‘I want you

to hear me’

Hildie Edwards has become Minnesota’s foremost advocate for transgender youth

‘I want you

to hear me’

Hildie Edwards has become Minnesota’s foremost advocate for transgender youth

From speaking at the State Capitol to performing at the Pride Festival, the 13-year-old is telling her story amid a national furor over transgender rights.

Hildie Edwards leaned forward in the red velvet seat above the Minnesota Senate, the lone child in an audience of adults.

Flanked by her parents, she wore her "trans is beautiful" T-shirt and fidgeted with curly French braids as she watched the politicians debate whether to protect people seeking gender-affirming care. She didn't need them to explain the stakes.

“So many trans kids my age are so scared to share their story at this age. And one of us is going to have to be the change, and I'm willing to take that role in this world right now.”
Hildie Edwards on her trans rights activism

She knew states across the country are banning transgender health care for kids like her, and that her family's recent trip to see her great-grandma in Florida felt less safe than past visits. She also knew that showing up at the Capitol this year and talking to lawmakers might remind them that "We are actually talking about real people, real families."

The 13-year-old has quickly become the state's most prominent transgender youth advocate, telling her story amid a national political firestorm over trans rights and the added turbulence of middle school.

"So many trans kids my age are so scared to share their story at this age. And one of us is going to have to be the change, and I'm willing to take that role in this world right now," she said. "I don't want next-generation trans kids to ever experience what I experienced."

An intro to politics

It was a cold March day in 2022 when Hildie took the microphone on the steps of the State Capitol. It was her first time speaking at a political rally.

"Can you all hear me?" she asked, peeking over the lectern in a pink hat to look at the crowd advocating for trans kids. "OK, good, because I want you to hear me."

She called for Congress to pass the Equality Act, which would expand the Civil Rights Act to add protections for LGBTQ people, and urged kids to tell their parents to vote for candidates "that will keep us safe." She gave a shout-out to her friend Libby Gonzales, a transgender youth advocate in Texas. The state has restricted trans athletes' participation in school sports and investigated parents of children receiving gender-affirming care.

Hildie told adults trying to take away their rights to "get over yourself. Hush."

Hildie spent many hours at the State Capitol advocating for trans rights. At right, she attended the signing in April of a bill protecting gender-affirming health care in Minnesota.

After that speech, the events and media interviews snowballed. Last summer, she was the Twin Cities Pride Parade's youngest-ever grand marshal. In February she addressed a state Senate committee, telling them, "I can't think of anything more out-of-control with the government than having old people with no qualifications or expertise interfere with the decisions families make about the health of their kids. It's pretty gross."

Her tone was biting and she punctuated sentences by surveying the panel of Democrats and Republicans. She sounded very different in June when she owned the stage for a half hour at the Pride Festival, where she has been performing for years. She strutted and danced in a furry rainbow coat and neon pink platform sneakers, belting Amy Winehouse and Lady Gaga. She ad-libbed jokes and sassily dedicated a Disney song to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

She's a theater kid, after all. She is confident on a stage, projects her voice and knows how to work a crowd. She models, has shot two commercials — for Expedia and the Human Rights Campaign — and recently played Olaf in her school's production of "Frozen," giving the snowman glam makeup. She dreams of being the next Florence Pugh or Anya Taylor-Joy and playing a "scream queen" in horror movies, her favorite.

Her next role, at the Children's Theatre Company, feels personal. She is in the fall production of "Morris Micklewhite and the Tangerine Dress," about a boy who likes to wear a dress from his school's dress-up box. She'll play a bully. If someone's going to fill that role, she said it should be a person who has experienced bullying firsthand.

“She has a potential to become a voice of a generation ... It's about humanity, and fighting for equality.”
— Minneapolis City Council President Andrea Jenkins on Hildie's potential

Her shift to middle school last fall hasn't been entirely smooth. She has encountered slurs and deadnaming, where people use the name she was given at birth and no longer uses, she said during an interview at her home, where yard signs promote inclusivity and a rainbow owl her little sister Dahlia painted hangs on the wall next to the front door.

Hildie said she's hopeful that the Children's Theatre play opens kids' minds and that they have conversations with their parents.

"The beliefs of transphobia and homophobia, I feel like it's generational at this point. It's passed down, it's passed down, it's passed down, until finally someone says, 'Stop. This isn't right,'" she said. "And this generation, I hope, will be the 'Stop, that's not right.'"

'Voice of a generation'

Hildie was only 5 when her family launched into advocacy.

After years of gravitating toward dresses and Disney princesses, in kindergarten she began to consistently insist on transitioning. Her parents, Hannah and David, asked Nova Classical Academy in St. Paul to tell other students that her name was Hildie and her pronouns were she/her, and to read the picture book "I Am Jazz," about a transgender girl.

They met roadblocks and filed a charge against the charter school. The city of St. Paul found probable cause for discrimination. The family later received a $120,000 settlement that Hildie said will one day pay for her college tuition.

She shifted to St. Anthony Park Elementary, where she said teachers were supportive and classmates accepted the announcement that she was trans with, "Whatever, we're going to recess."

Meanwhile, the family was connecting with a network of advocates and politicians.

Hildie's parents, both former teachers, became deeply involved in advocating for transgender youth. Her dad switched careers to train people on how to create safe learning environments for LGBTQ students. Her mom directs Transforming Families, which brings together families of LGBTQ young people.

Hildie and her little sister, Dahlia, played at their home in Eagan. Above, Hildie takes a daily estrogen pill.

Hildie got to know lawmakers such as state Sens. Erin Murphy and Scott Dibble, both of whom described themselves as "big fans," and Minneapolis City Council President Andrea Jenkins, the nation's first openly transgender African American woman in elected office. Jenkins has a Google photo collage of the two of them going back eight years.

"She has a potential to become a voice of a generation," Jenkins said of Hildie, whom she described as "effervescent" and unusually outgoing. "To be so young and really able to connect with adults in really authentic ways — and it's not even about gender between me and Hildie. It's about humanity, and fighting for equality."

Pushing past hate

In one of a handful of visits to the State Capitol this year, Hildie walked around the rotunda with her family waving a "pass the trans refuge bill" sign before the Senate vote. A rumor spread through the crowd that a man had threatened to harm trans advocates.

It shook Hildie, who doesn't cry easily, to tears.

"It does get overwhelming sometimes," she said later. "When you realize these are actual people. Actual people who hate you that much. Who hate your community that much."

Minnesota Rep. Leigh Finke, who called Hildie "a role model for me," faced insults and threats this session as the state's first transgender legislator. Finke said young people in the trans rights movement need a strong support system, good relationships and to be able to just be a kid.

The Twin Cities Pride Parade featured its youngest grand marshal in history.

After the rumor, the Edwards family stepped away from the crowd, taking a break in the Capitol basement. Hildie and Dahlia doodled a creature that was part cat, part fish. The sisters dubbed him Mortimer.

The family headed home for dinner. But when they heard the Senate was preparing to vote on the transgender health care bill, Hannah asked if Hildie wanted to go back. She did.

They watched lawmakers, divided along party lines, pass the bill to protect transgender people, their families and doctors from legal repercussions for seeking gender-affirming care in Minnesota. Hildie tossed her hands in the air in silent jubilation and joined a buoyant crowd assembling outside the Senate.

Chief bill sponsor Sen. Erin Maye Quade burst through the doors and into Hildie's arms. Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, standing at Hildie's side, leaned over and told her she was proud of her. A stranger gave her a fist bump. She posed for photos with Dibble and Murphy in the Senate president's seat, holding the gavel.

A week later, she was back around the Capitol.

Gov. Tim Walz was set to sign the transgender health care protection bill into law, and Hildie was standing at his side when he did.