Arkansas student jailed for peaceful protest where he simply chanted ‘trans lives matter’

A person holds up a sign reading 'Trans rights are human rights' in the blue, pink and white colours of the trans Pride flag during a protest

A University of Central Arkansas student was sentenced to 10 days in jail for peacefully protesting a local school board’s anti-trans policies.

Alex Barnett, 20, was tried in Faulkner County District Court in December 2022 and convicted of criminal trespass and failure to disperse after pleading guilty to the charges.

In addition to the 10-day sentence, which he has since served, Barnett was ordered to pay a $650 fine.

Barnett’s protest was in reaction to the Conway school board introducing anti-trans policies. Barnett’s story has recently received widespread attention after his case was reported on by Judd Legum for his Substack, Popular Information.

In October 2022, the Conway school board voted to implement new regulations that forced students to use bathrooms that align with their sex assigned at birth.

The school board also chose to ban two LGBTQ+ books, Beyond Magenta: Transgender Teens Speak Out by Susan Kuklin and the young adult novel Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender, deeming them “inappropriate”.

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Barnett saw a viral video circulating on social media of the explosive school board meeting where one attendee, Cal Poulsen, proclaimed LGBTQ+ people are of a “depraved mind” and they “do what they should not be doing”.

“They invent ways of doing evil. But let me remind you that those who do such things deserve death,” Poulsen said at the meeting.


If you thought this was a sermon at church, you’d be wrong. These were the words the Conway school board allowed to be spoken tonight. This man spoke right before a sophomore from Conway high who is a transgender student. He said, “let me remind you that those who do such things deserve d€@th.” He said those who do such things DESERVE D€@TH and the school board sat there and did NOTHING. CPSD should be ashamed. #trans #transgender #arkansas #conway #schoolboard #transrights #gender

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The videos moved Barnett to take action. He told Popular Information: “Ultimately, when I’m fighting for trans rights, I’m also fighting for my own rights.

“If you don’t show up for people who are marginalised, the people who are facing the most severe oppression from the government, if you don’t show up to help them, then you’re screwed whenever they come for you.”

In November 2022, Barnett organised a group of 20 University of Central Arkansas students to attend a Conway school board meeting and speak out against the new policies.

There were no seats available and the university students were told that they weren’t allowed to stand against the walls instead. They were asked to move to the lobby, a request with which they complied.

The group began chanting “trans lives matter”. The police told them to leave, and all but Barnett, Keylen Botley and Colburn Clark dispersed. They were arrested shortly after.

Botley took a plea deal and paid a fine of $450 with no jail time, while Barnett chose not to take a plea deal as he felt he hadn’t done anything wrong.

“If I were to plead guilty and take a plea deal, then that’s admitting I did something wrong, and I am looking for the mercy of the court,” he said.

During the trial, Barnett claimed the police fabricated their report by saying he intimidated members of the school board. He says this is false.

Barnett chose to defend himself, saying that what he did was “morally correct”.

“I have no remorse for what I did whatsoever.”

The judge who sentenced Barnett has a long history of Republican activism. When he ran for the Arkansas Supreme Court, his slogan was “Finally a Conservative Judge”.

Arkansas is just one of many US states that has introduced cruel anti-LGBTQ+ laws in the past year.

In March 2023, the Arkansas Senate approved one of the most extreme anti-trans bathroom bills in the US, allowing trans people to be charged with sexual indecency with a child if they remain in the same public changing facility with a “minor of the opposite sex present”.

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