Transgender rights activist Henry Berg-Brousseau has died at 24, leaving behind a powerful legacy that inspired many to fight for trans justice.
Berg-Brousseau was serving as the deputy press secretary for politics for Human Rights Campaign, a major advocacy group for LGBTQ+ rights in the U.S. His mother, Kentucky State Sen. Karen Berg, confirmed this week that her son died by suicide in his Arlington, Virginia, home.
“The depth of his loss is yet to be absorbed,” Berg said in a statement. “I gave my whole heart trying to protect my child from a world where some people and especially some politicians continued to believe that marginalizing my child was OK simply because of who he was.”
“The lack of acceptance took a toll on Henry. He long struggled with mental illness, not because he was trans but born from his difficulty finding acceptance,” Berg said.
Berg-Brousseau’s death comes amid a difficult year for trans and gender-nonconforming people.There’s been a dramatic rise in anti-trans rhetoric and policymaking in all levels of government, and in 2022 alone, more than 171 anti-trans bills—and more than 300 anti-LGBTQ bills—have been introduced across the U.S.
Trans people are already more likely to experience mental health struggles, including anxiety, depression, PTSD, and thoughts of suicide, than cisgender people. Nearly half of all LGBTQ youth have seriously considered suicide. But those issues can be mitigated with puberty blockers and other gender-affirming therapies, which are safe and effective, and are correlated with better mental health outcomes for trans people.
A report released in January found that 85 percent of trans youth said that debates over anti-trans policies in state legislators negatively impact their mental health. “The vitriol against trans people is not happening in a vacuum,” Berg said in a statement. “It is not just a way of scoring political points by exacerbating the culture wars. It has real world implications.”
Tributes honouring Berg-Brousseau remember him for his relentless push to champion trans rights, fearless advocacy, passion, sense of humor, and for being an “absolute light.” He was an avid knitter and loved West Wing, according to his obituary.
“He will be remembered for his drive to make this world a more accepting place, his ambition to use communications and politics as a force for positive change, and his eagerness to make everyone around him feel loved,” his obituary said.
His obituary recalled how, as a high school student in Kentucky, he was already advocating for LGBTQ rights, including by protesting conversion therapy. In 2015, Berg-Brousseau, then 16, spoke out at a Kentucky Senate committee meeting against restrictive bathroom policies that would prevent trans students from using bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender.
“If you don’t know a transgender kid already, you do now. You know me, Henry. And I’d be honored to continue to work with you and help educate you on all trans issues. I’d be even more honored to call you all friends,” he told senators at the time. The speech was ultimately shared on John Oliver Tonight in 2015. The senate passed the bill, but it was struck down by the Democrat-controlled House.
In college, Berg-Brousseau was a founding member of George Washington University’s chapter of Delta Lambda Phi, an LGBTQ+ fraternity. He ultimately made advocacy his career.
“This grace, compassion, and understanding was not always returned to him,” his mother said, adding that Berg-Brousseau was aware of the hateful anti-trans vitriol circulating on a daily basis, and that the hate building across the U.S. weighed on him. “In one of our last conversations he wondered if he was safe walking down the street,” she said.
Berg-Brousseau’s funeral was held on Wednesday in Kentucky. He is survived by his parents, sister, and dog, Bibi.
“In honor of Henry’s life, we must come together and speak out against injustice. We must fight for our transgender family. We must celebrate his light, and honor him by continuing to fight for full equality for all,” said Human Rights Campaign president Kelley Robinson in a statement.