In January of this year, Republican South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem signed into law the first anti-trans bill of 2022. In doing so, she banned transgender girls from playing school sports.
And the hits just kept coming:
In the first week of 2022, we saw Arizona, Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, and South Dakota introduce measures that target trans and nonbinary youth, their families, and their communities. It has continued, unabated and unrelenting, and will continue through this year into the critical midterm elections.
As a parent, as a queer person, and as an advocate for human rights, I am appalled, overwhelmed, and going to the mat for the LGBTQ+ youth out there that are under attack.
If South Dakota and the other initial states were a wake-up call, the escalating trend in so many other states is a five-alarm fire. From the horror we are experiencing in Texas, with Gov. Greg Abbott directing state agencies to investigate gender-affirming care for trans youths as “child abuse” to Ohio’s legislation, currently under consideration, that would prohibit care for LGBTQ+ youth, there isn’t enough space here to fully catalog the number of states putting anti-LGBTQ legislation in process.
It is challenging to keep up with the barrage of attacks. The Georgia Senate has passed SB 435, legislation preventing transgender students from participating on gendered sports teams that align with their gender identity. Alabama lawmakers approved legislation that would bar transgender students from using school bathrooms and locker rooms that match their current gender identity. Tennessee lawmakers have introduced the Youth Health Protection Act, which would block transgender health care for minors and would give parents the power to refuse mental health care services. It feels like every morning we wake up to a new piece of legislation.
It is not an exaggeration to say our lives and the lives of our children are at stake.
This latest wave of legislative violence against LGBTQ+ people has been worsening year after year since Arizona passed its infamous “RFRA” law in 2014. The worst year so far for passage of anti-LGBTQ laws was 2021, and 2022 is turning out to be even worse.
We know we are not the only target. Reproductive rights. Voting rights. Critical race theory.
But we all need to connect the dots. As the saying goes on social media: a little louder for the people in the back!
It doesn’t take much to connect the three major areas where our democracy is under attack and are manifesting in this slew of state level legislation directed at most people, whether they realize it or not.
One, access to information: While the far right has bemoaned for years that progressives have been trying to “censor” them, it is indeed the government taking steps to censor content of all kinds — from critical race theory to LGBTQ-inclusive curricula, effectively erasing the diversity of people in this country, and any accurate or inclusive understanding of our shared history. Book bans, which seem like an outdated tactic of fascist dictators, are back in style. The simple act of having a rainbow flag or Black Lives Matter sticker on your classroom door, meant to communicate a safe space, is now off the table. Imagine how our young people must feel as if they are stripped of the symbols and information that made them feel safe — made them feel seen — in their school hallways.
Second, access to our most basic democratic right, the right to vote, is being suppressed, curtained, blocked, and gerrymandered at every turn. And who are the people most impacted? Those most marginalized — queer people, people of color, rural and economically disadvantaged, differently abled, and others — but together, working across communities, we can turn this around and help save our democracy.
Finally, our very bodily autonomy is at stake. It is so clear that the connection between trans rights, reproductive rights, and all LGBTQ+ rights are intertwined. The ability to make decision about who you are, how you walk thought he world in your truth and have control over your own body are at the core of the anti-trans bills mentioned above and all the attempts to restrict abortion rights and access to reproductive related healthcare.
Given the sharp rise in anti-LGBTQ laws passed over the last eight years and what we are seeing now, it is no surprise we’re now experiencing what the American Medical Association has declared “an epidemic of violence against the transgender community,” most notably the skyrocketing rate of murders against trans women of color.
In 2021, over 50 transgender people were murdered in the United States and 2022 is on track to be even more deadly. Is there a connection? Visibility indeed can cause backlash but what is the alternative? We are well past the point of LGBTQ+ people being silent or hidden, especially as more and more young people come out. These public attacks by politicians certainly don’t help, and pandering to prejudice will only drag this country down. We must fight back.
It is critical that queer people and our allies mobilize and take action, whether that’s contacting your elected officials, providing testimony, or donating money and resources. And of course, above all else, if you are eligible, make sure you are registered to vote and turn out at the polls. Claim your power, use your voice, support your community and vote!
Cathy Renna is a longtime LGBTQ+ activist and communications director for the National LGBTQ Task Force.