Advocates say debate over anti-trans legislation will harm young Texans, even if bills don’t pass
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Ryn Gonzales wants to hear about a kid's math test, play board games with them, make bracelets. Instead, they say they spend their time trying to convince adults that transgender youth have the fundamental right to exist.
“Our youth are used as the political football over and over and over again,” Gonzales said. “And people get real upset when we tell them that the laws that they are proposing are bigoted, they're harmful, that they're going to hurt people.”
Gonzales has been a longtime activist in the Austin area and is now the operations and programs director at Out Youth, an organization dedicated to supporting LGBTQ youth. They said they have made the trip to the Texas Capitol to ask lawmakers not to pass laws they say will hurt the community.
“All throughout these years, I've been there again and again asking, little radical me, to just be seen as human,” they said. “And that our kids be seen as human, too. That's it.”
A number of bills filed ahead of this legislative session target transgender Texans following a national conservative push to roll back LGBTQ rights. Rachel Hill, government affairs director with the nonprofit Equality Texas, said the bills legislate many aspects of transgender people’s lives.
“In the first week of filing, we've seen bills encroaching every part of daily life,” Hill said. “So from the doctor's office to schools to the sports field, there's government intrusion and surveillance and scrutiny in every area of our lives that we walk through day to day.”
A bill from Rep. Matt Shaheen, for example, categorizes any venue that holds drag shows as a sexually oriented business, which means it cannot allow in people under 18 and patrons must pay a fee. The language of the bill refers to anyone who “exhibits a gender identity that is different than the performer's gender assigned at birth using clothing, makeup, or other physical markers.” Hill said this could mean anyone not in gendered clothing.
“That’s part of the absurdity of these bills,” Hill said. “They are almost impossible to actually enforce, especially when the definition is so vague. There are so many unintended consequences I feel like the authors haven't thought about.”
Several of these bills failed in the last legislative session, including a bill that would classify providing gender-affirming care to minors as child abuse. The governor's office moved ahead with investigations of these families anyway.
Hill said she is worried about the scope of the language for how both transgender and cisgender girls can dress and perform in sports.
“Women come in all shapes and sizes, all different body types,” Hill said, “but these bills really police how good and how successful women can be before there is suspicion that they're cheating.”
Gonzales said they created a program to help educators support youth in their classrooms and help them navigate finding their identities and deal with discrimination that might come as a result of these bills. They said the lawmakers purposing these bills are actually preventing children from getting a good education.
“They don't believe that every youth in Texas deserves to learn in an environment that wants to hold them and uplift them, make sure that they can live the life that they are imagining for themselves,” Gonzales said. “It's really sad that we spend all of this time attacking children.”
Advocates worry the political rhetoric is increasing violence against the LGBTQ community. Last month, the Department of Homeland Security warned about potential violence against the LGBTQ+ community. Hill said she has seen that an increase in anti-LGBTQ bills often correlates with an increase in violence against the community.
“The more that the political narrative is that a group of people is different and unsafe and a threat to your well-being and your safety, the more folks act out in their day-to-day lives,” Hill said.
Despite the number of bills, only a few might actually get a hearing on the House or Senate floor. Still, Gonzales said these debates are going to have a devastating effect on children.
“Kids have already died, and more will,” they said. “It's one thing to not feel right in your own body. It's another thing to not feel right in your own family, to not feel welcomed in your community, but to have your state, the people who are supposed to keep you safe, whose job it is to uphold the Constitution? Life, liberty, pursuit of happiness is the American dream. Only for some.”
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