Pride gathering in Hartford. Credit: Doug Hardy file photo
Susan Bigelow

This year, all of a sudden, LGBTQ rights are being rolled back in the one place where openness, inclusivity, and acceptance does the most good: the nation’s classrooms. What are we going to do about it?

It’s never been easy to be a queer kid. Trust me, I know; growing up in the 80s and 90s as a kid who didn’t exactly conform to gender norms was not fun. For a while, though, it seemed like things might be getting better. Acceptance of LGBTQ people has steadily increased, and issues that used to be hugely divisive, like same-sex marriage, are favored by large majorities. More members of Gen Z identify as queer than any other generation: fully 1 out of every 5 adult Gen Zers say they are LGBTQ. That’s not because they’re being indoctrinated or some other right-wing garbage, but because it’s safer to explore sexuality and gender identity now than it ever has been, and coming out is much, much less dangerous.

That doesn’t mean everything is fine, however. The 2021 Trevor Project survey of LGBTQ youth found that these kids are still under an awful lot of stress because of who they are. Seventy-five percent reported experiencing discrimination based on their sexuality or gender identity; 70% reported their mental health as “poor;” and 42% seriously considered suicide, including over half of trans kids. The awful rise of right-wing politics that target queer youth has taken a serious toll, too; a staggering, sobering 94% of respondents said that current politics had negatively impacted their mental health.

Over the past few months, conservative governors and legislators have gleefully tossed gasoline on the bonfire. What started out as moral handwringing over trans kids in school sports morphed quickly into wider attacks, like Florida’s new “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which restricts any kind of mention of LGBTQ individuals, families, or issues in classrooms up to grade 3, and a hideous, heartbreaking Texas law that requires families allowing their trans children to receive any kind of gender-affirming medical care to be investigated for child abuse.

Supposedly, these laws are all about protecting our children, but I fail to see how being able to talk about one family – but not another – helps anybody. And as for trans youth getting medical care, that mostly takes the form of something called puberty blockers, which are safe and entirely reversible.

Yes, despite what you may have heard from the right wing, puberty blockers are by and large very safe, especially for short-term use. Puberty blockers do just that; they delay puberty and its effects. This can make social transition a lot easier, and can give kids and their families breathing room to figure out what, if any, steps they want to take next. If they decide that transition doesn’t work for them, they go off the blockers and puberty resumes as it would have.

For this, Texas wants to investigate and punish families. Trans kids could be separated from loving, supportive households and thrown into the unknown dangers of the foster-care system.

It’s getting worse. A Texas teacher was recently fired by her district just for putting rainbow Pride stickers. There’s a new bill in Missouri that would ban gender-affirming medical care not just for teenagers, but for anyone up to age 25. And in Florida, the Department of Health has advised not just against medical transition, but social transition for trans youth.

The point, it seems, isn’t to protect kids, but to forcibly shove them back into the closet. I can’t help but wonder if the cruelty of it is the whole point.

This is all happening in other states, some of them very far away. What can a small northeastern state like Connecticut do?

Connecticut’s new abortion rights law would shield anyone who comes here for an abortion from another state, as well as the doctors who treat them, from that state’s anti-abortion laws. We can do something very similar for trans kids and their families from those states who come here. A trans shield law would prohibit cooperation with out-of-state law enforcement seeking information about families, and prevent arrest or extradition of families and providers.

New York is already considering such a law, and so is California. We can do the same. It would send a strong signal that Connecticut is safe.

There’s more we can do, of course. We can welcome trans kids and their families leaving these states, we can help them find housing and get set up. We can be our usual live-and-let-live selves.

And to those out there who want to persecute, harass, and sentence queer people into silence, know this:

We’re still here. We’ve always been here. We will be here in the days to come, and beyond. We will outlast you.

You will not win.

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Susan Bigelow

Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.

The views, opinions, positions, or strategies expressed by the author are theirs alone, and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, or positions of or any of the author's other employers.