Common Ground

By the time you read this column, Florida’s legislature may have already voted on HB1557 and SB1834. The bill is officially called the Parental Rights in Education bill, but you might better know it as the Don’t Say Gay bill. 

Taking more than a few pages from the same mindset that brought the Briggs Initiative to California in the 1970s, the bill would bar teachers from discussing LGBTQ issues or people in schools, as well as harming existing protections for LGBTQ students. Let’s also be clear: this won’t just harm protections, but will do real harm to LGBTQ students themselves. 

Unsurprisingly, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who seems to never shy away from bad legislation, has expressed his support for the bill. 

While one of the worst in the country, the “Don’t Say Gay” bill isn’t the only bill aimed at LGBTQ protections: according to the ACLU, there are anti-LGBTQ bills in statehouses of more than half of our States. For most of them, the obvious target — though not the only one — is transgender people.

Much like the “Don’t Say Gay” bill targeting LGBTQ issues on campuses, the recent rash of book banning, fueled by racist outcries of “Critical Race Theory,” have swept a number of LGBTQ titles into the mix. 

Yet the biggest issue seems to be barring transgender people — predominately trans youth — from participating in sports. There are bills in 27 states against transgender athletes participating based on their gender identity. 

Obviously, I’m opposed to this. I may not know what the best option is for a trans athlete, especially ones who are simply just children seeking to participate in sports with their peers, but these bans are not the answer. 

There are also bills in 17 states seeking to halt or otherwise get in the way of transgender health care for transgender youth. One of the worst of these in Alabama, SB 5, making it a felony to treat trans minors. We’re not taking surgery here: the bill would prevent hormonal treatments or even puberty blockers for trans kids. 

If that’s not bad enough, this bill — and others, such as SB 1046 in Arizona — would require school staff to out any such trans children to their parents or guardians. 

There are bathroom bills. There are bills to prevent birth certificate changes. There are even bills that place a bounty on those who care for transgender people, in the same vein as Texas’ anti-abortion bill, SB 4.

All of these bills are designed to do one thing to transgender people: cause as much harm as possible. The goal, seemingly, is to completely eradicate transgender people by barring them from participation in society on multiple levels as well as making it impossible for us to get necessary and vital care. It simply is not hyperbole to say that these people pushing such bills wish to see transgender people dead. 

Far right groups wish to extend their bigotry — and their pocketbooks — especially after losing in marriage battles. Conservative lawmakers want to provide some red meat to their bases, and they see transgender people as an easy target. 

There is no appealing to their humanity, for they have long since decided that transgender people are not human. We have been framed as a “debate” or an “issue,” and not flesh-and-blood. We are treated as a hypothetical: the creepy sex fiend prowling the bathroom, a theoretical cheater in athletics seeking to bend the rules in their favor, and the “groomer” seeking to recruit children into the “transgender lifestyle.”

Yes, these tropes are ones the LGBTQ community should also recognize from the era of the Briggs Initiative. It’s the same disco-era rhetoric, reheated for a new generation who may never have heard of Anita Bryant.

As angry as I may be about these bills, however, I am more frustrated by the lack of attention being paid to them. It wasn’t that long ago that North Carolina passed HB 2, which led to boycotts and an eventual repeal after Pat McCrory lost to Roy Cooper in a race largely fueled by anti HB 2 sentiment. 

We may see some pushback over the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, but all of these others are flying under the radar on the national stage. Coverage is slim at best, and when it is, it often shows transgender people, in the face of a wave of hatred and animus, as being painted as unreasonable, as if we, too, should come to the table and negotiate which rights we should be allowed to have.

This isn’t just “I like Coke, but you like Pepsi. We can compromise.” This is “I think you should be dead, and you think you should live.” There’s no space for compromise. We cannot “reach across the aisle” when our very lives are on the line.  We may as well be asked if we would prefer a lethal injection or a firing squad, without any thought given to being able to just live our lives.

That’s the common ground that I expect, and it’s what the DeSantis’ of the world seek to deny to me, to every transgender person, and to the whole LGBTQ community — among so many others. 

That’s the part I want you to remember: We are just. Not asking for anything special here. We aren’t demanding marginal sparkle ponies, but simply the right to live our lives with the rights we expect. We expect to have our right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. 

Gwen Smith would also like a magical sparkle pony, if they hand those out somewhere. You’ll find her at