During a year when LGBTQ+ people have faced added violence, exclusion, and poverty owing to the COVID-19 pandemic, legislators in the United States have introduced a record number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills meant to limit the rights, education, and freedom of queer people around the country.
While they affect the rights of the greater LGBTQ+ community, this year’s spate of legislation zeroes in on a group that is rarely given the platform it deserves: transgender youth.
Among the several bills introduced in Tennessee, one requires businesses that allow people to use the restroom consistent with their gender identity to post signage that “a member of either biological sex [can] use any public restroom.” In Arkansas, the governor signed two bills restricting the rights of young transgender people; one bans transgender girls from competing on school sports teams consistent with their gender identity while the other prohibits physicians from providing gender-affirming medical care for transgender youth.
Other states have introduced and signed similar legislation to prevent transgender youth from participating in school sports and enforce legal penalties on parents and physicians who provide gender-affirming care to minors. If allowed to continue, this alarming trend opens the door for broader cases of discrimination based on a person’s sexual orientation and gender identity to take place.
All the flawed arguments that politicians try to use fade away when you’re looking in the face of a trans person … the lies just don’t make much sense when you’re actually looking at me. A person. Yes, a person who is simply trans.
Eli, South Carolina
Advocacy groups like the ACLU and Human Rights Campaign have already announced they would challenge any law that discriminates against LGBTQ+ people. While it’s important that activists and allies are speaking out about the harm caused by the more than 250 anti-LGBTQ+ bills under consideration by state legislatures, advocates say the people whose voices should be heard the most are the ones who are impacted by these pieces of legislation.
“We know for a fact that trans youth are the experts in their experiences,” Juniperangelica Gia Loving, associate director of Gender Justice Leadership Programs (GJLP), told Global Citizen. “If there is one group of people who know exactly what one group is experiencing and what people need, it’s going to be the impacted folks, and in this case it’s trans young people.”
GJLP is an initiative sponsored by the Transgender Law Center and Genders and Sexualities Alliance (GSA) Network to train trans and nonbinary young people in organizing efforts. Through programs designed to help young people navigate media organizing and practice storytelling, GJLP ensures that transgender voices are centered on issues that concern their rights.
As part of GJLP’s efforts, trans and nonbinary youth leaders compiled a report on the United States’ spring 2021 legislative session. In “No Pride Without Trans Youth,” young people share their thoughts and experiences about how the onslaught of anti-LGBTQ+ bills affect their lives and ability to participate in activities with their peers.
Sports are part of who I am. The feeling of being on a team is amazing and being the person who I want to be is so freeing. Let me be.
Loving has been involved with GSA Network since she was in high school and personally knows that providing a support system for young people empowers them to take charge of their story. Now, she works with LGBTQ+ activists on how to effectively tell their stories when speaking out about discriminatory behaviors and policies.
“Storytelling is such a powerful tool in organizing and for shifting the hearts and minds of our allies and potential allies,” Loving said. “For some people, that means sharing with policymakers and district officials. For other folks, it’s really just about figuring out how to be more truthful on social media in a personal way.”
Listening to the voices of LGBTQ+ youth and how legislation affects them is important to understand why these bills are inherently damaging, particularly when the language politicians employ is under the guise of “protection.”
Legislation that keeps transgender girls from participating on girls’ sports teams are written as if they are protecting women’s sports to promote equality for girls and women. The bills that prohibit transgender youth from undergoing gender-affirming health care — such as Arkansas’ recently-signed SAFE Act — claim to protect children from child abuse and experimentation.
But ask a young transgender person if they feel protected and they will tell you that the politicans supporting these bills have no desire to learn about trans identities.
It can make it almost impossible to live your life as a young person when you don’t even have your basic needs met. Then these layers of privacy invasion??? It’s never okay to put someone through nonconsensual exams, especially kids. We are literally just trying to live.
Ky Claude, Ohio
In April, the governor of Tennessee signed Senate Bill 1229 into law, which requires school districts to notify parents of curriculum concerning sexual orientation and gender identity and gives parents the option to opt students out of learning about related topics. This bill not only hinders students’ access to learning about sexual health but also blocks widespread education about the LGBTQ+ community, which may have far-reaching consequences concerning the future of the nation.
“By not allowing trans people to see themselves [in school curriculum], you’re also not allowing other allies or people in general to learn about queer and trans identities,” Loving said. “That erasure allows future leaders to grow up without having any knowledge about queer and trans people.
“And that leads to what you see today, where you have politicians talk about our lives, and our bodies, and our impact without having any concept of what being trans means,” she added. “But they have the power to make such dangerous decisions, and that’s why we’ve seen so many bills pass.”
Trans people should have it all. We shouldn’t just strive for representation on the screen, we deserve to feel safe and have laws that protect us. I don’t think this is radical. It’s not a radical thing to say trans people should be in control of our bodies.
To combat the attacks on transgender children, as well as transphobia more broadly, the best place for Global Citizens to start is by helping trans youth find their voices and centering their experiences when talking about the effects of harmful legislation.
“Combining the expertise and power of trans youth and the effectiveness of storytelling creates a very clear place where we can support trans young people and share their stories in ways that feel authentic and are effective,” Loving said. “I’ve also tried to develop a way for young folks to be affirmed in their experiences by saying yes, we hear you, we understand you, we love you, we agree with you, and we want to support you.”
The No Pride Without Trans Youth report lists other ideas on how people can support LGBTQ+ youth. These include contacting representatives about bills that are being considered, as well as holding them accountable in the long-term and making sure they are committed to supporting the rights of all people.
Legislative sessions like this can be scary because not only is transphobia happening in an interpersonal way from our peers and community, but it’s also now backed by the government. It feels as if not only are we outcasted [sic] socially, but yes … it is in writing that we are seen as different under the law. But we’re fighting back. We have to.
Allies can also recognize where their education has been limited and unlearn what they know about gender, agency, and self-determination to be more inclusive of transgender and nonbinary identities. Finally, investing in trans youth today will make sure that their voices will be heard in the future, particularly from positions of power.
From working with transgender youth activists and allies for several years, Loving said that people should be less concerned with where to start supporting LGBTQ+ people and just start. Attacks on transgender people are not going away soon, but people can help prevent future instances of discrimination from taking place by commiting to act now. Transgender people have committed to this work becasue they have no other choice.
“It’s important for folks to hear directly from trans people: what we saw, what we felt, what we learned,” Loving said. “Being a trans person in general is really just about, ‘How can I be truthful and live my authentic self knowing that the world is actively working to my demise?’ That’s the challenge of it, and somehow our people have been strong enough to do just that and live as our authentic selves.”