Op-Ed: State laws targeting transgender individuals are doing real harm

Zooey Zephyr, a transgender Montana state representative, was censured by her Republican colleagues April 26 when the legislative body voted to formally punish the lawmaker in response to statements she made in an earlier session regarding Montana Senate Bill 99, which would ban gender-affirming care for LGBTQ+ youth.

Zephyr condemned the bill during a session on the House floor, saying that it is discriminatory and would do irreparable harm to transgender youth in the state. She added that if the members of the Republican-led House did pass such a bill, they would have “blood on (their) hands.” After this impassioned speech, her mic was repeatedly cut off and the House leader refused to recognize her when she wished to speak.

Aside from the disrespectful and undemocratic nature of this censure, it also exemplifies the systematic erasure of transgender people in America.

The very bill that Zephyr was protesting is designed to prevent transgender kids from being themselves. It is an attempt to ban transgender individuals from simply existing.

Making it “illegal” to be transgender does not stop people from being born transgender. Closing your eyes doesn’t make us go away. The anti-LGBTQ+ political stunts we see around the country — masquerading as religious liberty and moral piety — are doing real harm to queer Americans.

Only about 1.2% to 1.8% of Americans identify as transgender, according to a study done by the Williams Institute on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Law and Public Policy. This makes for an easy target, and the GOP knows this.

Until new laws directly restrict your own rights and liberties, it can be easy for most to ignore their effect.

In Tennessee, a new law bans all “adult-oriented entertainment,” including “male and female impersonators” in any setting that might be in view of minors. This establishes grounds for anyone to press charges against a transgender woman for just existing in public. A drag queen innocently walking from the parking lot into a bar, if spotted, may be handcuffed and charged.

The ambiguity of the Tennessee law presents a grave threat to the safety of transgender individuals. Does this law make it illegal for any man to wear a dress? Paint their nails?

Under these new laws, transgender people are exposed to prosecution for “impersonating” their gender identity. Not only is such a law blatantly discriminatory but, at the very least, it is a violation of the First Amendment.

In effect, it establishes a state-enforced dress code that might be likened to the tyranny in Afghanistan and Iran — tyranny that conservatives rail against.

In a country so steeped in values such as freedom, liberty and equality, the Republican Party has led a campaign to keep these very rights from an entire minority block of the United States population. Not only is this immoral and cruel, but it is also shamefully unconstitutional.

Alabama, North Dakota, Idaho and Oklahoma have made it a felony for anyone to provide gender-affirming care to transgender minors. This includes hormone blockers, hormone replacement therapy and surgeries.

More than a dozen bills have been proposed across the country that would make it illegal for schools to require teachers to use a student’s preferred name and pronouns. More than 220 bills specifically targeting transgender students have been proposed in state legislatures.

Restricting access to gender-affirming care and other protections won’t make kids “less transgender.” It will only exacerbate their emotional and mental distress. These laws do not protect children. They kill children.

Harrowing insight from The Trevor Project

The Trevor Project, an organization dedicated to providing support and resources to LGBTQ+ youth, conducted a survey studying the effects of anti-LGBTQ+ laws on children who identify as LGBTQ+.

The findings were harrowing. About 85% of those interviewed reported increased anxiety and depression as a direct result of the new legislation that targets them.

There was also a reported spike in bullying, harassment and hate crimes against the LGBTQ+ community, as these laws justify discriminatory action by vigilante-type citizens who feel that their anti-LGBTQ+ sentiment is validated by these legislative measures.

About 86% of transgender individuals consider suicide. Many who have suicidal ideation attribute their distress to bullying, harassment and discrimination.

When something is repeated enough times, it starts to feel more and more true. Classmates, family, preachers, political figures, judges and even a former president have castigated the LGBTQ+ community, some claiming again and again that transgender people do not exist. Such treatment must be seen as unacceptable and severely damaging to our community.

It has long been known and supported by medical and psychiatric professionals that being transgender is not a choice. It is not a phase. One does not suddenly decide to be transgender, nor can they opt not to be, no matter how much you wish for us to magically disappear.

Cutting our mics will not keep us from speaking. Passing bathroom bills doesn’t stop us from using the bathroom. Banning medical care and treatment does not suddenly make us no longer transgender. Outlawing drag shows cannot steal a queen’s glamour and pride.

To politicians advocating and propagating hatred against the LGBTQ+ community, I implore you: Why are you so scared of us? Why do you hold so much hate?

America is a country of diversity, inclusion, strength and liberty. How does my very existence challenge, in any way, those values — your values? Your actions cannot change who we are. The only thing you can change is your own attitude toward us.

Ashton Clatterbuck is a local university student and political activist. He is a member of Lancaster Stands Up and a national spokesperson for the Sunrise Movement, which advocates for political action on climate change. He also is on the communications committee of the Lancaster LGBTQ Coalition.