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Creator of Transgender Flag: 'I Fear for Our Youth'

Helms pictured via Shutterstock

Even with her concern, Monica Helms finds cause for optimism during Transgender Awareness Week.

Transgender Awareness Month marks a time to celebrate the history and perseverance of trans and gender-nonconforming people and uplift our voices and experiences. But we face increasing legislative attacks against our health care, history, and existence. As the creator of the Transgender Pride Flag, I fear where I may safely fly our flag.

In 1956, at the age of 5, I prayed for God to turn me into a girl. The word "transgender" wouldn't be created and popularized for another 20 years. I couldn't even read or write, but I knew I had been born in the wrong body.

I hid my identity for over four decades, but at the age of 48, I finally began living the truth I knew at 5 years old. But after accomplishing a number of important victories in the fight for LGBTQ+ equality, today's right-wing extremism threatens to drag us back to an America of the past -- one in which I wasn't free to be myself.

Back in the early 1960s, few people would dare to talk openly about LGBTQ+ issues. At 12 years old, I remember dressing in girls' clothes in the privacy of my bedroom. There was no way to describe what I was feeling; I gravitated toward stereotypically feminine clothes and interests but had to hide those feelings. Without that knowledge, I felt confused and pressured to "act like a boy."

The reality for trans youth today is beginning to resemble that silencing I faced as a trans girl in the 1960s. Florida's "don't say gay" bill kicked off a tide of anti-trans legislation that has washed over the country from school boards to Congress. In 2021, Republican lawmakers in state legislatures introduced a record-breaking 130 anti-trans bills, a number the country has already surpassed in 2022 with 155 anti-trans bills.

In August, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis's ban on Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming care went into effect. Then, U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, another Republican, introduced a bill that will make it a felony with a sentence of up to 25 years to provide gender-affirming care for youth, mirroring a law recently enacted in Alabama.

These aren't just extremist beliefs held by a radical minority. Fourteen GOP House members are cosponsors for Rep. Greene's legislation. After decades of progress toward LGBTQ+ equality, our rights hang by a thread that could be cut in 2022.

Access to health care is a privilege that few transgender people have and one that many right-wing legislators are working relentlessly to strip from trans youth. But gender-affirming care isn't a new, experimental, or dangerous practice, as Greene claims she is protecting kids from. During my own transition in the 1990s, I easily accessed hormone therapy covered by employer-provided insurance throughout my transition.

Trans people have always existed and will continue to exist. We are not a trend, and we won't disappear when conservative politicians ban us from the military, bathrooms, or history books. Under the facade of "protecting kids," right-wing extremists are harming the most vulnerable members of our community: trans youth.

Roughly 40 percent of trans people have attempted suicide, and trans youth are at the highest risk of suicide. That number is even higher for LGBTQ+ youth of color. In the face of anti-trans bills, 85 percent of trans and nonbinary youth report the debate around bills having a negative impact on their mental health. But LGBTQ+ youth who live in affirming settings are 50 percent less likely to attempt suicide. So when Texas criminalizes parents who affirm their child's gender, and Virginia restricts trans students rights to self-identify, it directly affects that child's risk of suicide.

The rise in discrimination against trans people is part of a resurgence in hostility toward the larger LGBTQ+ community. With a Supreme Court poised to reconsider marriage equality and 157 House GOP members voting against it, the threats to our rights are far from over. MAGA extremist candidates openly threaten our rights to ignite hatred in their base and score political points, and House Republicans are pursuing federal legislation to ban discussions of LGBTQ+ history and existence in schools across the nation.

With attacks coming from state legislatures and now in the halls of the U.S. Congress, where are we free to be who we are and love who we love? The ever-shrinking list of states that don't attack us? The country that grants all its citizens life, liberty, and happiness, except the ones it deems unacceptable?

As a trans woman who has lived through the conception of the LGBTQ+ rights movement, I know the fight for trans rights is going to be a challenging one. But we have never backed down from a fight. In the face of hate and extremism, we have no choice but to stand proud in our identity and our history. And when we emerge from the struggle, our flag might be tattered, but it will not stop waving proudly.

Monica Helms is the cofounder of the Transgender American Veterans Association and created of the original Trans Pride Flag. She lives in Marietta, Ga., with her wife, Darlene.

Views expressed in The Advocate's opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company, equalpride.

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