Anti-LGBTQ legislation in Texas and Florida worries LA

Gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender Californians have watched with concern and sadness in recent weeks as lawmakers in the Midwest and South debate the rights of LGBTQ people within their borders.

Among the questions: whether transgender children can play in youth sports leagues or on high school teams, whether teachers can discuss same-sex relationships in the classroom, and whether parents who help their children seek gender-affirming care will do so. under investigation for abuse.

For many, the debates seem to be deflating and shaking after years of apparent progress. They fear that the rhetoric and legislation will continue to spread across the country, leading to a clawback of important protections.

“Visibility is a double-edged sword,” said Madin Lopez, founder of the nonprofit ProjectQ, which provides free haircuts to homeless LGBTQ youth in Los Angeles. “The more we show up and are proud of who we are, the more direction the opposition has to point when they want to say something is wrong. The more noise we make, the more noise they make. »

For Robert Gamboa, a gay man who is the policy advocacy manager for the Los Angeles LGBT Center, the bills send a clear message: “I can’t go home the same way.

Born and raised in Texas, Gamboa has been road tripping through his home state and other parts of the South during the COVID-19 pandemic. The 45-year-old often wore T-shirts with rainbows or gay pride messages, occasionally eliciting compliments from a gas station employee.

But that, he said, “was before this flurry of bills.”

Now he worries about what might happen, especially with a 6-3 conservative majority on the US Supreme Court.

“The real fear for me is, how far are they going to go?” said Gamboa. “Our uphill battle is getting tougher day by day.”

Lawmakers in 19 states have introduced bills to restrict children’s access to gender-affirming care, and lawmakers in 30 states have introduced proposals to exclude transgender children from youth athletics .

A Florida bill signed last month by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis bans classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through third grade. Dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, it has drawn ire from critics who say it marginalizes LGBTQ people. It also sparked a week-long feud between DeSantis and the Walt Disney Co.

In Tennessee, lawmakers have passed a bill that would remove funds from school districts allowing transgender students to play on women’s sports teams.

And in Texas, Republican Gov. Greg Abbott has ordered state employees to investigate child abuse in families who provide gender-affirming care to their trans children.

Legislative debates have coincided with an increase in attempts to restrict access to books dealing with sexuality and gender identity. The American Library Assn. documented 729 challenges for library and school reading materials last year, targeting 1,597 books – a 93% increase over two years.

Of the most frequently censored books, half contain LGBTQ content, according to the ALA’s analysis. This trend is alarming because it’s “not just one time,” said John Szabo, the City of Los Angeles Librarian.

“It feels like we’re taking steps backwards, and steps so stupid too,” Szabo said. “The idea that anyone wouldn’t want books on LGBTQ topics is ridiculous, when LGBTQ Americans are everywhere, including at the head of the Los Angeles Public Library.”

Some of the fury recalls the moral panic of the 1970s “Save Our Children” campaign, Szabo said. This effort by singer and orange juice spokesperson Anita Bryant to overturn a law in Dade County, Florida, prohibiting discrimination based on sexual orientation helped galvanize the modern gay rights movement.

New legislation, particularly bills targeting gender-affirming care, has brought back the feeling of being a queer child of color in a small town in Tennessee, said Jessica-Jean de la Vega, chief services officer at youth at ProjectQ.

“Now I think of all the queer kids that are where I was,” said De la Vega, who identifies as a “non-binary middle-school woman” and uses the pronouns they and she.

De la Vega sometimes thinks that “if I don’t leave my bubble” in Los Angeles, “it will be fine”. But, they said, they worry about whether they would be safe visiting their sister and nephews in Alabama.

A recent survey of the Trevor project, a non-profit suicide prevention group, found that recent legislative debates have damaged the mental health of nearly two-thirds of LGBTQ children.

The message to transgender kids, whether they live in Florida or California, is “that they don’t belong,” said Olivia Hunt, policy director at the National Center for Transgender Equality. They may also face social rebuffs and bullying from classmates who learn anti-trans talking points at home or in the media.

Regardless of where you live, “the impact of having your identity debated or legislated is truly dehumanizing,” said Jaden Fields, a Long Beach resident who is transmasculine.

Fields serves on the advisory board of Transmasculine Health Justice: LA, a project of Gender Justice LA. Transmasculine people include trans men and non-binary people whose sex is more masculine than the sex they were assigned at birth.

Fields said he was bracing for an increase in trans people traveling to California to seek gender-affirming care or escape restrictive laws in other states. Many of them will need help accessing housing, medical care and other services, he said.

California has begun to position itself as a haven for transgender youth and their families seeking to access gender-affirming care that they cannot get elsewhere.

Los Angeles County This Month official travel prohibited in Texas and Florida due to their recently passed legislation. Palm Springs is developing a program that could provide direct cash assistance to transgender and non-binary residents.

State Sen. Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) said he plans to introduce a bill to strengthen protections for transgender children in California. If approved, the bill would render unenforceable any out-of-state court judgment seeking to remove children from the custody of their parents because they received transgender medical care.

Although California has a relatively high number of protections for gender non-conforming people, queer and trans people still face prejudice within its borders.

People sometimes walk into the ProjectQ salon in East Hollywood and hurl insults at hairdressers, Lopez said.

Data suggests that trans youth who seek refuge in California are very likely to be homeless. Between 20% and 40% of homeless children and adolescents identify as LGBTQ, compared to 4% to 10% of the total youth population.

And Bamby Salcedo, president and CEO of the [email protected] Coalition, said she never felt safe as a transgender woman, even in Los Angeles: “A lot of us don’t feel safe walking down the street, getting on the bus, simply because of the constant verbal and physical abuse we experience.

While California may feel safe from legislation brewing elsewhere, what’s happening in Florida could quickly have a national impact if politicians like DeSantis with presidential aspirations continue to push for anti-LGBTQ legislation. , said Brandon Wolf, publicist at Equality Florida. Already, copycat bills are popping up in other states.

“Sectarianism knows no state borders,” Wolf said. “The very hateful, very divisive rhetoric that’s being used doesn’t inoculate people in California.”

Will Larkins, a non-binary high school student who advocated against the Florida bill, grew up in Newport Beach before moving with his family to Winter Park, Fla., north of Orlando. Larkins, who uses the pronouns they and him, was never afraid to be queer in California, he said, but the outright homophobia he suffered from his classmates in Florida was “really bad”.

He said he hoped that by advocating and speaking out, other students would become politically active and protest anti-LGBTQ legislation.

“Florida is a lot more like California than people think, Larkins said.

Longtime LGBTQ activist and West Hollywood resident Heidi Shink argues that what’s happening in Florida affects Californians, despite distance and opposing politics, because the rhetoric is “spreading like wildfire.”

“At the end of the day, we have to be always vigilant, always persistent and never let our guard down,” said Shink, who is lesbian. “At a time when we as a community are enjoying some of the hard-won victories, you have to realize that the pendulum will swing as it does now. You never really stand on a solid base.

A cruel irony about the recent flurry of anti-trans bills is that they follow a period of unprecedented improvement in the lives of trans and non-binary Americans, said Lopez of ProjectQ, who is non-binary. and uses the pronouns them/them.

They cited the example of having an “X” on their California driver’s license — and more recently, on their US passport — instead of choosing either male or female. In 2019, the World Health Organization stopped classifying transgender people as having a mental disorder.

But, they said, they believe the legislative pendulum will swing back in favor of trans people.

“They’re creating a generation of young trans people who come into their identity angry instead of happy,” Lopez said. “And there will be more people to fight this opposition. It is my hope.

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