A private moment between a heartbroken mother and her trans son has become a rallying cry for equality in Texas
Amber Briggle thought she was having a private moment with her 9-year-old son. She had no idea a photographer from the San Antonio Express News was capturing one of the most powerful images to come out of the fight for trans equality in Texas.
Briggle’s son Max is transgender. The Briggle family lives in Texas, where the state legislature convened a special session last month, at the behest of state Governor Greg Abbott, to debate a bill that would block trans people in the state from using bathrooms designated for the genders by which they identify.
“This is my transgender son in TEARS outside the Office of the Governor Greg Abbott,” Briggle wrote in a Facebook post where she shared the powerful photo of herself comforting Max, who was in tears sitting cross-legged on the floor of the Texas State Capitol building. “Can I just admit for a second how effing tired I am of having to comfort my baby and protect him from bullies in Austin? Let me just be real for a second. This sucks so hard. He deserves a summer vacation with his friends, not a political pissing contest with the Texas Legislature. Not fair. I’m mad as hell.”
In an essay for Refinery 29, Briggle explained the photo a little more.
“My 9-year-old son doesn’t have a political agenda; he’s just a kid,” she wrote. “You wouldn’t think so given the backlash against a photo I posted of him on Facebook this weekend, though: a crying child, sitting exhausted on the floor of the Texas capitol, as his concerned mother wipes his tears. Somehow that struck a nerve with people across the country, and the criticisms of my parenting and the validity of my transgender child’s experience have been the center of online conversation ever since.”
And after a long day of fighting those bullies, Briggle wrote, Max had had enough.
“He sat his little butt down, confessed to me how tired he was, and asked if we could go home. So I did what any loving mother would do: I canceled the rest of our legislative visits, wiped his tears, and took him out for ice cream. That’s what parents do when their kids have a tough day. That’s what you see in this photo.”
But Briggle told Scary Mommy going viral hasn’t affected Max much at all.
“Max is actually on summer break right now with his dad and little sister, camping in Yellowstone and in the Grand Tetons, so he is fortunately far removed from all this drama and is safe while the trolls do their trolling thing,” she said. “Max fortunately doesn’t spend much time or energy worrying about these sorts of things, and as a mom, I have to say that that makes me exceptionally proud — he’s just a kid, and I don’t want him to have to worry about fighting for his civil rights. I want him to worry about his multiplication tables and spelling tests instead.”
The same goes for Max’s response to Donald Trump’s recent tweets claiming trans people were barred from serving in the U.S. military.
“Max was already camping and off the grid when the president tweeted that, so he has no idea. Max doesn’t really believe much of what Trump says anyway, so this is just another thing that would make him roll his eyes if he heard the news,” Briggle said, adding that she thinks Trump is “unpatriotic” and “a poor commander in chief.”
In her essay, Briggle wrote that Max wanted to go to the capitol to meet face-to-face with the people telling him he couldn’t use the bathroom of his choice. She called out Abbott and Texas lawmakers for picking on Max “exactly the same way a schoolyard bully would: by finding that one thing that makes Max different, and making sure that everyone treats him and anyone like him as ‘less-than’ because of it.”
Of course, Briggle’s post drew trolls. She addressed them, too, even though she told Scary Mommy that trolls are generally not worth any of her time. She defended Max’s decision — not hers, his — to go to the capitol and fight for his own right to exist comfortably and safely in public spaces. She defended Max’s right to be who he truly is: a boy. And she defended herself against those who say she was wrong for making her son cry, “because that’s something I did, not Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick and Gov. Greg Abbott, who made it necessary for us to be there in the first place,” she wrote.
The heartbreaking photo of Max has become a symbol for the fight for trans rights in Texas — and nationwide.
“People from literally all around the world have seen this picture, and for a lot of transgender people feeling attacked, alone, and frightened right now, this picture gave them hope. In this picture I think they saw that they ARE worthy of love, that there ARE parents out there willing to fight the tough fights for them, and that a mother can still love their child deeply and unconditionally, even (and especially) after transitioning,” Briggle said. “That’s what I hold on to. And I know that the positive response we’ve gotten truly does reflect the world’s opinion on all of this: that no matter who you are, you are still deserving of the same rights as everyone else, that you are made perfect in the image of God, and that if we all treated each other with a little more love, we’d all be in a lot better place. And with support like that, I know it’s just a matter of time before all transgender people are afforded the same rights and liberties as anyone else.”
What the photo really is, is a crystal clear look at the real pain caused by legislation that targets the trans community. As Briggle writes, this kind of legislation seeks to erase people like Max from public spaces — and that’s something none of us can let happen.