In the middle of an unprecedented global pandemic, it seems we're waking up day-to-day facing more and more uncertainty, anxiety, and panic. Whether it’s the constant media coverage or local and national governments putting restrictions on where we go, what we do, and our bodies, it's affecting all of us. But for me as a transgender young person, I’ve realized that these feelings of restriction are all too familiar.
I think back to when I was still under 18 and in an unsupportive household, unable to get access to the mental and physical health care I needed as a youth because I didn’t have a legal guardian to sign off on it. Despite taking care of myself for most of my life, I couldn’t even access basic therapy because of my identity and age. While this feeling of being restricted by your government on one’s pursuit of happiness or bodily autonomy may be new for some dealing with COVID-19, it’s an all too common occurrence for LGBTQ+ people, hitting even harder for LGBTQ+ youth. From school sports to birth certificates and bathroom bills, queer young people have been faced with harmful and targeted legislation towards them time and time again. As a minor, there's already a feeling of a lack of control over your life, but as a trans youth, this feeling of powerlessness is tenfold.
Even currently, as an adult, I’m still unable to live freely because of my trans identity. Living in Ohio, one of the two U.S states that still doesn’t allow changes to be made to a birth certificate, I have to work to jump through extra hoops just to have documentation that matches the rest of my legal documentation. This is just one of many ways that legislation can make everyday life more difficult for transgender youth and adults. Yet even during the spread of COVID-19, legislators are still working to target the livelihoods of the LGBTQ+ people they represent.
While dealing with a global pandemic amidst the coronavirus, with officials nationwide figuring out their game plan, Idaho legislators have decided to move forward with House Bill 500, which would ban trans youth participation in athletics, taking the controversial anti-LGBTQ+ bill to Governor Brad Little for consideration. This is just one of many discriminatory bills targeting trans youth that’s been proposed in the Idaho legislature. While most states are locking down for quarantine or working to build support before a possible economic recession, representatives of Idaho have shown their priorities are elsewhere. Instead, they've decided to use this time to target an already vulnerable group of youth in their community and set a dangerous precedent for anti-trans legislation nationwide.
In its effort to further target an already at-risk group of youth, HB 500 threatens the safety of trans and non-trans athletes alike. The bill contains a provision that would require athletes to designate and prove their sex, along with providing a doctor’s note to show that they underwent an invasive, intrusive physical exam or bloodwork just to play for their school's soccer team. Anyone who is accused or suspected of being trans is subject to having to go through these unnecessary hoops just to solve a problem that doesn’t exist.
Like most anti-trans bills, HB 500 has some far too familiar qualities. Most repugnant, its focus on singling out and invading the privacy, safety, and bodily autonomy of the youth it's claiming to protect. Two similar Idaho bills, HB 509 and 465, which would disallow transgender people from changing their sex documentation on their birth certificate or receiving gender-affirming care were also recently voted on, with HB 509 passing and being sent to the Governor’s desk along with HB 500. This bill passing creates the same scenario I’m in for young adults all over Idaho, being caught in legal limbo when it comes to one's documentation or freedom of one's pursuit of happiness. Thankfully, Idaho youth were still able to secure a victory with HB 465 being opposed. But what does HB 500 and 509 passing mean for them if they are signed by the governor and pass into law?
With HB 500, if Idaho officials are going to start allowing physical examinations of any athlete they "suspect to be" transgender, they're putting vulnerable youth at greater risk of their privacy and physical safety being violated. This is putting trans youth at risk by potentially outing them to their families and classmates, breaking confidentiality policies, and further other-ing them among their peers. It’s putting cis female and intersex athletes at risk and in an unsafe and uncomfortable position, by potentially putting them in scenarios where they have to undergo examinations with a doctor or tests to “prove” their sex.
With HB 509, many trans young people will now have to face even more barriers when it comes to legal documents and maintaining their safety. Many organizations have since released statements condemning Idaho for passing these harmful bills, including ACLU of Idaho, GLAAD, and Transgender Law Center, but there's so much more that needs to be said about a statehouse with representatives who are willing to target LGBTQ+ youth so adamantly.
It's with my hope that trans, queer, and questioning youth in Idaho and nationwide can find peace among the current COVID-19 quarantine and this ocean of uncertainty, all while legislators are still showing they're not backing down on trying to break the ground where we stand. While HB500 may have passed and new legislation is thrown at us every day, there's been a victory in taking down at least one of these discriminatory bills. We've still got work to do and a long road ahead of us. Yet even in these times of isolation, anxiety, and panic, I hope trans youth can take a step back and remember, we are not alone.
Dexter Komakaru is an 18-year-old artist, activist, and public speaker from Columbus, Ohio. A member of TRUTH, a collaborative project between GSA Network and Transgender Law Center, Dexter also runs his own business as a freelance Illustrator and Digital Artist under the name DXTROSE.