LGBTQ Rights in the Crosshairs
You can ban a kids’ book about two guys raising chickens from library shelves. You can paste a warning label on it.
You can forbid teachers from talking about same-sex parents. You can block transgender kids from the kind of medical care they need.
You can regulate who uses the bathroom where and exclude transgender students from sports.
You can run an onslaught of spiteful political TV ads scapegoating transgender people.
You can fold your hands, close your eyes and try to pray the gay away.
But that isn’t going to stop one person from being who they are. All it will do is make life harder for folks already facing a tough time finding their way to selfhood.
“Censorship of the word does not end on paper, but on the skin of human beings,” quoted author Jarrett Dapier in a letter to Spanish Fort City officials this spring.
Dapier’s childrens’ book Mr. Watson’s Chickens was at the center of the latest skirmish between the forces that be in Spanish Fort and local LGBTQ advocate Elizabeth Denham.
With this year’s Pride Month upon us, Baldwin County’s LGBTQ community finds itself in the crosshairs of ever-escalating right-wing culture wars.
Alabama lawmakers this spring passed a duo of bills that would criminalize gender-affirming care for minors. The new laws mandate teachers and counselors call parents if a student questions their gender identity. They bar classroom discussion on gender identity or sexual orientation for kindergartners through fifth graders. Kids must use the bathroom or locker room aligned with the gender that is assigned on their birth certificate.
Worst of all, the state threatens jail time for doctors, parents, and anyone else who helps a transgender kid gets care.
Gov. Kay Ivey signed it all into law, saying she believes “very strongly that if the Good Lord made you a boy, you are a boy, and if he made you a girl, you are a girl.”
“There are very real challenges facing our young people, especially with today’s societal pressures and modern culture,” Ivey said.
That may be true. But, for folks in the LGBTQ community, pointless measures and conservative political posturing only pile on those pressures.
“Alabama is a hard enough place to grow up trans. This bill just made it a whole lot worse,” said Corey Harvard, spokesperson for Prism United, a Mobile group providing programming for Bay area LGBTQ youth and the people who care for them.
SB 184, criminalizing the provision of gender-transitioning medical care to minors, is mercifully on hold under a United States Justice Department challenge claiming the bill “denies necessary medical care to children based solely on who they are.”
The United States’ complaint alleges that SB184 violates the Equal Protection Clause by discrimination based on sex and transgender status. The complaint joins another lawsuit filed by four Alabama parents of transgender teens filed in April.
“Even if the medical parts of the bill never go into effect, the other aspects of it will still have devastating consequences on the mental health of trans youth,” Harvard said.
Transgender young people in Baldwin and Mobile counties bear witness to the cruelty of the latest spate of discriminatory state decrees. They are going by first names to avoid further harassment.
No one wants to be called slurs, says Adrian. Nobody likes to be jumped in school halls. Or to lose a job, or a chance to go to college.
“But when you’re terrified about your own safety going to the doctor, that’s a completely different issue. As a trans person, I feel like I don’t know what’s going on with me. And I don’t know if this person’s going to lie to me or not,” he said.
Tyler said gender-affirming medical care saved his life.
‘It’s an uphill battle,” he said. “But this is a downslide for making it easier for future generations of young people.”
When it comes to sexual identity, It’s not up to doctors to tell clients what’s right for them, says Dr. Brian Upton, a Mobile clinical psychologist. And it’s certainly not the place of government. That’s the job of the licensing boards that regulate medical ethics and practices, he said.
“The licensing boards that regulate how we practice are in favor of gender-affirming services. Period. Full stop,” Dr. Upton said
If there’s one arena where trickle-down theories embraced by Republicans actually bear out, we can see intolerance seeping down from the state hall to saturate local schools, libraries, and workplaces. (Or does it siphon up?)
Elizabeth Denham made news in 2017 when she challenged a right-leaning reading list for an Advanced Placement Government class at Spanish Fort High School. The case drew national press attention when her blog was published on Huffington Post, one of the web’s most popular sites.
This year, the Spanish Fort library board considered either banning or putting a special “LGBTIQ friendly” label on Dapier’s story about two men in a relationship and their comically touching escapades raising chickens.
National Democratic leadership and fundraisers are sending out appeals to support local librarians as Republicans turn their attacks on public libraries in advance of the midterm elections. Virginia Gov. Youngkin made banning books a key promise of his campaign.
“This disgusting censorship is a blatant ploy to silence the voices of LGBTQ Americans,” warns a recent email from Project Ameripac, a Political Action Committee that raises money to elect Democratic leaders to Congress.
“Republicans are attacking public libraries to force bans on any book dealing with race, LGBTQ+ rights, or anything else the GOP simply doesn’t like,” the email says.
Banning books like Mr. Watson’s Chickens won’t make gay people in your town – or anywhere else – exist any less, Dapier says.
“But it will turn them into targets of belittlement, violence, and hate. That is unacceptable, unloving, and inhuman,” he said.
That’s exactly what happened when Denham confronted school and library authorities five years ago. After that episode, students physically turned their backs on her son – who is openly gay and now in college – as he walked through the halls of Spanish Fort High. The Denham family moved to a new church since the church they attended did not accept their son.
Once again, Denham prevailed and reason ultimately reigned in Spanish Fort. The book stayed on the shelf with no warning label after neighbors wrote letters and spoke up at a public hearing. The city attorney recommended leaving Mr. Watson’s Chickens where it was after reviewing relevant case law.
“If my child had seen a book that represented him, how much more normal would he have felt? When you don’t see anybody who looks like you, you are made to feel like an outcast,” she said.
Denham pushes back on those who say a book with two men living together as central characters sexualize children. She sees it the other way around.
In elementary school, her son tells her, he felt “kind of different” but didn’t know what it was. By middle school, he had figured it out. By high school, he had accepted it as who he was. It took another couple of years to come out.
“You’re putting a sexual connotation on them before they are able to have one,” Denham said in her podcast with Dapier (who is not gay) and book illustrator Andrea Tsurumi (who is).
“Actually, I’m kind of offended that you are putting this sexual connotation on kids who aren’t old enough to handle it. “
Domino Effect Discrimination
With Roe v. Wade about to collapse after standing as a precedent to protect women’s reproductive health rights for five decades, many fear a rollback of recent gains granting gay rights in the workplace and marriage.
It’s not lost on local LGBTQ rights advocates that Judge Samuel Alito, in his draft opinion, specifically referenced same-sex marriage rights as it poised to destroy women’s right to choose. Jim Obergefell, the lead plaintiff in the landmark marriage equality case and now a candidate for an Ohio House seat said in a statement that it is “concerning” that some on the Supreme Court are eager to lump them all together.
“The sad part is in both these cases, five or six people will determine the law of the land and go against the vast majority of Ohioans and Americans who overwhelmingly support a woman’s right to make her own health decisions and a couple’s right to be married,” he said.
“This is a sad day, but it’s not over.,” Obergefell said. “We have fought the good fight for too long to be denied our rights now.”
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