Recently, there has been much discussion surrounding the apparently controversial subjects of gender and sexual orientation. This has stemmed from a mounting movement in US State Legislatures to criminalize schools and parents who engage in so-called child abuse and liberal indoctrination. There has also been an equally sized movement in opposition to these so-called transphobic and homophobic bills. Current discussions are dominated by these headline-grabbing keywords, and it is difficult to think rationally in the face of such a polarizing topic. Furthermore, much of the arguments put forth on both sides rests heavily on intangible and subjective rationales such as religion and morals. Nonetheless, when examining the intentions of both sides concerning the rights of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, and Queer (LGBTQ+) youth, a pattern begins to emerge that exposes a harsh reality.
Centred in discussions surrounding gender and sexual orientation are two bills being passed in the legislatures of Texas and Florida. In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott recently issued a directive to Texas State health agencies announcing that the delivery of “gender-affirming care” was akin to child abuse. This directive also stipulated that health agencies and schools are now legally required to report parents who facilitate gender transitions to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services. This bill punishes families with the threat of separation if children are transgender and their parents are in support, even if the family is functioning and healthy. Already, investigations have been opened into families with transgender children, risking their removal from stable homes.
In Florida, the State Senate recently passed the Parental Rights in Education Bill, or as it is more colloquially known as the “Don’t Say, Gay Bill”. The key line in the bill states that “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students by state standards.” This language is highly ambiguous and subjective, however, it opens the door for discussions on gender and sexual orientation to be heavily constrained, if not completely banned, for children of all ages. Overall, the bill aims to strengthen parents’ say in their children’s education.
Regardless of one moral opinion on the content of these bills, there exists a clear line of hypocrisy within the conservative ethos behind these bills. The Texas bill aims to criminalize the rights of parents with their children, while the Florida bill aims to expand the rights of parents towards their children. One bill punishes parents for having a say in the lives of their children, while the other bill enshrines the right of parents to have a say in the lives of their children. This hypocrisy exposes a harsh reality in the US, namely, that the vilification of everything that is non-binary, whether it be gender or sexual identity, is still running rampant in American politics. It shows that conservative politicians will utilize every avenue possible, whether through education reform, the separation of families, or the denial of health care, to alienate and marginalize children who deviate from their binary worldview.
Opposition pushback to these bills has been fierce. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has already sued Texas stating that this directive violates federal law and the US Department of Health and Human Services has backed this claim. Walt Disney employees and schools across Florida staged walkouts in protest of the Florida bill and more than 150 companies have signed an open letter opposing the legislation.
The arguments opposing the legislation in Texas and Florida are very unified, simple, and rest heavily on one basic principle: protecting the lives of transgender and non-heterosexual youth. There also exist large amounts of striking data to back their points. Suicide statistics among LGBTQ+ youth are quite stark with studies indicating that 82% have considered suicide, 40% have attempted suicide, and 60% have reported committing self-harm. Overall, LGBTQ+ youth are twice as likely to commit suicide as their non-LGBTQ+ counterparts.
It is crucial to note that generally, suicide stems from poor mental health, mental health that is being compromised due to rejection and isolation that anti-LGBTQ+ legislation fosters within schools, homes, and communities. There is also data that supports this claim. In fact, 94% of LGBTQ+ youth reported that recent politics, such as the legislation in Texas and Florida, have negatively impacted their mental health. This shows that bills of this sort directly impact the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth, and by extension, increase their chances of suicide.
On one side of the argument are politicians who are pushing to alienate and punish schools, parents, and children who facilitate the expression of non-binary gender and sexual identity. They push hypocritical arguments citing the rights of parents in their children’s education while limiting the rights of parents to support their children in their own homes. On the other hand, the opposition is concerned with exposing the direct line that exists between anti-LGBTQ+ legislation and youth suicide to simply protect the lives of children.
This examination should not be seen as moral judgment but rather as an analysis of both sides of the argument on the rights of LGBTQ+ youth. Many other issues around the US should be viewed through this same lens, whether it be gun control, abortion rights, or racism. Sometimes, one can have a more solid stance on a subject if they rely more on an analysis of the arguments rather than a view completely reliant on and dominated by their own moral and subjective opinion.