Citizens across the country protest recent laws and initiatives in Texas and Florida, which could potentially endanger the rights of LGBTQ+ children, their caregivers, and their teachers. / Photo Courtesy of The Student Life
The states of Texas and Florida have brewed piping hot controversy recently, following the proposal of bills potentially targeting gay and transgender children and teenagers. These bills – Senate Bill 1646 and House Bill 1557 – could endanger thousands of children if approved.
While SB 1646, proposed in April of last year, did not pass, conservative politicians persist in their initiative by taking methods into their own hands. The Texas bill would have declared the act of parents encouraging and providing gender-affirming care to transgender children as a form of child abuse. Texas Governor Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton both declared this week that they would encourage the state Department of Family and Protection Services to investigate any families accused of seeking hormone therapy, surgery, or any other gender-affirming treatments for their child. If convicted, parents could be charged with a felony equivalent to that of trafficking or domestic abuse in the state.
Halfway across the country in Florida, HB 1557, now infamously known by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, would further restrict teachers in the state in terms of the ability to acknowledge and discuss gender and sexuality in the classroom, specifically within the context of discussing LGBT rights and the community. In addition, teachers, as mandated reporters, would also be required to report to parents within six weeks after a child comes out to them as gay, non-binary, or transgender, and could risk their position and their career if they refuse or fail to do so. While the bill has to be approved by the state governor, Ron DeSantis, in order to take effect, the staunch Republican has expressed support for the bill, placing many vulnerable citizens in an understandable state of fear.
Unfortunately, this is not the first, and likely will not be the last time that state and local governments attempt to restrict protection and rights for young people within the queer and transgender community. In the first two months of 2022 alone, more than 30 bills have been proposed across more than a dozen states across the country, which either limit or outright endanger members of the LGBTQ+ community as well as their rights, whether it be the right to use the restrooms, to play on sports teams based on their actual gender identity, or to access affordable gender-affirming care.
As both a queer person and a future educator, such legal decisions shock and appall me. A future where kids could face persecution for who they are, and their parents could face prosecution for supporting them, is not one that any person, regardless of their beliefs, should want to see. While concerns regarding children transitioning young, and mandatory discussion of gender and sexuality are valid, eliminating people’s rights to free speech and agency of their own bodies should not be the decision of their school, and especially not their government. Rather, it should be up to the young individual, and their supportive parents, if the child wishes to include them. Getting the help your child needs should not be a crime, and potentially life-saving, gender-affirming care should be no exception. In that case, such families should only be investigated for abuse if there is clear evidence to suggest that the child is being forced to undergo gender reassignment procedures, and even then, such cases are quite rare in contrast to those genuinely seeking treatment for themselves or their loved ones.
Regardless of one’s views on LGBTQ+ issues and the community, it should be a common belief that a child’s safety should be the top priority. According to the Center of American Progress, approximately 20 to 40% – up to 400,000 – of America’s young homeless population identify as members of the LGBTQ+ community, oftentimes being forced out of their homes due to an unsafe and unaccepting environment at home and school. If HB 1557 passes in Florida and teachers are forced to “out” their students – revealing a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity without their consent – those children could face dangerous consequences at home, or even worse, not even have a home to go to. Even if the situation does not escalate to being kicked out of or running away from home, queer and transgender youth could face an abusive home life, bullying, depression, anxiety, stress, and even suicide, if not provided the proper respect and care they deserve as a human being.
But Texas and Florida are quite the ways away from Millersville, Pennsylvania – so what exactly do these bills mean for gay, non-binary, and transgender individuals here in PA? Bills and initiatives, particularly those in Texas and Florida, have been condemned by President Joe Biden, as well as numerous LGBT rights advocates and organizations, including the American Civil Liberties Union and The Trevor Project. While such harmful laws also go against the platform of Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf, a strong supporter of LGBT rights, present and future lawmakers in our state and counties may have a starkly different viewpoint. Even the existence of such bills may encourage other jurisdictions to follow suit, as well as homophobia and transphobia to be more commonly accepted, in a country that is still recovering from its dark past in terms of civil rights. With our youth already struggling with the confusion and fear that already comes with understanding and living with their identity, laws such as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill and those that push to separate families further threaten their safety, their well-being, and possibly even their lives.
As mere civilians, we have no control over the laws, but we do have agency over our behavior. We can only hope that such bills do not become laws but simultaneously can outlaw discrimination in our own personal lives. By protecting, advocating for, and amplifying the voices of queer and trans individuals, and anyone else regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity, we can work towards securing a future void of hate and fear for our children.