Opinion: Fight For Queer Youth

DISCLAIMER: These are my personal opinions alone, they do not represent the official stance of C.D. Hylton High School, The Watchdog, or any other organization/person.

Content Warning: Discussion of homophobia, transphobia, suicide, and self-harm.

As of February 2022, around one in five (21%) American adults in GenZ identify as queer, according to a recent poll conducted by Gallup. While this broad community is more commonly referred to as LGBTQ, queer is a catch-all term; once used to demean but now reclaimed, that refers to anyone that isn’t heterosexual or cisgender. The two will be used interchangeably within this article.

Don’t Say Gay

Earlier this year, a bill passed by the Florida legislature garnered national attention as well as widespread condemnation; officially called the “Parental Rights in Education act,” it has become more commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay bill.” If enacted, it would, among other things, ban school staff from “instructing” students enrolled in public schools from kindergarten through third grade about sexual orientation and gender identity.

School faculty would also be required to disclose any information regarding students’ mental and physical health to their parents. In many circumstances this might be appropriate; however, this could severely damage the trust formed between students and school staff such as counselors and teachers that could not legally withhold personal information regardless if it was given with the expectation that it would be kept private. According to the Human Rights Campaign,

“These restrictions not only prevent students from accessing information that’s essential to their health and well-being, but send a discriminatory message that being LGBT is inappropriate or wrong. That message not only stigmatizes LGBT children but can tacitly encourage intolerance and bullying from peers from a young age.”

United States Anti-LGBT Map
Source: Human Rights Campaign

The implication from bills like these is that being anything other than straight and cisgender is some form of perversion; these aren’t things that can and do affect children. No one would bat an eye at a teacher describing a straight married couple, a mother and father, but the moment you deviate from this social norm it’s inappropriate to mention it within a classroom.

The pushback from the LGBTQ community and its allies was swift; thousands of students all over the United States held protests and walkouts in opposition to the bill. These protests primarily took place in Florida, but surprisingly they also occurred as far away as New York and Colorado.

Trans Rights Under Attack

Just last month on February 22, 2022, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that many medical procedures related to gender transition would now be considered child abuse and that anyone aiding a minor in receiving gender-affirming care would be prosecuted. Even further, professionals such as teachers and doctors are required to report any instances of this so-called “abuse” or face criminal charges themselves.

“It is already against the law to subject Texas children to a wide variety of elective procedures for gender transitioning, including reassignment surgeries… and administration of puberty-blocking drugs or supraphysiologic doses of testosterone or estrogen… Texas law imposes reporting requirements upon all licensed professionals who have direct contact with children who may be subject to such abuse, including doctors, nurses, and teachers, and provides criminal penalties for failure to report such child abuse.”

To address the elephant in the room, no, minors are not getting sex reassignment surgery. This practice is illegal in almost all cases across the United States. Only in the rarest instances are people between the ages of 16 and 18 even considered for the procedure. The most prominent of the numerous issues within this statement lies in the inclusion of “puberty-blocking drugs” and “doses of testosterone or estrogen” among more controversial and permanent medical operations.

Several peer-reviewed studies have found that gender-questioning minors using puberty blockers led to lower rates of suicidal ideation or the consideration of committing suicide. The most substantial examination of the topic, a study published in the Journal of Adolescent Healthadded that the broader application of gender-affirming hormone therapy, or GAHT, had significant positive effects on participants’ mental health.

“Findings support a relationship between access to GAHT and lower rates of depression and suicidality among transgender and nonbinary youth… Half of transgender and nonbinary respondents said they were not using GAHT but would like to receive it, 36% said they were not interested in receiving GAHT, and 14% said they were receiving GAHT.”

Many experts maintain that the use of puberty blockers has little to no long-term detrimental effects. In an article from the Mayo Clinic, a respected source of online medical information, it was said that,

“Use of GAHT pauses puberty, providing time to determine if a child’s gender identity is long lasting. It also gives children and their families time to think about or plan for the psychological, medical, developmental, social and legal issues ahead. If an adolescent child decides to stop taking GAHT, puberty will resume.”

Blockers have even been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), albeit for children that start puberty early. The point still stands that this is not a new treatment; the effects of this medication have been studied for decades. It’s only now that trans youth are utilizing them that it becomes an issue with state legislators.

Source: Human Rights Campaign as of July 27, 2021

Texas isn’t the only state to attempt restrictions like this; in the past three years alone, more than sixty similar bills were proposed all around the country. An almost identical bill was passed by the Arkansas State Senate, becoming the first of its kind to get through a state legislature. However, it was vetoed, or rejected, by Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson, who described it as “a vast government overreach.” In an interview, he said,

“[It] was too broad, and it did not grandfather in those young people who are currently under hormone treatment. And so this really puts a very vulnerable population in a more difficult position. It sends the wrong signal to them… And in this case, it is a very sensitive matter that involves parents, and it involves physicians… [And] that’s exactly the reason I vetoed the bill is because we wanted – did not want to interrupt a treatment that the parents had agreed to, the patient agreed to and the physician recommended… I listen to experts. I make decisions. And this one was a step way too far, and I couldn’t abide by it.”

The Arkansas House and Senate both overwhelmingly voted to override the Governor’s veto a day later, setting it on the course to officially become law in the state. However, this resistance wasn’t entirely futile; a federal judge sided with the American Civil Liberties Union, more commonly known as the ACLU, and blocked the bill from going into effect indefinitely; saying, “to pull this care midstream from these patients, or minors, would cause irreparable harm”. Despite this initial win for all people concerned with trans rights, the war against them continues. As of mid-March 2022, another bill in Idaho, if it had been signed into law, would have become the most extreme yet.

It would have made providing trans youth with gender-affirming care, such as puberty blockers, a felony. Not only this, even transporting a minor outside the state to receive said care would carry the same punishment, which under the language within the bill would be up to life in prison for the “offender”. The bill passed through the Idaho House of Representatives mostly along party lines, meaning that all but one Republican voted in favor; every Democrat was opposed. The aforementioned single Republican that voted against the anti-trans legislation was Fred Wood, the only medical professional in the governing body. While it was blocked by the state’s Senate, the fact that the bill made it as far as it did points to an intensification in the reactionary war against queer youth and the LGBTQ community at large.

What Is to Be Done?

The ultimate goal of bills like those in Texas and Florida is control; control over our identities and how we choose to live. The demagogues pushing these restrictions would rather queer folks be erased from the collective consciousness of the United States and abroad; if not for them to stop existing altogether. Across the country, there has been a concerted effort by reactionaries to censor education they deem divisive, which in practice usually amounts to anything that doesn’t fit the whitewashed narrative of our history and society many Americans have come to believe in. As students and the most diverse generation in history thus far, we must fight to protect the progress we’ve made and continue to push forward.

A reactionary is someone opposed to progress as a whole, to social justice and equality. Throughout human history, one thing has remained constant, reactionaries always lose. The passage of time continues, and with it, so does progress. They may have momentary victories by slowing it, but in the long-term, societal change is inevitable. As long as people are willing to fight, this will continue to be the case. Be on the right side of history, and keep fighting.

Join The Fight

Getty Images

With the continued attacks on students and education nationwide and locally, we can’t sit idly by and let others put in the effort.

While this article focused on LGBTQ issues, an emerging student group dedicated to organizing intersectional progressive activism and education will be concerned with all aspects of political struggle.

If this student-led group sounds like something you’d be interested in, you can learn more with this link.

We are not directly affiliated with The Watchdog, C.D. Hylton High School, or any outside organization. It will be run by and for students.