While many of the bills introduced will face significant legal challenges, the message they were written to deliver is chilling: After decades of winning new legal protections, the LGBTQIA+ community is no longer safe in America.
in idaho, HB 675 seeks to make it a felony for parents or doctors to administer hormones or puberty blockers to trans minors, reclassifying the act as “genital mutilation” and adding a maximum sentence of up to life in prison. In Iowa, Governor Kim Reynolds in March signed the pernicious HF 2416 into law, which prohibits transgender youth from playing on sports teams that correlate with their gender identity. And on July 1, just two days after NationSwell hosted a panel discussion dedicated to “Protecting the Dignity of LGBTQIA+ Youth,” the Ron DeSantis-backed legislation known colloquially as “don’t say gayThe law went into effect in Florida, effectively barring public school teachers from any mention of sexual orientation or gender identity in the classroom.
During NationSwell’s Main eventColorado Governor Jared Polis, the first openly gay man to be elected governor of a US state, used his opening remarks to call on “all 50 states” to protect same-sex marriage in state law amid fears the Supreme Court will soon review the landmark decision Obergefell v. Hodges. And panelists Carl Siciliano, founder of the Ali Forney Center, Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project, and Janelle Perez, Florida State Senate candidate, along with moderator Lauren Baer, managing partner of Arena, joined Polis in calling for swift action to affirm the dignity and protect the rights of queer youth.
Below are some of the key points from the conversation.
Youth, particularly homeless queer youth, have always been at the center of the fight for LGBTQ+ dignity. While trans activists Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera are most often credited with throwing the first brick during the 1969 Stonewall uprising, Carl offered the fateful reminder that the homeless queer youth who hung out in Sheridan Square that night were also instrumental in contributing to the “lightning rod moment” that sparked the riots. As Siciliano noted: “Queer youth have always been at the center of the movement that launched our rights, and even 50 years later, we still have to work very hard to protect queer youth. It’s not just a smooth march to progress.”
Pay attention to who is being left out of the conversation. As Ames pointed out, the Stonewall riots were about who was being disenfranchised and silenced, an important reminder to take with us today to identify the communities or groups most vulnerable to the ongoing series of attacks on the queer community. Sex workers, homeless people, and incarcerated people who identify as LGBTQIA+ will need special attention in the fight for dignity, and participation and integration in those communities at the local level will be more important than ever.
The “gay agenda” exists and involves making the world a safer place for future generations. While conservatives frequently play political football with the idea of a monolithic “gay agenda” that seeks to mislead and corrupt straight children, Pérez argued that the opposite is actually the case. “’You’re so worried about the gay agenda, but the gay agenda is just that we want to make things better for the generation behind us,’” he said. “We are all fighting for them to have a better life than ours, and we are seeing that our fight is not over.” While Republican lawmakers frequently use the specter of the “gay agenda” to smear the LGBTQ+ community as predators and harassers in pursuit of their legislative agendas, Perez said having conversations about a different kind of agenda, one that seeks to protect to queer and trans youth and their families, it will need to be done loudly and often to counter such political propaganda.
Trans girls, the “most marginalized of the marginalized”, are being targeted with particular ferocity. According to Ames, the discourse is currently being dominated by two main groups: the demagogues and the dogmatists. While dogmatists are the same religious crusaders who have long tried to undermine gay rights, demagogues are a relatively new phenomenon and often use hate to fuel their aspirations to higher office. Both groups have put trans girls in the crosshairs of their anti-gay agendas, focusing on gender-affirming care, access to which has been shown to be highly correlated with suicide risk, with particular enthusiasm.
Mobilizing the politically apathetic will be a critical part of the fight to preserve LGBTQ rights. According to Siciliano, if the queer community and its allies hope to protect the community from the legal threats it currently faces, they will have to engage people who are not normally politically engaged, using threats to freedoms as a driving force.
“There is no question that LGBTQ youth will face a higher risk of homelessness, bullying, suicide; look in your local communities for those who are dealing with these issues and get connected, try to protect the young people who are going to face the brunt of these attacks,” she said. “Do what you can to support organizations that work to protect young people.”
Take the fight offline. Posting infographics on Instagram will not be enough; as Baer pointed out, the next phase of the fight will necessarily involve showing up in real life and engaging directly with communities. While it’s still important to read, listen and tweet when necessary, enshrining the dignity of LGBTQ youth should also include practical tactics like supporting direct service organizations and, if you plan to run for office, attending political training sessions like the offered by Arena that can help you run a winning campaign.
“During this critical time, don’t sit back,” said Lauren. “Support yourself and get involved, because everything is really on the line for the queer community.”