‘Don’t Say Gay’: The rise in state anti-LGBTQ legislation

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Content warning: This article mentions suicide.

The United States has seen a drastic increase in anti-LGBTQ legislation at the state level in the past year, with 280 bills introduced and 25 passed in 2021. Cathryn Oakley, the Human Rights Campaign’s state legislative director, has stated that 2022 is likely to beat last year’s record as the worst year in recent history for LGBTQ rights. Two such state actions are Florida’s HB 1557, commonly referred to as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s attempt to criminalize gender-affirming care. 

Backed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, the Don’t Say Gay bill passed the Florida House and will soon make its way through the Senate, set to take effect July 1. Though much of the bill is aimed at giving parents more agency and information in the education process, the bill specifically prohibits instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity from kindergarten through third grade, or in a manner that is not age-appropriate, leaving the legality of instruction on these topics for older grades ambiguous. It also allows parents to seek injunctive relief against the school if the bill is violated.

 This bill is deeply harmful and pointedly homophobic. Everyone has a sexual orientation and gender identity, yet no one will stop a straight third grade teacher from showing her students a picture of her male fiance or cisgender children from talking about their own gender identities. Instead, it will be used prevent children with same-sex parents from doing something as simple as drawing their family, or children who do not identify with the sex they were assigned at birth from expressing who they are.

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As Trevor Project CEO Amit Paley said, “Removing LGBTQ people and topics from public schools will only work to further shame a group of young people who already face disproportionate rates of discrimination, bullying, and suicide attempts.” Additionally, the prevention of exposure to the very existence of LGBTQ people will further ignorance and hatred in student bodies across the state.

While not explicitly law, Abbott’s new directive called for licensed professionals and members of the general public to report parents of minors undergoing gender-affirming care. This is based on an opinion released by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, stating that providing gender-affirming medical care to transgender minors is child abuse under Texas state law. While President Biden has voiced his support of LGBTQ youth and has announced that the Department of Health and Human Services will take action to protect transgender youth in Texas, he does not have the power to stop a state-level directive. 

Last week, in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union, the plaintiffs were granted a temporary restraining order, preventing Abbott’s directive from being enforced on one family on the grounds that it would cause irreparable harm. Despite the fact that this ruling is limited and does not prevent Paxton’s opinion from being enforced in other cases, the state has appealed the restraining order. 

Abbott’s directive flies in the face of medical and scientific consensus. Gender-affirming health care is considered to be medically necessary by all major medical organizations, including the American Psychological Association and the American Medical Association. As Devin English, an assistant professor at the Rutgers School of Public Health explains, these state actions “will cause extreme psychological harm to LGBTQ youth. Our research indicates these state-level policy positions are linked to suicide risk among these youth, particularly LGBTQ youth of color.” Abbott is framing his directive as a move to save children from abusive parents. In actuality, it will tear supportive and loving families apart and cause harm to teens that are already at risk. 

These laws are widely opposed by public opinion. 70% of Americans support the legality of same-sex marriage, while 66% support transgender men and women being allowed to openly serve in the military. A Public Religion Research Institute survey found that approximately two thirds of Texans support LGBTQ nondiscrimination laws. Additionally, a Public Opinion Research Lab survey found that 49% of Floridians oppose the Don’t Say Gay bill, while only 40% support it. Meanwhile, a poll showed that the most important issues to Floridians are the economy, inflation and immigration; 88% of Texans said inflation had an impact on their households. Republican lawmakers are not doing what is best for their states and constituents — they are disregarding the priorities of citizens while actively harming many of the constituents that they bear responsibility for.

With this recent spate of anti-LGBTQ, state-level political action, it is important that we offer support to the members of our community who are affected by these laws. Tufts prides itself on being one of the most LGBTQ-friendly campuses in the nation. By offering support and donations to LGBTQ rights organizations and working against these terrifying attempts to strip away hard-won rights, we can live up to that title. One of the best ways to do that is to focus more donations and get-out-the-vote efforts on state-level campaigns in this midterm year, specifically in states like Florida and Texas where citizens are at a higher risk of being harmed by their governments. Many people highlight the national government, but flipping federal-level Senate and House seats is very difficult, and often impossible, especially without engagement at a more local level. At the state level, we can make a crucial difference that will help to protect LGBTQ youth.

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