Transgender Archaeologist Fired From Federal Job After Posing With AR-15

Archaeology dig and Kayla Denker
Archaeology dig and Kayla Denker

Recently, a transgender woman from Colorado who posted a video loading an AR-15 after a conservative extremist called for eradicating “transgenderism” was fired from her federal job.

Kayla Denker says sacking her from her job on April 14 exemplifies a double standard where right-wingers can pose with guns, but transgender women cannot.

A video of Denker went viral in March.

The 36-year-old is holding a legally purchased AR-15 long gun. She repeatedly racks the weapon and shows off the loaded magazine.

“While advocating for trans people to ‘arm ourselves’ is not any kind of a solution to the genocide we are facing, I do want to say that if any of you transphobes do try to come for me, I am taking a few of you with me,” the video caption reads.

It became viral after the mid-March shooting at Covenant School in Nashville, which killed six people, including three children. Radical right-wingers began sharing Denker’s video after police officials suggested the Nashville shooter was transgender.

In addition, right-wing trolls claimed Denker was threatening violence on a “Transgender Day of Vengeance,” an event that never occurred but was latched onto by conservatives who tried to hyperfocus on it instead of Transgender Day of Visibility, which is observed March 31.

Following the viral post, Denker locked her social media accounts. The Daily Mail and Newsweek wrote about Denker but did not include her response.

Assault rifles are often pictured with members of the far right, including many former and current members of Congress. Transphobic U.S. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene and Lauren Boebert have shown themselves handling long guns.

Denker says that because she is transgender, the right freaked out.

“Another trans lunatic showing off ‘her’ gun. Why are these mentally ill people not locked up in a psychiatric facility?” wrote one account with a clip of the video, which was viewed more than 7 million times in that tweet alone.

Denker tweeted earlier this month that she was fired from the U.S. Forest Service.

“I’ve been fired from my job with the Forest Service because of the lies published by the Daily Mail, Newsweek, and other right-wing tabloids,” Denker wrote.

“But more poignantly: I was fired by the Biden administration for being a trans woman that owns a gun,” she added.

The Forest Service is an agency under the purview of the Department of Agriculture.

“When I say the Biden administration, I mean literally that,” Denker tweeted. “My boss just called me, crying, to tell me that he did everything he could to stop this outcome, but the call to fire me came directly from Washington. So someone fairly high in the Department of Agriculture fired me.”

Denker joined the agency as an archaeologist in October. However, Denker told The Advocate that she previously worked at the department as a seasonal employee and has worked for the federal government since 2016. Although the video might initially take some viewers aback, she says doesn’t think she did anything wrong because she didn’t threaten anyone. Her only intent was to warn those who would harm her that she would defend herself.

“It’s all rooted in conservative rhetoric, which is painting us as terrorists as trans people in general, which is entirely a lie,” she said. Before the shooting in Nashville, Denker said, "all they had was lies, where every time there was a mass shooting, [the right] would pick a random trans person on social media and then claim they were the shooter when in fact they were just a random person.”

She said of her firing, “I do believe that it is a violation of my First and Second Amendment rights because I worked for a government entity, and this is the government restricting my speech and my right to own a firearm.”

She’s being held to a new standard, she said.

“I’ve worked for the government for quite a long time now,” Denker said. “And I have seen government workers in various agencies, including the Forest Service, that have made posts very similar to mine — usually conservative white cis men — and nothing happened. No one cared, and it never was a big deal in any capacity. And so the standard they claim to be cited when firing me does not exist, or they don’t hold anyone else to it. So I find it directly discriminatory against me as a trans woman.”

A spokesperson for the Forest Service told The Advocate that he could not comment on Denker’s case.

“We are not able to provide any information in response to internal personnel matters,” the spokesperson said. “All employees are informed of their rights to challenge Agency actions or decisions. The United States Department of Agriculture and the Forest Service are committed to ensuring that our offices, national forests and grasslands, and service to the American people are free from harassment and discrimination. If an employee feels that they are a victim of discrimination, they can initiate a complaint through the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) process.”

Denker provided The Advocate with copies of the paperwork she received terminating her employment.

“This letter is to inform you that you are being terminated from your appointment and from Federal service,” the letter begins.

“Your termination is effective immediately and is based on the following reasons,” it continues.

A member of the public reported Denker “advocating violence” to the department’s management, the letter states.

Upon notification, the department reviewed the social media post and identified Denker as the author.

“Your social media activity generated media attention from and,” the notice stated.

“You indicated that you previously posted the video but that it was not supposed to be shared, and it was taken out of context. On March 31, 2023, you further explained the video was posted on March 5, 2023, and had nothing to do with any movement or ‘day of vengeance.’ Instead, you said you made the video because you were receiving death threats, and you were trying to discourage people from acting on those threats. You explained that you were not threatening to shoot anyone.

“I find your post inappropriate because it included you with a gun and implying you would use it under a certain circumstance. While I understand you said you made this in response to death threats, this type of post is not appropriate under any circumstance. More aggravating, you were identified as a Forest Service employee, and this does not demonstrate the elevated ethical standards you are required to adhere to as a federal employee,” the letter signed by a Deputy Forest Supervisor concludes before outlining an appeals process.

Transgender people are much more likely to be the victims of a violent crime than the perpetrator of one.

With one exception, Denker cannot appeal her termination because it took place during the probationary period, the letter indicates.

“As a probationary employee, you are not entitled to grieve this action under the agency’s grievance procedures, nor do you have a right to file an appeal with the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB) unless you feel this action is based on partisan political reasons or your marital status. If you believe you have a right to file an appeal with MSPB, you must submit your appeal within thirty (30) calendar days of the effective date of this action or the date you received this notice, whichever is later,” it states.

Denker said her boss, who was not keen on letting her go and tried to help her, told her the call “came in from Washington” to fire her. She says she believes the decision came from the Biden administration.

According to Denker, President Joe Biden and his administration should show their support for transgender people who she says are being scapegoated by the right. She said administration officials have offered vocal support for transgender Americans but no substance.

“So it’s not very good support,” she says. “And, of course, the conservative hypocrisy is self-evident.”

She says all she wants is her job back. Denker has started a GoFundMe campaign to help while she decides on her next steps.

The Advocate reached out to a spokesperson for the Department of Agriculture but did not hear back.