Sounding the Alarm

An attendee at Philly Pride 2022. (Photo by Kelly Burkhardt.)

I often feel that I am too alarmist. I have spent decades deep in the issue of anti-transgender violence and murder, and I know that colors my views. It is hard to look at things objectively sometimes without expecting the worst of them.

I am also sure that as much as I’d not want to write a column that is merely me screaming about how awful things may be, you’d be just as unlikely to want to read such. I get it. No one wants to deal with how bad things can be. Times are hard enough.

For years now, we’ve seen the right using transgender people as a scapegoat and working to criminalize our lives. 

We saw the “bathroom predator” meme in use over trans and LGBTQ rights battles, including the successful repeal of the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance (HERO) in 2015. We saw the Public Facilities Privacy & Security Act, HB2, pass in North Carolina back in 2016, a bathroom bill that required a birth certificate to use sex-segregated public restrooms in the state. Thankfully, we did see that bill repealed after a major outcry that led to the Governor who championed HB2, Pat McCrory, losing re-election.

We’ve seen newer challenges, with Texas classifying care for transgender kids as abuse, threatening to take trans children away from their parents and placing them in an already overburdened foster care system. We’ve seen hundreds of bills just this year, attempting to bar trans kids from school restrooms and sports, caregivers threatened with felony charges, and any number of attempts to bar even the mention of transgender people existing.

But this week, we may have slipped into a new level of ill treatment towards transgender people.

Let’s back up to April, when Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, under the guidance of Florida Governor and future Presidential hopeful Ron DeSantis, issued guidance through the Florida Health Department seeking to bar gender-affirming medical care, as well as “social gender transition” for minors in the state.

Of course, this is Florida, home of the Florida Parental Rights in Education Act (HB1557), better known as the “Don’t Say Gay Law. That’s already prohibiting even the mention of sexual orientation or gender identity on school grounds

In August, the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration, under DeSantis, finalized new rules that ban health care providers from billing the state’s Medicaid program for gender-affirming treatments. 

The new rule was pushed through within a month, in spite of substantial protest and pushback. 

This, however, is not the worst of it.

Not yet satisfied with the aforementioned moves, The Florida Board of Medicine — also under DeSantis’ control — held a meeting to discuss a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender minors statewide. 

Now I feel I should mention at this point, for those who may not wholly understand the issue. Care for transgender youth is usually pretty limited. You can socially transition, adopting a new name and taking on the social role consistent with your gender identity. You can change your mode of attire. In some cases, when puberty is nigh, medication known as “puberty blockers” can be introduced. These were FDA approved in 1993, primarily to treat non-transgender children going through an early puberty. 

Youth care doesn’t tend to include feminizing nor masculinizing hormones, nor does it tend to include surgical intervention. 

This care has shown to be very successful. A ban on such care is opposed by the American Academy of Pediatrics, The American Psychiatric Association, and the American Medical Association.

The Florida Board of Medicine meeting, which went on for five hours, was held at the Orlando International Airport. The reason for the unusual venue seems to be that a large number of those seeking to bar the treatment were flying in from out of the state.

As the public comment section of the meeting opened, the first few spoke in favor of the ban. Then, at 45 minutes before the stated public comment period – and, according to some in the room, just before speakers set to rebut the previous comments could speak, Board Member Zachariah P. Zachariah — I swear, I did not make that name up — cut off comments. 

A rough draft of a rule was hurriedly discussed by the board, including the possibility of allowing those already in care to be allowed to continue. Zachariah apparently disagreed, pressing for a vote right then — not a rough draft. 

He then declared that the motion passed without announcing a final tally.

One attendee yelled out, saying that “the blood is on your hands!”

Zachariah replied, “That’s okay.”

Indeed, it would seem that Zachariah, as well as DeSantis above him, are more than willing to see transgender people done away with. I really do not want to sound alarmist, but Florida — joining Texas — is no longer a safe place for transgender people nor their supporters. The state itself is seeking to cause real harm to transgender people. 

DeSantis knows he is largely unpopular, especially after his failed actions surrounding Hurricane Ian. He is in an election and, as mentioned above, very clearly has a desire to get into the White House. He surely sees transgender people as a stepping stone in his ambitions, red meat he can offer his base in these just-before-an-election days. 

That there are real lives literally on the line is irrelevant to him. 

There was one more meeting November 4, at the Holiday Inn Orlando Disney Springs. I hope my Florida counterparts gave them hell. 

I’m not being alarmist: our lives are very much on the line.