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If breaking the law meant that you could better someone’s life and potentially save their life entirely, would you do it? This is the moral dilemma we as a Queer community and allies are facing.
In 2021 alone, over 250 anti-LGBTQ+ bills were introduced. A large portion of these bills targeted trans youth. The best phrase to describe all of this aggressive legislation is body policing. Body policing is the practice of allowing social norms or rules of “appropriateness” to dictate what people can and cannot do with their bodies. However, this form of policing goes much further than just the body itself because, as we all know, you can’t control someone’s body without controlling their lives and minds as well.
First Florida, then Texas, next came Alabama, Arkansas, Ohio, Missouri, Oklahoma, Arizona, and others. The ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bills have transpired a massive amount of legislation restricting, limiting, and altogether banning access to healthcare, sports, and safe education. Legislators have deemed their efforts as “pro-family” when in reality they are depriving families of life-saving resources and threatening to take LGBTQ+ children away from their responsible, loving, and validating parents.
In at least 15 states, the safety and livelihood of over 58,000 transgender youth and adults is under attack. In an interview with NPR, Arjee Restar, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Washington, states that the bills that could be passed in these states embody a brazen display of “structural transphobia and homophobia.” One in particular is a bill in Kentucky that mimics a bill in Missouri, which would ban any form of “gender or sexual diversity training” in public schools. A bill proposed in Indiana would do the same.
Some legislators are fighting back. In March of this year, California Sen. Scott Wiener proposed legislation to make California a safe haven for transgender youth and their families. Similar legislation is now being considered in Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia. More on these initiatives here.
Over 300 anti-LGBTQ+ laws have been proposed this year so far, half of these specifically targeting trans youth. In Texas, over 30 bills were introduced to directly impact the lives of queer individuals, 13 of which targeting trans youth. All of these bills died this session thanks to the hard work of Equality Texas and other queer people and organizations across the nation.
Alabama and Arizona are two other states with anti-trans legislation underway. As Southern states, this is historically unsurprising. Just two months ago, Arizona governor, Doug Ducey, signed two bills outlawing gender-affirming care for trans youth. He also approved the anti-trans sports ban at the same time. In Alabama, bills SB 184 and HB322 were introduced. The first would make it a felony to provide gender-affirming care and force educators to “out” transgender children to their parents. The second would ban students (K-12) from using bathrooms and school facilities consistent with their gender identity. It would also ban conversations about sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms (K-5). So far, both bills have been challenged by various advocates of transgender rights. The first has been blocked by courts but the second is still in the works.
In Kentucky, two anti-trans bills–SB84 and HB253–were introduced but did not make it through. Bills like these would put inconceivable limits on what hospitals will be able to provide for transgender patients. They would also tremendously increase pressures on nonprofits and organizations that already work hard to ensure transgender youth and adults have access to life-saving resources.
Oliver Hall of Trans Health Justice said, “Some of [the anti-trans bills in circulation] are targeting certain health insurance plans from offering coverage for gender-affirming care. Much of the focus has been on children but a lot of these bills will also impact trans adults as well. Some even prohibit the use of state funds for gender-affirming care or distribution of state funds to any organization or individual that provides gender-affirming care.” Hall brought up a Missouri bill – which mirrors the Texas law – that classifies allowing one’s child to have access to gender-affirming care child abuse. Several investigations of this so-called “abuse” are already underway.
Hall said that parental support actually reduces suicidal ideation in trans youth, and access to hormone blockers, or puberty suppressors, has been shown to be associated with reduction in severe psychological distress and suicidality. After all, denying trans kids gender-affirming care will not stop them from being trans. It will however increase their risk of developing severe mental health issues. Last year, The Trevor Project conducted a survey which focused on LGBTQ youth suicide prevention and crisis intervention. The survey found that 42 percent of nearly 35,000 LGBTQ youths who were surveyed — and over half of trans and nonbinary youths — had considered suicide within the prior year. Two-thirds of LGBTQ youths said debates about anti-trans legislation have impacted their mental health negatively, according to another survey conducted in the fall.
Hall stated that the anti-trans bills display a total lack of understanding of what gender-affirming healthcare for trans people, namely trans youth, looks like. “If you begin puberty blockers/ or hormone suppressors and later decide that you no longer want to transition, that is totally okay and will not ruin your life in any way.” HRT, or hormone replacement therapy, can typically start around 13-years-old but most people don’t until about 16 or 17. Hall stated that there is a hyper-focus on surgery, despite the fact that gender-affirming surgeries don’t happen until later in life for most trans people. But while the ideas behind the bills are detached from reality, their impact on trans people’s real lives has been far-reaching. “We’ve been seeing a steady increase in parental support for trans kids over the past few years which has helped decrease the risk of suicide. And now this legislation is trying to undo all of that. They are undoing everything that trans people have been fighting so hard for for the past 10 years.”
Trans Health Justice is one of many organizations that support transgender people in Kentucky. According to Hall, it takes a village. “We need parents, providers, lawyers, bail funds, abortion funds, community of support for people who are being targeted by the state.” Hall is also very hopeful that Kentucky social justice organizations will band together and push back. He said: “You have to be willing to break the law. If the law is unjust, we have a moral duty to not obey it. Laws are not moral imperatives.”