High schoolers participate in 1st Annual Philadelphia Civics Day

Students from schools such as Constitution High School, Central High School, and Lincoln High School presented presentations on current policy.

From left to right, Wes Allen, Kavi Shahnawaz, and Kai Willis-Carroll gave a presentation on transgender rights at the 1st Annual Philadelphia Civics Day. (Sam Searles/WHYY)

From left to right, Wes Allen, Kavi Shahnawaz, and Kai Willis-Carroll gave a presentation on transgender rights at the 1st Annual Philadelphia Civics Day. (Sam Searles/WHYY)

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This story is a part of the Every Voice, Every Vote series.

High school students from across Philadelphia gathered at the National Constitution Center for the first annual Philadelphia Civics Day on Thursday morning.

Students presented projects on a variety of policies, including gun violence, environmental protections, and mental health. One team from Central High School focused on several current bills in Pennsylvania surrounding transgender rights.

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Kai Willis-Carroll, Kavi Shahnawaz, and Wes Allen prepared to present their project with a wealth of data.

“Currently,” Allen began, “there are over 485 anti-trans bills that have been proposed across America in forty-seven states. And these bills have been proposed in just 2023. We’re here fighting against the three anti-trans bills in Pa. today, House Bills 2613, 19, and 138. These bills would actively restrict trans rights like access to medical, gender-affirming care, education about queer youth, and education to youth about queer communities. And it would ban trans kids from playing on educational sports teams.”

All three students chose trans rights as a topic because the issue is personal. “All three of us are trans,” said Allen. “We’ve been directly affected by anti-trans hate and legislation.”

Kavi Shahnawaz said their team conducted nationwide, statewide, and schoolwide research.

“We have a large student population who identifies as LGBTQ+,” they said. “Black and indigenous people of color who identify as trans are disproportionately harassed by police. They have higher rates of suicidality and suicide attempts… this has directly impacted me as a South Asian person who identifies as trans and non-binary.”

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The presentation included information on trends and statistics, along with a scannable QR code to offer an interactive experience. Kai Willis-Carrol hoped that people would get involved. “We have this QR code set up on our board so that people can scan it [which] will bring people to an email script that we wrote where they can email their legislator telling them to vote against these bills.”

Before the day’s events began (including an introductory speech by State Representative Chris Rabb), Allen, Willis-Carroll, and Shahnawaz put on their finishing touches and encouraged each other.

“Today we’re here fighting to keep our rights,” said Allen. “To have the same protections under the law as everyone else.”

This story is a part of Every Voice, Every Vote, a collaborative project managed by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism. Lead support is provided by the William Penn Foundation with additional funding from The Lenfest Institute, Peter and Judy Leone, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Harriet and Larry Weiss, and the Wyncote Foundation, among others. Learn more about the project and view a full list of supporters here.

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