It was a bad week to be LGBTQ in the U.S. as Republican governors and state legislatures continued their legislative assault on the very existence of gay and trans people.
Florida GOP Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law on March 28 that forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. That bill has received harsh criticism from LGBTQ advocates and civil libertarians who argue it marginalizes LGBTQ people. The law has even pitted DeSantis against Florida’s largest employer, Disney.
PGN had been reporting on the Florida bill, labeled the “Don’t Say Gay” law, for months as it made its way through committee to passage.The legislation now propels DeSantis, a potential 2024 presidential candidate, to the forefront of the culture wars that were very much a part of the interrogation of Supreme Court nominee Kentanji Brown Jackson.
DeSantis and other Republican lawmakers argue that the “Don’t Say Gay” law is reasonable. The legislation is part of a new wave of “parental control” laws that have become a motivator among GOP politicians who argue that parents, not teachers, should be deciding what students should be allowed to learn in the classroom.
President Biden weighed in on the Florida law on Twitter, writing, “Every student deserves to feel safe and welcome in the classroom. Our LGBTQI+ youth deserve to be affirmed and accepted just as they are. My Administration will continue to fight for dignity and opportunity for every student and family — in Florida and around the country.”
Anti-LGBT+ laws are indeed across the country. With 238 such bills already proposed in state legislatures, such bills are being proposed at a rate of more than three a day. Limiting the rights of trans youth is a focal point of about half of these bills, like the one that passed a house committee in the Pennsylvania legislature on March 29.
The Pennsylvania legislation, the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” would ban transgender athletes from playing women’s sports and would require public schools and colleges to designate their sports teams based on biological sex. GOP Rep. Martina White, of Philadelphia, co-introduced the bill, which was largely viewed as a response to trans swimmer Lia Thomas, an NCAA champion for the University of Pennsylvania swim team. Thomas transitioned in 2018 and is currently a senior. Gov. Tom Wolf pledged to veto the legislation if it passes the General Assembly.
Yet on March 25, Utah lawmakers voted to override GOP Gov. Spencer Cox’s veto of a similar anti-trans sports legislation in that state. While the bill did not originally have enough votes for an override, the Associated Press reported that the bill’s sponsors convinced 10 GOP lawmakers in the House and five in the Senate who previously voted against the ban to support the override.
In Oklahoma, the Senate passed Senate Bill 2. SB2 would ban trans students from playing school sports consistent with their gender identity. Senate Bill 9 would expand the definition of obscene materials to include certain depictions of the LGBTQ+ community. A third bill, Senate Bill 1100, would eliminate nonbinary gender markers from official documents.
SB 2 passed the Oklahoma House of Representatives in 2021 and now goes to GOP Gov. Kevin Stitt to be signed. SB 9 and SB 1100 now move on to the Oklahoma House.
In a statement, HRC decried the legislation, saying, “Oklahoma legislators have decided to launch a full-on attack on LGBTQ+ rights, and particularly for transgender people.”
HRC State Legislative Director and Senior Counsel Cathryn Oakley said in the statement, “Their repeated attempts to deny transgender kids opportunity and ostracize members of the LGBTQ+ community are disgusting. In addition to denying transgender kids the social benefits that come from school sports, they are also working hard to ban inclusive gender markers, and define LGBTQ+ content as obscene.”
Oakley added, “Simply, they are attacking the LGBTQ+ community to score political points with extreme elements within their party. The Human Rights Campaign strongly urges Governor Stitt and the Oklahoma House of Representatives to put the best interests of marginalized kids and individuals ahead of cheap political ploys and realize the damage that can be done if these dangerous bills pass.”
In Arizona, the House passed Senate Bill 1138, which bans gender-affirming surgery for minors. Senate Bill 1165, barring transgender girls and women from participating in female sports in grades K-12 or colleges and universities, also passed. SB1165 applies to public schools plus any private school whose students or teams compete against public schools. Both bills will now go to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey to be signed.
On March 24, Lambda Legal condemned the Arizona GOP legislature’s discriminatory anti-LGBT+ bills, stating “Gov. Ducey needs to veto these hateful bills: lives are in the balance.”
In addition to the bills targeting transgender youth, another, which Lambda Legal also condemned, imposes a 15-week abortion ban. Tucson-based Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Kell Olson issued a statement, which reads in part, “As an Arizonan, it is horrifying to see elected representatives take part in this coordinated attack against our most vulnerable community members. Health care for transgender people and for people who become pregnant should be determined by medical providers and patients in line with best medical practices — not by politicians.”
Olsen continued, “And transgender youth should be allowed to participate in school activities with their peers. For months, Arizona families from around the state have traveled to meet with legislators and testify at committee hearings, putting their privacy and humanity on the line to protect their loved ones. And many legislators cited these heart-rending stories in their opposition to these bills.”
Judy Morrissey, LCSW, Director of Behavioral Health for the Mazzoni Center, told PGN, “The impact of ‘Don’t Say Gay’ legislation is that it reinforces a message of shame and clearly defines the value of cis- and hetero-normative identities. Gender development and exploration are formative milestones of childhood — it’s when we begin to understand ourselves in the context of others. What we like and don’t like, who we like, and how we interact with others.”
Morrisey explained, “The absence of communication and positive messaging about ourselves, and a realistic view of the world around us, only further marginalizes LGBTQ+ children and families, with the resulting psychological impact reaching into adolescence and adulthood.”
Morrisey spoke directly to the real-time and real life harms of such legislation and their messaging, asserting, “How is it possible to intervene and protect LGBTQ+ students against teasing and bullying when there cannot be safe and genuine communication about what is taking place? The educational system is responsible to contribute to the health and wellbeing of all students. ‘Don’t Say Gay’ prevents this, causes further damage and fails LGBTQ+ children and families.”
As Lambda Legal’s Olson said, “Politicians across the country continue to attack transgender youth to score political points. But let’s be honest: this is not about sports or health care. These politicians are testing the waters to see how much they can leverage fear and misinformation to win short-term political gains at the expense of transgender lives. But transgender people will not be erased, and the loving voices of those who support them will not be silenced.”