Opinion: When the state values bigotry over the lives of queer kids

It has been a long, difficult week for queer and trans Alaskans like me.

  • By Amelia Hanrahan
  • Tuesday, March 14, 2023 2:59pm
  • Opinion

This My Turn includes descriptions of homophobia, transphobia, suicide, violence, slurs and bullying.

It has been a long, difficult week for queer and trans Alaskans like me. On March 4, we learned that the state believes we should be allowed to be discriminated against for the crime of existing. Then, more terrifyingly, on the March 7, the governor proposed a bill that would mandate educators to forcibly out LGBTQ+ students to their parents, to deadname (to intentionally use a name a person no longer goes by, typically their birth name) and misgender their students unless explicitly told not to by parents, deny trans students the right to use the bathroom that matches their gender, and to deny basic and accurate information on gender and sexual identities.

First, let’s dismiss the governor’s disingenuous claim that this bill is about “increasing parental involvement in education,” as I sincerely doubt that knowing your child is being deadnamed and misgendered will make you more likely to join your PTA’s Steering Committee. Instead it would be much more accurate to say this is about authoritarian-style control of children through stripping away basic privacy and autonomy, and is part of an effort to eliminate all LGBTQ+ people (but especially the T-part) from public life. I know it’s likely difficult for the governor to admit that he’s punching down on one of the most vulnerable groups in our communities for political gain but this ‘parental involvement’ claim is a weak facade, even by his standards.

Second, let’s notice what is conspicuously absent from the governor’s remarks. That is, reference to any significant organization or research that supports these policies. Surely, if this was in the best interest of children and families, organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological, Psychiatric, and Counseling Associations would support these policies. However, they are instead all unequivocal in their support of gender-affirming care and point to research that says the more supportive and affirming people a trans kid has in their life, the less likely they are to die by suicide.

Trans and gender non-conforming youth are at such an appallingly high risk to die by suicide that taking any action which would increase that risk seems cruel beyond measure. Having spaces where students are free to exist as themselves, especially when their homes are unwelcoming or dangerous, keeps kids alive. As the governor’s bill would cause schools to be actively stamped out as safe spaces for so many children, it’s difficult for me to draw any conclusion other than that the bill’s drafters value the bigotry of some parents over the safety and well-being of their LGBTQ+ kids.

The governor mentioned his experiences as an educator in his remarks. However, it seems to me that he may have slept through his human development course in graduate school. Otherwise he would know that children typically begin to form a sense of gender identity by age 3, and the APA finds that our sexual orientation begins to express between ages 6 and 12. The governor’s bill reveals a complete ignorance of regular human development and the associated educational needs by denying this information to students at those ages. Queer and trans people’s existence isn’t a “special topic” that ought to require parental consent to discuss but is instead a normal and expected part of our communities and schools.

As a kid in the schoolyard I think I was called a fag more than I was called by my name. Thankfully, there has been significant action to reduce that type of bullying and harassment of queer and trans kids since my days on the playground in the ‘90s. However, much of this improvement comes from teachers feeling empowered to step in and stop homophobic language and bullying, and to provide education to students on why it is wrong. The governor’s bill appears to significantly restrict educators’ ability to provide that intervention. That is because it’s difficult to explain why LGBT+ people should not be bullied if we can’t name their identities, explain where they come from, and explain how those identities are a normal part of human development. This gagging of teachers will then empower the bigotry some kids hear at home and repeat in the hallways of their schools through the absence of a response.

There is hope that this bill will not be passed and the direct damage to the fledgling safety of queer students in our schools will be avoided for now. However, there is also damage already done in the promulgation of the idea that affirming a child’s identity is an optional indulgence rather than the dire matter of life and death that it is. Ultimately these actions of outing kids, deadnaming, misgendering, and withholding critical information treat children as objects to be controlled rather than people to be understood. I hope our lawmakers will value children’s autonomy, privacy, safety, and dignity more highly than they value some parents’ bigotry if it comes time to vote on this bill.

Amelia Hanrahan is a mental health counselor in Juneau who works with queer and trans youth and adults. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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