PROVINCETOWN — Lilith Tate and her mother, Lark, left Utah.
Wren LaPlant left Texas.
JC Rey left Florida.
Each of them came to Provincetown seeking a haven amid the rise in anti-transgender legislation across the country. They are part of a growing migration estimated in the tens of thousands. One-quarter of transgender adults say they have left their communities or states because of anti-LGBTQ legislation, according to a 2022 KFF/Washington Post survey of 515 transgender adults in the U.S.
The Tates, LaPlant, and Rey came to Provincetown for medical care and the comforts of living in a small town without the accompanying small-mindedness. In the last few years, at least 37 states have seen the introduction of bills restricting access to gender-affirming care, according to Reuters. In response, in July 2021, then-Gov. Charlie Baker signed An Act Expanding Protections for Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Care into law. It provides protection for gender-affirming health care and for transgender people traveling to Massachusetts, seeking care.
Ann Burke, a registered nurse who organizes a support group at the Cape Cod Trans Fund, said that she has seen an influx of transgender people moving to Cape Cod in recent years. Every few days she receives emails from transgender people thinking of moving here, and she warns them that it can be difficult to find gender-affirming care regardless of the Massachusetts law. Many transgender Outer Cape residents must travel to Boston to receive care.
The four arrivals found a welcoming, inclusive community largely free of transphobia. Yet they also confronted a shortage of affordable housing and of nearby gender-affirming care and a lack of community resources for transgender people. Of the four, only one has made Provincetown her home.
Seeking a New Home
In late April, Lark Tate, 41, a mental health-care professional who works with adolescents, posted a message on social media saying she was seeking housing in Provincetown. She was looking to leave Salt Lake City, she wrote, because the laws in Utah “are making it no longer safe” for Lilith, her 16-year-old transgender daughter, to live there. She included a photo of herself and Lilith, grinning, taken in their car, as if they were ready to leave any minute.
Dozens of people commented on Lark’s post, most alerting her that there are few teenagers living in Provincetown and a dearth of affordable rentals, even in the off-season.
In January 2023, Utah had banned gender-affirming surgery for minors. “Lilith’s pediatrician, who is one of the best in the state to treat gender issues, left the state because he didn’t feel safe anymore,” Tate said in a recent phone interview. “My daughter’s care got totally shaken — it was a big gut punch.” Without her primary care physician, Lilith did not have someone to supervise her hormone replacement therapy (HRT), her mother said.
At that point, Tate, Lilith, and Lilith’s father, John Tate, a mechanic, decided it was time for the family to leave. They researched safe destinations and found that Massachusetts was one of 11 states with “shield laws” to protect out-of-staters from penalties for seeking gender-affirming care.
It was in doing this research that Tate read about Provincetown. She decided to bring Lilith to the Outer Cape last summer for a brief vacation.
“It was the first time since she has socially transitioned that I felt comfortable enough to let her walk down the street by herself,” said Tate.
In Utah, “it’s pretty scary going to the bathroom,” Lilith told the Independent. “But in Provincetown, it really, really felt safe.”
Finding a place to live in Provincetown, however, has proved extraordinarily difficult — a common experience, given the steep cost of most housing here. (According to a 2023 Cape Cod Commission report, only 10 percent of Provincetown residents are year-round renters. And 56 percent of renter households in Provincetown are “cost burdened” — that is, they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing.)
To finance their move, Lark’s husband took a job outside Utah and is gone from their home for three weeks of each month.
Though the Tates haven’t found housing in Provincetown, Lark said she was warmed by the positive response she received from the community. “If I were to post that here,” she said, speaking by phone from Utah, “I would just get yelled at for being a bad mother.”
Striking Out on His Own
Wren LaPlant wears a Hawaiian shirt almost every day, has technicolor hair that is constantly changing hue, and sports glasses with a piece of tape holding one hinge together. In his junior year of high school, when he came out as transgender, he started wearing the brightly patterned shirts as a symbol of his “authentic self.”
LaPlant grew up in Tyler, Texas, a city best known as “the center of the Bible Belt,” he said. “No matter where you are, the first question you get asked is ‘What church do you go to?’ ” Every year at the city’s Pride Parade, dozens of protesters tote signs reading “God created them male and female.”
LaPlant, who uses both “he” and “they” pronouns, came to Provincetown this year through Summer of Sass, a program that brings LGBTQ young adults here for the season. He got a job working at the Human Rights Campaign store, but now that it is the off-season he is looking for work again.
Following the summer program’s end, LaPlant was able to keep living at the Summer of Sass house. He sees his time in Provincetown as a steppingstone to the future. He admitted, though, that “it’s very difficult to leave everything you’ve ever known and come to this new place that you’ve never known existed.”
Two years ago, when he was 18, LaPlant was kicked out of his family’s house. “It’s funny, actually,” he said. “I went to a church to get help.” There, he found a place to stay for his senior year. He began transitioning that year, after years of anticipation — he said he always knew he “did not feel right in my assigned gender.”
LaPlant attended Tyler Junior College and became vice president of the school’s LGBTQ association. At college, some students called him slurs and followed him back to his dorm. He said such experiences are “universal” for transgender young adults in Texas.
“The legislation [in Texas] has exacerbated everything,” LaPlant said. Last June, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed a law banning transgender minors from receiving puberty blockers and hormone therapies. Data from the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey showed that, in Texas, 34 percent of transgender people were living in poverty, compared to 17 percent in Massachusetts.
Though LaPlant calls Provincetown a “fairy tale,” he points out that it is not the perfect place for a young transgender person to land. He’s had trouble finding work since the summer, and he said the town should have more resources for young trans people. While he’s been able to maintain HRT and find a suitable therapist, he noted the limited access to gender-affirming surgery and other care, as reported earlier this month in the Independent.
In the next few months, LaPlant is planning on transferring to a college in the Boston area to be closer to other young people and to transition to care at Fenway Health. In Massachusetts, “there is more access to things that I never even saw as a possibility,” he said. “I don’t see the legislation in Texas going away for a while.”
A Provincetown Part-Timer
For two decades before she transitioned, JC Rey lived in Provincetown part-time, living the rest of the time in Western Massachusetts. In 2018, she came out as a woman and began transitioning. Around the same time, she decided to go to Florida and stay with a friend there. This was a year before Gov. Ron DeSantis took office.
In St. Petersburg, Rey found community and had a “pretty good experience” at first, she said. She was satisfied with her health care and was getting HRT. And she found it relatively safe, though she was “very careful and calculated in where I positioned myself. In terms of employment, I always stayed close to an LGBTQ-owned and -operated business.”
Yet after receiving HRT for five years, she said she was put in “limbo” because of the lack of options for surgery in Florida. In the spring of 2023 alone, Gov. DeSantis signed six anti-transgender bills into law, including HB 1069, which prohibits educators from discussing sexual orientation or gender in pre-K through 8th-grade education; SB 254, a ban on gender-affirming care; and HB 1521, an anti-trans bathroom bill.
“Florida was getting crazier and crazier,” Rey said. She came back to Provincetown in March 2023 and is currently in the process of switching over from her Florida health-care plan.
In Provincetown, she “can walk down the street openly and be me, and I’ve never felt threatened,” Rey said. “I wish I saw more trans people here that were able to come and experience it. But there’s a huge younger community that just can’t afford to come here anymore, and that’s sad, because it is such a magical place.”