

I can’t leave this place. To be trans and to not be an activist is to live in a burning house and to ignore the smoke. I’ve said it before. I can’t leave all the people who can’t leave, I can’t leave all the people who can’t get their medicine, I can’t leave all the poor trans people who could NEVER just pack up and go, I can’t leave all the people, like me, who have known and loved this place since before they were even born.  

And it’s in this resolution that I contend with this simple fact: that Ron DeSantis and those like him are trying to steal my future and trying to steal yours too, you just can’t see it. 

They are systematically trying to snatch away the future of every trans person now unable to transition, of every trans youth forced to stay with an unwelcoming parent, of every trans person who has watched their friends leave, of every trans person who has had to leave the place that they love and grew up in behind, they are stealing the future of every person whose lives would have been irrevocably changed by the presence of that person in it, he has stolen the future of every one of our siblings found dead by suicide induced by state-led hate campaigns, and if we do not stop him and the ideology that fuels him and fills his campaign coffers he will steal the future of everyone here today and everyone who watches this tomorrow too. 

Will you stand for that? Will you allow that?

Or will you stand against hatred, against intolerance, against bigotry and against authoritarian edicts that threaten our very existence? 

And will you stand up for FREEDOM, in all of its beautiful and highly individual manifestations?  

Will you stand up in the name of our siblings who lived and died before us, who were unable to breathe the air of equality and walk in dignity as who they were? 

And will you stand up for the future generations so that they will only need to hear old stories of a world that would not have embraced them but live unafraid to be their most authentic selves? 

And will you stand up for YOU! For YOUR inalienable right to be and voice and express EXACTLY who you are?  

We can’t let fear pigeonhole us into terrible futures anymore, our future is our own to design and that starts TODAY. 

I want Every. Single. One of you to leave here today with a future action in mind and a plan in motion. This march started because Melinda approached me in a crowd and asked me to join her and I sent an email. 

I want you to find someone, anyone in the crowd, and I want you to start talking, and I want you to start planning, and I want you to start laying the bricks for future actions. It’s just as easy as talking to your neighbor. This, this today, it doesn’t change anything, it doesn’t move the needle, but what you do, no, what WE do tomorrow? That changes things.  

So tell me, are you gonna fight for your future? 

Say it with me: I’m GOING to fight. 

Say it with me: It WILL be hard.  

Say it with me: But we’re going to WIN!


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