Activist Chloe Cole sparks campus protest

In response to Cole’s “Regrets of a Former Trans Kid” lecture, hosted by the Dartmouth College Republicans, community members protested outside the event to support transgender youth.

by Aryanna Qusba | 4/20/23 5:05am

by Brennan Welsh / The Dartmouth

On April 17, the Dartmouth College Republicans hosted activist Chloe Cole — an 18-year-old woman who de-transitioned and now advocates against gender-affirming healthcare for youth — and guest speaker Carrie Mendoza, a doctor for Advocate Health Care in Hazel Crest, Illinois. The lecture, titled “Regrets of a Former Trans Kid,” triggered backlash from members of the Dartmouth community, who protested outside the event in support of transgender rights and healthcare. 

Before the event, around 150 students from various campus groups, including the Asian American Studies collective, the Dartmouth Democrats, The Dartmouth Radical, Spare Rib and the Student Workers Collective at Dartmouth, chanted in support of gender-affirming healthcare for transgender individuals. Organized clubs were joined by other students hoping to challenge Cole’s message and support the transgender community.  

“A lot of [SWCD] members are either trans or non-binary or queer and we want to support them,” SWCD organizer Polly Chesnokova ’24 said. “We think it’s abhorrent that the College is helping this event happen and giving space to hate speech and misleading information.”

In response to students’ frustrations, College spokesperson Diana Lawrence referred to the College’s  policy on freedom of expression and dissent.

“Dartmouth prizes and defends the right of free speech and the freedom of the individual to make their own disclosures, while at the same time recognizing that such freedom exists in the context of the law and in responsibility for one’s own actions,” the policy states. “Protest or demonstration shall not be discouraged so long as neither force nor the threat of force is used, and so long as the orderly processes of the institution are not deliberately obstructed.” 

The event itself was open to the public, with a security guard and Safety and Security officer positioned outside and within Moore Hall. College Republicans president Chloe Ezzo ’22 moderated the conversation. 

The event and protest come amid a growing national debate over transgender rights — especially with regard to participation in athletics — which has mobilized conservatives around the issue, the New York Times reported this week. 

After a brief introduction, Cole — who is from California, according to the Los Angeles Times — explained that she was assigned female at birth and decided to transition during her sophomore year of high school. She said she was introduced to the concept of being transgender through social media, adding that she also connected with other LGBTQ+ youth through video games, cartoons and anime. 

At age 13, Cole said she then began using puberty blockers and testosterone. She said she continued to struggle with body image issues and was medicated for depression later that year.

“I told my therapist I wanted to get top surgery, and she referred me to a gender specialist who wrote a letter of recommendation to a surgeon,” she said. “Within six months, I went under the knife.” 

Cole said recovering from her top surgery was difficult, adding that she began to understand the “reality of the situation” a few months post-operation. While Cole said she was initially “happier” after her transition, she said she began to feel “unhappy being a boy.”

“That was when it really started to come crashing down,” Cole said. “Now I probably can’t have a child, and I’ll certainly never have the option to breastfeed. I’ll never know what that’s like. This ripped a hole in my heart, and I couldn’t go on any longer like that.”

Cole said she chose to detransition at age 16, adding that she was “shamed” by the transgender community online for her decision. Cole is now suing Kaiser Permanente, her healthcare provider and the hospital where her surgeries have taken place.

Cole explained that she thinks children are “too young” to make lasting medical decisions, adding that adults are justified to receive gender-affirming care.

“Giving kids life-altering surgeries when they don’t understand the consequences — I certainly didn’t — is irresponsible,” she said. “And if you are a fully grown adult and you have undergone physiotherapy and completely understand the consequences, yes, I support you getting that surgery. The issue is young kids being fed this information.”

Ezzo echoed Cole’s platform, asserting that children are not able to offer informed consent for gender-affirming procedures. 

“The whole point that we’re trying to emphasize in this event is that in medicine, you need to have informed consent,” Ezzo said. “And you can’t have consent when you’re so young, and you can’t really be properly informed.”

According to Mendoza, the medical community is “so quick to present gender dysphoria as the issue” because treatment for gender dysphoria is “a lot easier” — with a more straightforward standard for care — than treatments for other psychiatric conditions. At the same time, Mendoza said treatment for gender dysphoria can have lasting impacts on the patient.

“Once a person has undergone these treatments, they’re guaranteed to be a lifelong patient, because once you have the gonads and the genitalia, you are no longer capable of normal sexual function,” Mendoza said. “They can’t have their own children and can’t function normally without exogenous hormones.”

Anastasia Rodzianko, a community member from Etna, New Hampshire said she attended the event because a friend forwarded her an email from the College Republicans. As a parent with young children, Rodzianko said she and her husband “weren’t really aware of the gender spectrum” until this year.  

Rodzianko added that she was “surprised” and “scared” by students protesting outside, adding that she “didn’t realize this was such an emotional issue.”

 On the other hand, many students said the event was harmful to the transgender community.

Quinn Allred ’26, who identifies as a cisgender, gay man, said he attended the protest and intentionally boycotted the event to show the Dartmouth transgender community that they are “supported and loved.” 

Allred added that he took issue with Cole’s platform to restrict minors from getting gender-affirming medical treatments. 

“Conservatives are all about preserving the family unit but children can’t transition without parental consent in the majority of cases,” Allred said. “[Cole’s platform] actually takes the power away from families and gives it to the government, which is so incongruent with the [Conservatives’] own ideology.” 

As a non-binary student, Chesnokova said that they were “surprised” that the College allowed this event to happen, especially given the increased risk of suicidal thoughts or suicide for transgender youth.

According to an email sent to the student body, the Office of Pluralism and Leadership and LGBTQIA+ Student Advising hosted a joint “Drop In Space” during the Cole event with beverages, coloring books, information about campus resources and pastries. 

“As part of Pride Month, events and opportunities, such as the drop-in space, were created to enable students to connect with one another, discuss the ever-changing political climate and just be together in the space,” senior assistant dean and OPAL director Rachele Hall wrote in an email statement. 

The Dartmouth Democrats also released a statement on April 18 in response to the event.

“Gender-affirming healthcare is life-saving healthcare and the demonization of this practice occurring in state legislatures across the country is abhorrent,” the statement wrote. “Conversations like these seek to invalidate the existence of trans siblings.”