Texas. Florida. Virginia. Even, yes, California. All of these states have seen bills introduced (or passed) that attempt to clamp down on the freedom and safety of transgender youth. However, these are not a few one-off incidents, but a symptom of a broader movement that will lurch us back to the 1950s and create a society that is more closed, more insular and much worse for everyone.
What makes this attack different is not just that the conservative movement has decided to turn its attention on a marginalized group — after all, they did it against gay people — but that they are ready, willing and able to repeal and restrict important freedoms of privacy and safety in order to achieve their agenda. It is folly to believe they will stop with transgender youth, and that is why it is worth fighting against this new, cruel ideology.
First, it is important to note that the rise in the population of trans youth is real, but it is eminently reasonable and does not necessarily demand political responses. After all, we have seen something like this before — the share of Americans identifying as LGBTQ+ rose from approximately 3.5 percent in 2012 to 4.1 percent in 2016, as our culture became more accepting and people started to explore their identity. However, the conservative movement sees this as a threat — instead of adapting and accepting a changing landscape, they seek to turn back the clock and turn the full force of the government against it.
No one exemplifies this reactionary trend more than the bombastic Republican governor of Florida, Ron DeSantis. His state medical board — which he stacked with anti-vaccine advocates — voted to ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth. Of course, the state medical board lacks much in the way of evidence for this move — there is a wealth of evidence suggesting that gender-affirming care for transgender youth is highly beneficial for the mental health of a group that is disproportionately at risk for mental health issues.
In addition to banning medical care, Republicans in Florida and many other states have taken to using the power of the government to censor discussion of LGBTQ+ issues in classrooms. For example, Florida recently expanded the scope of a bill colloquially known as “Don’t Say Gay” which prohibits “classroom instruction … on sexual orientation or gender identity,” and allows parents to sue school districts that supposedly violate it. The rule is so ambiguous that a reasonable interpretation would ban teachers from talking about marriage, even in the abstract.
Restrictions on speech in the classroom aren’t the only way conservatives want to turn back teenagers’ civil liberties. Republicans have advanced various laws to forcibly out trans students under the guise of “parents’ rights.” Glenn Youngkin, the Republican governor of Virginia, also revealed a similar policy to forcibly out trans students, and Assemblyman Bill Essayli, R-Riverside and Assemblyman James Gallagher, R-Yuba City, proposed one in California. Simply put, these policies actively endanger trans youth — realistically, if a student trusted their parents with their identity, they would have told them. These kinds of laws merely exist to satisfy the conservative desire to assert total control over a disenfranchised and marginalized group.
Of course, this flurry of bills, laws and policies would make one believe that there has to be some sort of electoral advantage to this. After all, DeSantis won the reelection by 20 percentage points. However, crucially, when we look at the history of electoral transphobia, we see that it fails time and again — Americans simply do not have the appetite for conservative fearmongering over trans people having basic civil rights. However, the war on trans youth is not on the plane of election rhetoric, but rather on the plane of basic values.
In this respect, it is eminently clear that Republicans will not stop with trans youth. As seen earlier, they have sought to erode privacy in schools, censor public discussion, and restrict medical care, and will go further if given an inch. For example, Tennessee Republicans passed an anti-drag bill that is so obviously in violation of the right to free speech that a judge blocked it a few weeks later.
Regardless, Republicans have continually and openly shown their desire to restrict people’s freedoms. Ron DeSantis hired a fascist-praising press secretary, neo-fascist dictator of Hungary Viktor Orban has spoken at the Conservative Political Action Conference and Trump has continually praised the right-wing authoritarian prime minister of India, Narendra Modi. Anti-trans bigotry and authoritarianism work hand in glove — and if we stop one, we stop both.
Thankfully, we have a template for stopping Republicans’ war on trans people. In North Carolina, a ban on trans people using the bathroom of their identified gender was repealed following intense political and economic losses. The incumbent Republican governor, Pat McCrory, lost reelection after various companies and events pulled out of North Carolina, costing the state over $350 billion. The same must occur in Florida, Virginia, and every other state that has advanced anti-trans laws — or else, we will lose many more freedoms soon enough.
Contact Avinash Iyer at firstname.lastname@example.org.