‘Don’t Say Gay’ Erases Trans Youth Hurt by Anti-LGBTQ Laws

t least 16 states, including Florida, Ohio, Missouri, Tennessee, Louisiana, and Alabama, have introduced or passed “parental rights” legislation that bars discussion of LGBTQ subjects in schools. Specifically, educators are not allowed to instruct students about sexuality and gender identity, ostensibly in sex-education contexts but with legislation so broadly worded that it implies educators shouldn’t discuss these issues at all. Collectively, these laws have come to be known as “Don’t Say Gay” bills, and as they gain momentum, they’re attracting national attention. These bills should be. These bills will cause material harm to LGBTQ youth across the country, and they create a chilling effect in educational environments, especially since some also include “divisive concepts” like race in their instructional proscriptions.

“Don’t Say Gay” may be simple shorthand that can spread rapidly among allies, such as celebrities on the red carpet, but it’s a mistake. By using “gay” as a catchall, advocates leave out some key constituencies and obscure the true nature and intent of this legislation. Given that “trans” isn’t represented anywhere in “Don’t Say Gay,” the same thing that makes the turn of phrase so memorable serves to undercut the seriousness of bills that have annihilation at their heart.

Learn More I Know What It’s Like to Be a Florida Teen Who Can’t Say Gay. One of them.

It’s not that the authors of such bills want people to stop saying “gay” at school: It’s that they don’t want LGBTQ people to exist at all, and this is one way of slowly erasing them. It’s reminiscent of the U.K.’s infamous Section 28, enacted in 1988 to prohibit educators from “promoting homosexuality.” Section 28 devastated LGBTQ Britons, who were left isolated and without supports during the most vulnerable times in their lives; there were no LGBTQ texts at school, teachers weren’t allowed to make references, and LGBTQ teachers who taught under the law, which wasn’t fully repealed until 2003, reported being more vigilant and anxious at work.

“The Don’t Say Gay Bill is also a Don’t Say Trans bill,” tweeted civil rights attorney Chase Strangio. “And Texas, Idaho and Alabama have Don’t Be Trans orders and bills in effect or pending. Just a reminder.” This legislative landscape is also far larger than these particular “parental rights” bills, though their snowballing nature should be cause for concern, not just for LGBTQ people but for others. The same logic backs bills such as Florida’s Stop WOKE Act, which targets critical race theory and restricts what schools and workplaces can teach in diversity trainings. It is awaiting the governor’s signature.

A new era in visibility and organizing for trans youth was met with equally venomous reaction from television personalities, conservative lawmakers, and voters. Legislative bodies across America have introduced more than 200 anti-LGBTQ laws, including many that are anti-trans. These bills include restrictions on transition care, bathroom bills, bans on sports participation, bills allowing for religiously motivated discrimination against LGBTQ youth and parents in the foster and adoption systems, and “conscience exemptions” for health care providers who don’t want to treat LGBTQ patients. This is all in addition to policies like Texas’ recent directive that supportive parents of trans kids should be subject to investigation by child services. And just this week Florida’s Surgeon General announced that treatment for gender dysphoria in youth should not include medical (hormones or puberty blockers) or social (changing names, using different pronouns, dressing differently) transition. Florida’s Surgeon General stated that trans youth shouldn’t be provided with transitional care.

Learn More ‘I Hope This Law Is Obliterated.’ Plaintiffs in the First Lawsuit Challenging ‘Don’t Say Gay’ in Florida Speak Out

“Don’t Say Gay” may be easy to put on protest signs, but it carries uneasy overtones of a long history of erasing trans people from the spaces they helped build. Pride has been referred to as the turning point for gay people. However, Stonewall was led by transgender women. The mainstream LGBTQ rights organisations have also ignored concerns from the trans community and emphasized achieving their goals. New York Times to hold a debate on whether it was time to break the T from the LGBTQ movement in 2013 (it wasn’t and isn’t). The frustration felt by trans activists was real. For example, during the battle for a modified Employment Nondiscrimination Act, which excluded trans people early in 2000s, Human Rights Campaign, a prominent organization, declined to adopt a strong stance. The mainstream movement’s heavy investment in marriage equality over other priorities through the 2015 ObergefellThis was also a disturbing decision for activists who were concerned about health equity and access to public toilets.

Including trans kids isn’t just semantics or an internal squabble, it’s something with real stakes. Trans youth often find school the best place to meet, organise, and share information. Access to public trans teachers and the ability to use the restroom are essential for trans children to thrive. Nonbinary and transgender youth have nearly twice the risk of suicide attempts than those who are LGBQ. These youth are more at risk of experiencing sexual assault or homelessness. It is important to discuss the vulnerabilities of trans youths, specifically Black and brown children, when discussing legislation.

Although all LGBTQ youth, families and individuals are affected by this trend, trans youth will be forced to leave their homes to remain safe. Trans youth were the ones who got rid of a ban on conversion therapy in the United Kingdom. Trans youth are the ones who carry with them the tragic legacy of teenager murder victims like Nikki Kuhnhausen and Brayla Stone.

Learn More Kai Shappley (Kid of the Year) Finalist, 11 Years Old, Takes on Lawmakers In Her Fight for Trans Rights

By literally failing to say “trans,” advocates send a clear message to trans kids, who are already surrounded by clear signals that they shouldn’t exist, whether it’s a beloved children’s author making transphobic comments on social media or trolls posting hateful comments about trans athletes. This is a crucial moment to name trans youth. It’s disturbing that anti-trans legislation has been largely ignored by trans people.

How would a different turn of phrase sound without becoming an awkward repetition of alphabet soup? Strangio refers to “don’t be trans” legislation, which is a to-the-point framing of bills like this and the larger flood of anti-LGBTQ laws. Some on social media have turned to “don’t say gay or trans,” which is straightforward, if a little longer, ensuring that trans kids feel seen. “We say gay. We say trans,” said Equality Ohio on Twitter, while others are sticking to another popular catchphrase: “Protect trans kids.”

There is power, value, and organizing utility in naming something clearly and explicitly: It’s why phrases such as Black Lives Matter and “Don’t Say Gay” become so iconic, and it’s especially valuable for reaching people who aren’t familiar with the issues or don’t understand why they matter. It’s important to communicate. Something This attack is on LGBTQ youth and trans youth are suffering the most severe aspects. There must be an effective way to relay the danger of anti-LGBTQ laws and others without making it difficult to recognize the most vulnerable.

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