Last winter, during Texas’ 85th legislative session, Ken Ballard stood up to talk about his son, Ashur.
“The thing is,” Ballard told the audience, “I only knew I had a son for the past two years. Twelve years prior to that I kept calling him my daughter.”
The video, which was shared on Facebook by the group Equality Texas, has gone viral, with thousands of people praising the gruff Texan dad for his work advocating for his transgender son, and transgender children around the country.
Although Ballard is a staunch advocate for his son now, he acknowledges that it hasn’t always been easy. He learned his child was transgender when he swept Ashur’s hospital room at the Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, and found a suicide note that said that if Ashur couldn’t live as the person he was inside, he didn’t want to live at all. Ashur had been hospitalized for severe cutting, and when his parents confronted him about the note, he admitted he had tried to take his own life a couple of weeks before, but had not succeeded. It was then Ballard realized he had to make a choice.
“Was I going to be his bully? Was I going to try to put him back in a box that fit the rules of my world at the time?” he said.
Instead, Ballard and his family embraced their son, and went on to advocate for his rights in a state that has repeatedly tried to take them away. Just recently, a “bathroom bill” was debated in the Texas legislature that would have forced trans Texans to use the bathroom corresponding to the sex they were assigned at birth. Fortunately, it was overturned, and Joe Straus, the Texas House speaker, spoke out strongly against it, stating: “I don’t want the suicide of a single Texan on my hands.”
Straus is not hyperbolizing. Due to a number of factors, including the widespread discrimination they face at home, at work, and in public, trans individuals are at a far higher risk of suicide than others, and an August 2016 study found that 30 percent of transgender youth report a history of at least one suicide attempt.
In his speech, Ballard explains that he is not one to talk openly about his feelings, but that he has been moved to do so by the discrimination he sees all around him, from laws telling his son which bathroom he can or cannot use, to the overt racism of a border wall, to the policing of women's bodies.
"And I have to finish with the immortal words of the Foo Fighters," he concludes, "'It’s times like this you give and give again. It’s times like this you love and love again.'"
Read the full transcript of Ken Ballard's speech below: