DENTON — Tucked in the back corner of Patchouli Joe’s Books and Indulgence on Saturday afternoon, a dozen little faces sat in a semicircle and gazed up at the face of the storyteller.
Amber Briggle, nestled into a deep blue leather chair, began to read: “This is Ruthie. She is a transgender girl. GIRL is Ruthie’s gender identity.”
Ruthie has a dog, Briggle remarked, pointing to the illustration in the book. Who else has a dog, she asked. A half-dozen little hands shot up. “My dog’s name is Onyx,” one child exclaimed. After storytime, a singer stepped in, picked up a ukulele and began to strum.
“We’ve been sitting for too long,” the singer said playfully. “Let’s wiggle!”
Squealing gleefully, a dozen little bodies jumped up and started to dance.
Sunday is Transgender Day of Remembrance, a somber time to mark those lost to acts of anti-trans violence in the past year. But Saturday was the last day of Transgender Awareness Week, a time to increase visibility about the community and the unique issues it faces.
Briggle, whose 14-year-old son, Max, is transgender, wanted to find a way to celebrate. She had coordinated Transgender Storytimes in the past but needed a new venue. The owners of Patchouli Joe’s were proud to act as hosts.
“Amber’s coming from a place of love. We’re coming from a place of love,” said Joe Mayes, who opened the Denton shop with his wife, Diane, in 2021. “That’s really the foundation of our stories.”
The Mayeses knew the event would not be without controversy.
Transgender rights, especially those of trans youth, have become increasingly politicized. This year, protesters demanding children be banned from drag shows and other LGBT-friendly events have shown up at all-ages gatherings across the state.
So Joe Mayes was prepared when a small-but-vocal group of protesters showed up Saturday. He made sure police were on site, and a group of supporters, including local women who play roller derby, blocked the windows with huge rainbow flags. Behind this protective shield, the families gathered inside could not hear the protesters’ taunts and shouts.
“I’ve always hated bullies,” said Mayes, a veteran. “Everybody deserves to be loved.”
Max seemed unfazed by the protesters outside. Already tall for his age, he sat patiently, long legs tucked underneath him, as his mom and dad chatted with other parents at the event.
For the Briggles, the past year has been marked by some hardship. In February, Gov. Greg Abbott directed the Department of Family and Protective Services to investigate any reports of trans minors receiving gender-affirming medical treatments like puberty blockers or hormone therapy.
At least 11 families were targeted. The investigation into the Briggles has been closed, but the family is still among those suing the state over its policies for trans kids. So far they have won in court, convincing a judge to put the probes on hold for now. The Briggles know the fight will continue when lawmakers meet in January, however.
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick has promised to mirror Florida’s efforts to ban the discussion of gender and sexual orientation in elementary school classrooms, and Republican lawmakers have already filed bills to target gender-affirming care and ban kids from drag shows.
Amid these policies, some transgender Texans have chosen to leave. But the Briggles said they will not be forced to become “internally displaced” people in their own country.
“I love Texas. I really do,” Amber Briggle said. “We shouldn’t have to leave our state to feel safe.”