Newly elected trans state lawmakers reflect on record year of anti-trans legislation
This story was originally posted by The 19th on June 7, 2021.
In February, Stephanie Byers stood at a podium inside the Kansas State Capitol, voicing her opposition to a bill that would ban transgender athletes from playing in both women’s and women’s sports. At least 65 similar bills have been tabled in state houses across the country this year.
Byers, a representative of the Democratic state, knew one of the state’s lawmakers who was among the bill’s most vocal supporters; they went to college together in the 1980s. For Byers – who last November became Kansas’ first trans lawmaker and the country’s first trans person of color to be elected state lawmaker – it was hard not to fail. not take it personally.
“It was hard not to separate the idea that maybe this was aimed directly at me,” said the 58-year-old former public school teacher. “I know it’s not. I know that if I had not been there, if I had not been a candidate or if I had not won my election, this bill would still have passed. But it’s a little difficult because it looks like it’s coming right at you.
Byers is one of eight transgender people who serve in state houses this year – a number doubled by the 2020 election. The increased representation comes as lawmakers introduced more than 250 anti-LGBTQ + bills this year. . Lawmakers in more than 30 states have introduced bills prohibiting trans youth from playing sports that match their gender identity; they have introduced at least 35 bills aimed at prohibiting minors from accessing gender-affirming medical care. Some of these bills have been enacted and are the subject of litigation.
“As anti-trans legislation has been introduced in state legislatures across the country, it has been a deeply personal and moving year for our trans state lawmakers,” said Elliot Imse, senior communications director for Victory Fund , which helps LGBTQ + candidates run for office. . “But they are fighting and leading the way on these issues regardless.”
In Vermont, State Representative Taylor Small said she attended virtual legislative meetings this year where new colleagues sometimes used the wrong pronouns to identify her. But the state’s first trans lawmaker was pleasantly surprised when his fellow lawmakers stepped in to correct their colleagues or admitted their mistakes.
“When a pronunciation error occurred, it was dealt with immediately. There have been an apologies, ”said the 27-year-old. “There was never this intentional gender error that came up, which is honestly what worried me the most – not being adopted into a state house and having to really claim it. my claim to be able to make things happen. “
Sarah McBride of Delaware, the nation’s first trans state senator, used her freshman year to help kick off the Legislature’s first LGBTQ legislative caucus. But McBride, a member of the state’s Progressive and Democratic parties, also chairs a key health committee working on issues such as vaccine distribution, and she advocates for paid family and medical leave, protections for religious minorities and home health care.
“On a daily basis, I don’t think about my identity in a particular sense. I reflect on all of the experiences that I bring to the table, ”said the 30-year-old Democrat. “What experiences in the community I represent – in the Senate First District – am I bringing to the table? And how do we move legislation forward on all the issues the Delawaren need to move forward on? “
In Vermont, Small used his lived experiences to educate his colleagues. While debating a bill she helped introduce that would prohibit using a person’s real or perceived sexual orientation or sex as a so-called “panic” defense in criminal cases, Small said some of his colleagues have raised speculation that LGBTQ + people are instigators. Small reminded them that the legislation was meant to protect LGBTQ + people.
“I think it really put them in the moment,” Small said. “Say, ‘OK, we’re done with the guesswork. It really is an impact for the community.
Lawmakers in the Democratic-controlled Vermont State House ultimately passed the bill unanimously, and Republican Gov. Phil Scott signed it into law in early May. Days later Scott sent a letter to Small acknowledging his work on the bill, and included the pen he used to sign the bill. Small said she was surprised that a bill she drafted was enacted during her first year in office, and that she was grateful that it was this one, which she said would strengthen the trust and encourage survivors and victims to come forward. (At least 15 state houses have approved similar bans).
“I have to say it was the warmest welcome I could have asked for upon entering the legislature,” she said.
McBride said years of hard work by Delaware activists fighting for LGBTQ + protections meant his legislature was in many ways ready to welcome his trans colleagues. But she admits that this is not the case for the others. When Danica Roem was elected to the Virginia legislature in 2017, for example, Republicans announced their intention to end the age-old practice of using gendered titles for lawmakers, a move some believed to be in response to questions about how they would treat Roem. Roem was the first transgender person to be elected and sworn into a state house.
“The debates that we see in a lot of other legislatures, I think, underscore just how powerful having trans people in the public service could be in changing the debate, changing priorities, changing what’s possible.” , McBride said. “And I think other trans lawmakers are seeing it as well.”
McBride tried to savor the happy moments. She recalls being sworn in to an LGBTQ + judge as two trans teens stood.
“It was, for me, a very clear reflection of the progress we have made,” she said. “It’s not felt evenly, and it’s certainly not the end of the road by any stretch of the imagination. But this simple image would have seemed so impossible that it was almost incomprehensible just ten years ago. “
In Kansas, Byers focused on bringing her lived experience outside of being trans to her leadership on LGBTQ + issues. During her testimony in February, Byers – a member of the Chickasaw Nation and the country’s first elected trans Native American – pointed out what she saw as parallels to past discrimination against her ancestors, “all because we were different from this. which was then dominant America.
“We don’t see any new arguments about discrimination,” Byers said in an interview with The 19th. “What we are seeing is a new subject for this discrimination.”
The Republicans-controlled Kansas State House passed the anti-trans sports bill that Byers voted against in April. Governor Laura Kelly, a Democrat, vetoed it. By a voice, Senate lawmakers failed to overturn the veto. A separate bill to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth has not moved forward.
Byers said that until the final days of the legislative session, she worried about rumors that lawmakers were trying to revive an anti-trans bill. But after the bills failed, Byers said some fellow Republicans contacted her privately to explain why they voted the way they did – or to apologize.
“It means politicians who are out of touch with their constituency,” she said. “They know where their constituents are on this, and yet they fear that in order to stay in power they have to go along with these heinous ideas.”
Small, the Vermont legislator, recognized the contrasting experiences of trans elected officials, depending on the state they represent. Representative Brianna Titone, for example, the first trans state legislator in Colorado, spoke out against homophobic attacks during the election campaign.
Small serves in a legislature where lawmakers haven’t debated anti-trans legislation – and she hopes to push forward a bill of rights for trans youth in the next session.
“The fight was to assert the rights of LGBTQ people in our state – not to fight to prevent rights,” she said.
Byers said she hopes to continue prioritizing LGBTQ + policy in the future, including proposals to ban gay and trans conversion therapy, and to expand protections against discrimination on the basis of l sexual orientation and gender identity. She noted the work of Small, Titone and Roem, who helped pass a similar “panic defense” ban in Virginia.
“We serve where we serve, we do what we can. It is important to note the contrast. But it’s also important to note that we are all making progress. It has to start somewhere, ”Byers said. “As I said in the House here in Kansas, there are now 125 state lawmakers in Kansas who can no longer say, ‘I don’t know a trans person. “”