Recently, while scrolling through my Instagram, I came across a reel that featured a passionate speech from Nebraska State Senator Machaela Cavanaugh, asserting to her Republican colleagues that she will continue to make her presence felt by filibustering all other bills until the State House withdraws the recently approved Legislative Bill 574, which restricts abortions and gender-affirming care to transgender minors. Moved by Senator Cavanaugh’s words and relentless energy, I reposted the reel on my Instagram page. Unsurprisingly, my endorsement of the reel was followed by a barrage of transphobic comments from right-wing and conservative users. As I scrolled through the comments, I realized how stubborn, uninformed, and vile many of the users were. Sadly enough, I wrote a similar article about this very issue a couple of years back, and while the opposition towards transgender rights was growing at that time, I honestly didn’t anticipate that it would intensify to the level that we’re witnessing in this current socio-political climate.
With Florida, Alabama, Texas, and so many other states aggressively pushing “Don’t Say Gay'' bills through their respective state legislatures, the need to prioritize the safety of our LGBTQ+ students within our school communities is greater than ever.
Although President Joe Biden signed an executive order in January 2021 that extended discrimination protections to include gender identity, LGBTQ+ students are still two to three times more likely to be bullied or harassed than their cisgender peers.
This trend of violence is even more prevalent with Black and Latinx transgendered students. In the 2015 U.S. Transgender survey, the National Center for Transgender Equality reported that approximately 75% of Black and Latinx transgendered adults experienced bullying and harassment during their K-12 schooling. Within the first five months of 2023, an astounding 549 anti-transgender bills have been introduced across 49 state legislatures in the United States, of which 373 have been approved, according to the latest update of the Trans Legislation Tracker. As the table below indicates, the number of anti-transgender bills introduced nationally has increased significantly since 2020.
*As of May 25th, 2023
Below are two examples of these bills:
- In Oklahoma, state legislators passed House Bill 2177, which prohibits medical professionals from offering gender-affirming care to children under eighteen. (Riedel 2023)
- In Arizona, state legislators recently passed three school-related bills:
- Senate Bill 1001 makes it illegal for teachers and school staff to respect the pronouns of transgender and non-binary students without written parental consent. (HRC Staff 2023)
- Senate Bill 1005 allows for schools to be sued for providing supportive and affirming spaces for LGBTQ students. (HRC Staff 2023)
- Senate Bill 1040 prohibits transgendered students and school staff from using school restrooms that match their gender identity. The bill also allows folks to sue schools if they share a bathroom or similar school facility with a transgender person. (HRC Staff 2023)
- In Florida, state legislators passed Senate Bill 1069, which prohibits any teaching or instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity from pre-K to 8th grade. This bill includes (and is not limited to) the banning of LGBTQ+ children’s books and the refusal to recognize LGBTQ+ pride month. Through this bill, the Florida Department of Education must approve all instructional materials selected for school use. (Dailey 2023)
- In Wyoming, state legislators recently passed Senate File 133, which prohibits transgender girls from joining school sports teams. (Gardenswartz and Baker 2023)
These bills only give us a glimpse of the political attacks targeting LGBTQ+ students, but more specifically, transgender students. What we have been witnessing over the past few years is a nationwide legislative effort to erase transgender people from public life. This is the reality that our LGBTQ+ students face, so we must lead with empathy and care to build a foundation of trust and safety within the classroom. And we must also understand that the willful preservation of heteronormative societal norms by homophobic and transphobic individuals is symptomatic of the white supremacy culture that we’re attempting to disrupt in our schools.
Even if you teach within a state that is deemed blue, liberal, or progressive, please don’t be naive about the fact that your LGBTQ+ students still have to navigate a society where notions of toxic masculinity and toxic femininity intensify the homophobia, transphobia, biphobia, and other forms of bullying and discrimination that they experience in their journeys to and from school.
So while we understand the importance of respecting our students’ pronouns, let’s also be mindful and empathetic of the fact that a student’s courageous decision to come out to the world could potentially lead to a death sentence, as was the case for students like Tasiyah Woodland, Ariyanna Mitchell, and Jeffrey Bright. Even though those students are no longer with us to share their stories, we have an obligation to carry on their legacies by protecting and advocating for the rights of our LGBTQ+ students to live their lives freely and peacefully.
If you are a cis hetero person, please understand that allyship alone isn’t going to buck this trend. Reading and intellectualizing LGBTQ+ books isn’t going to buck this trend. Affirming gender pronouns isn’t going to buck this trend. Wearing rainbow tie-dye shirts isn’t going to buck this trend.
Fighting for the humanity and liberation of queer and transgender folx will require a boldness and fearlessness in our resistance that must permeate across this entire nation.
So what exactly does that look like? Well, here are a few things that you can do to help:
- Read the Being an LGBTQ+ Ally report from the Human Rights Campaign Foundation to build your foundational knowledge on the diverse identities within the LGBTQ+ community and the specific issues they each face.
- Donate to pro-LGBTQ+ organizations such as Trans Legislation Tracker, Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network, The Trevor Project, and PFLAG National.
- Contact your state legislators and demand them to support The Equality Act, which was recently re-introduced to the United States Congress.
The passion and determination that Senator Cavanaugh displayed in her speech is the approach we ALL must take. At this point, liberation isn’t going to happen with us throwing baby jabs while our elected officials on the right-wing and conservative side keep hitting us with body blows.