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Alabama's State Motto Is Something Governor Kay Ivey Ignores

Kay Ivey
Via Governor's Office/Hal Yeager

If state legislatures believe they are defending the rights of all residents, they haven't been paying attention.

"Audemus jura nostra defendere" is the state motto for Alabama, which I believe is Latin for "We Dare Defend Our Rights" or "We Dare Maintain Our Rights." A motto that is depicted on the state's coat of arms.

Marie Bankhead Owens, director of the Alabama Department of Archives and History, coordinated the design for the coat of arms -- she was the aunt of bisexual actress Tallulah Bankhead.

The state motto to defend rights is at odds with action from some state lawmakers and Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey. And it apparently does not apply to LGBTQ+ Alabamians.

Rather than daring to maintain the rights of all of Alabama's citizens, the legislature has introduced five bills targeting transgender youth this year, and two were signed into law by Governor Ivey, who is facing serious challenges from extreme conservative candidates in the Alabama primary on May 24.

GLAAD talked to four families of trans youth after the felony ban became law.

"My daughter is turning 8 years old this week and is inching closer to puberty. The plan was to get her established with an endocrinologist who can begin to follow her stages of puberty for signs of change and then, hopefully, recommend options for the best course of action or determine whether no medical intervention will be necessary," Sophie Coleman tells me about how the felony ban on health care would affect her family.

"With the ban on physicians providing [evidence-based] care, our options are no longer on the table. This will mean that my daughter will be forced to go through a type of puberty which does not align with her gender."

Governor Ivey's deeply held belief that all life is precious doesn't extend to transgender youth in the state, however. Last year she signed a bill to ban transgender youth from participating in school sports consistent with their gender. Ivey's attacks on transgender youth didn't stop there -- earlier this month the governor signed two anti-trans bills into law, one that would force transgender kids to use bathrooms inconsistent with their gender from grades K-5. The bill is also partially modeled after Florida's so-called don't say say law, by restricting classroom discussions on sexual orientation or gender identity in elementary school.

The second bill, which has been considered one of the most aggressive anti-transgender bills in the country right now, places a felony ban on health care providers who provide evidence-based medical care to trans minors, with a prison sentence or a fine of up to $15,000. Health care professionals and major American medical associations including the American Medical Association have opposed criminalizing medically necessary health care for trans youth, saying that medical care for trans youth is safe and vital, and denying them access to it can be life-threatening.

Jennifer Breen, 51, is the mother of a nonbinary child who says that they will no longer have access in-state to a "caring, qualified team of medical experts" who provide an array of resources to support trans kids in their physical and emotional health.

"My worries are that we won't have reasonably nearby access to important medical care for our child. But in addition, our child now has the sense, the realization, that there are people 'out there' who actively do not wish them well," Breen says. "And that adds to a feeling of unease, lack of support, and sadness. For me, it's like a gut punch to realize that lawmakers actually went after my child, actively stood in the way of them having access to healthcare that considers them as a whole person"

For some families of trans kids, the worry resulting from the passing of Alabama's felony ban is causing them to consider moving out of the state, such is the case for 43-year-old Cardelia Moore, mother of a trans son.

"I have so many worries about this bill becoming law. I worry that doctors will refuse to treat my kids even for things that are not trans health care-related out of fear of being accused of violating the law. I have fears that my children will face even more harassment in schools and other public places," Moore tells me.

She worries the anti-trans laws won't stop there. "I worry that once the government begins limiting my health care options and choices, as a parent, with a doctor or medical professional, who is following the recommended treatment protocols, they will be able to step in and tell us that we cannot do other things as parents. Once one group's freedom of choice is taken away other groups are sure to follow."

Since assuming office in April 2017, Governor Ivey had a swift start on ravaging Alabama's LGBTQ+ community. Less than a month into assuming office, Ivey signed House Bill 24 into law. A bill that allows taxpayer-funded child placement agencies to discriminate against qualified parents based on the agency's moral or religious beliefs. The bill was introduced to specifically allow agencies to refuse adoption and foster care services to qualified LGBTQ+ parents.

As for parents whose children are being affected by Alabama's latest legislative attacks, some of them are calling on more community support.

Cardelia Moore says she wants the community to have more empathy for the children "whose lives are in jeopardy." Moore states that while the bills claim to help vulnerable children, they're doing the exact opposite, and instead placing them at an even higher level of risk.

"I want the community to respond the same way the church session that I serve as pastor responded when we told them about our oldest being trans, they told me 'Kyle is one of our kids. We love him and we vowed to support him when he joined the church. We stand by those promises.'"

Jennifer Breen would like for others to both seek out and understand the facts from reputable sources such as the National Center for Transgender Equality, the Human Rights Campaign, and GLAAD on what it means to be transgender or gender-diverse. "Acceptance of our transgender brothers and sisters, no matter what stage of being 'out' or transitioning they are at, would help to alleviate the hurt and frustration our people live with daily," Breen says.

"Simply asking a person which pronouns they prefer is a big step toward understanding and acceptance. Don't be afraid to ask us well-meaning questions about gender identity, because we want to help others understand who we are and how we came to be."

Breen says that parents should listen to their children when they confide in them about experiencing gender dysphoria.

"Doing the opposite can be detrimental to the life of a child as the rates of suicidal ideation and suicide attempts in this group is alarming. Simply having family support decreases those rates dramatically."

2022 has been a record-breaking year for anti-LGBTQ+ bills across the country, outdoing last year's record with more than 200 anti-LGBTQ+ bills proposed as of April 22. The majority of these bills (113) target trans people and youth, and another 83 target school policy bills including bills to restrict or prohibit LGBTQ-inclusive and/or race-inclusive curricula and books about LGBTQ+ people.

For some families, such as the case of the mother of a trans daughter who simply goes by "Viki," the onslaught of anti-trans bills has made them put space between legislators and their kids.

"On the one hand, I don't want them to ever know me or my family. I don't want to know them. They've made their disdain for us clear, and it doesn't seem like it's my job to teach them we're humans. But on the other hand, I get it," she says.

Viki says if she had one thing to tell lawmakers it's this: "My daughter is described as 'exuberant' and 'irrepressible.' She's happy. She's magnificent. And not for nothing, if you spent a day with her, you wouldn't know she was trans unless she graced you with the disclosure. (And it is a grace.) You'd see a super happy kid. So what I'd like to say to lawmakers, I suppose, is that I'd prefer that they focus on that and not her external sex organs because focusing on that is creepy and I respectfully ask that everyone stop talking about my child that way -- and stop reducing her to her external sex organs. They're irrelevant to who she is. I never think about the fact that my kid is trans EXCEPT when I have to worry about these sorts of attacks. She's just Grace. And she's perfect. I'd also say that lawmakers seem to miss how hard parents work to get this right. We're looking at research that tells us that affirming our kids is life-saving. We face this choice, knowing how cruel the world is: We can affirm and pray to whatever we hold dear that the world doesn't crush our kid, or we can not affirm and crush our kid so the world doesn't have to. Looking at the numbers, we choose the former. We do right by our kids. Now it's lawmakers' turn to do right by them, and for the life of me, I'll never understand why they can't do that. I'll never forgive it either."

Sophie Coleman wants lawmakers to know that her child is not the problem.

"My child may stand out from what society sees as 'typical' in terms of the gender binary, but she does not have mental health issues nor is she making up a story about her gender identity. She was assigned male at birth and as soon as she learned how to tell us that we were wrong about that, she did, at the age of two. It took a couple more years for me and my husband to seriously consider that we had a gender-nonconforming child and that came after hours of poring over information on the internet and in books, talking to a pediatrician, and taking our child to a counselor to learn more."

Coleman says the summer before entering kindergarten, her child began socially transitioning, the process in which trans and gender-nonconforming people adopt the name, pronouns, and gender expression, such as clothing and hairstyles, that match their gender.

"My husband and I both come from religiously conservative families, and we are proud to say that we have their support in affirming our daughter's gender identity, though the road to gain that support was a bit bumpy in the beginning," she says.

What still remains true is that trans people are just average day-to-day people, who are being crushed under the weight of anti-trans legislation. And for trans youth, their families want everyone to know that they are simply ordinary children.

Earlier this month, the Knights & Orchids Society, a trans-led organization based in Selma, launched a social media video campaign titled "Dear Legislator," a message from trans youth about how the state's bills affect them. The video was done in collaboration with the organization's Youth Ambassadors program under its "Transparency Is Power" series.

"The youth want to be visible and vocal about how this will affect their day-to-day lives. They're taking such an active approach to organizing, and I love it," says Christina Nicholson, communication director for Knights & Orchids.

Serena Sonoma is GLAAD's regional media lead, U.S. South, whose writing has largely focused on intersectional feminism from an LGBTQ+ lens, specifically in its relation to cissexism and transmisogyny. Her work has appeared in Vox, Out, Teen Vogue, Harper's Bazaar, and various other national and local news publications.

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