NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) – Parents of transgender youth, state advocates, and faith leaders hosted a roundtable conversation about the anti-LGBTQ+ legislation passed in Tennessee this year.

They spoke honestly about how these bills affect their families and ask others to listen with an open mind.

“This year, was a record year,” explains Chris Sanders, Executive Director of the Tennessee Equality Project. “Hitting transpeople in athletics, the curriculum at many points, the contents of public school libraries, what pronouns teachers can use and refuse to use for students. Most of these bills did not pass, but there were a few that did.”

In an intimate setting, they openly discuss the pain felt among those they love dearly.

“It’s not uncommon for me to put a picture of my family in front of them and say ‘this is who I’m talking about. This is a real family.’ When I come down here and ask you to vote on a certain bill, I want this child to be treated just like my other two kids,” explains Julie Bisgaard, a mother who also serves with the Tennessee Equality Project.

Many feel their plea for fair treatment is being misrepresented for political gain. Data from the 2021 Trevor Project, which is a national survey on LGBTQ+ youth mental health, found 42% seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year.

“My own child was suicidal. My own child had to be hospitalized because of these laws in Tennessee,” says Karen Orsulak through tears.

Another mother, Dakerri Rhone, chimes in about her child, “It just breaks my heart when she comes home and talks about the treatment and not being validated and being called – ‘it.'”

Speaking from the heart, as parents, they hope to calmly communicate the pain they watch their children endure.

“As we affirm our child, we are alienated from our church homes, from our families, and from many parts of society,” adds Sara Cunningham, founder of the organization Free Mom Hugs.

They’re encouraging families who haven’t been exposed to these issues to reach out and learn more.

“I was in my 40s before I met a transgender adult, that I know of,” Cunningham says. “I listened to their stories, and after that particular meeting, I went into my car and cried hot tears because I thought these are beautiful misunderstood people.”

As they continue their mission Sanders says “the road ahead is tough.”

They vow never to give up, and ask people to listen to their plight with the intent to understand not with the intent to only respond.

“These bills are birthed out of fear and ignorance,” Cunningham says. “And, I also know the power of love and education – that’s where we find our voice and that’s where we’ll be victorious.”