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OPINION

Republican anti-trans legislation is an assault on children

A slew of proposals underscore the hateful lie that trans youth do not deserve the right to be who they are.

Elijah Baay, a student, speaks in support of transgender rights during a rally outside the Alabama State House last month.
Elijah Baay, a student, speaks in support of transgender rights during a rally outside the Alabama State House last month.Jake Crandall/Associated Press

In North Carolina, Republican state legislators are pushing a bill that would mandate that state employees “immediately” contact parents in writing if their child exhibits “gender nonconformity, or otherwise demonstrates a desire to be treated in a manner incongruent” with the gender they were assigned at birth.

In Mississippi, it’s now against the law for trans students to compete on sports teams. Other states, including Kansas and Idaho, are promoting similar measures to sideline transgender girls and women from organized school sports.

In Arkansas, the GOP-controlled legislature overruled Governor Asa Hutchinson’s veto and became the first state to prohibit gender-affirming treatment for trans people under age 18.

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Call anti-transgender legislation what it is — an assault on children.

In a tweet, Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts called Arkansas’s anti-trans health care bill “disgusting and shameful.” He continued, “The bigoted views of some have no business getting between a child and their doctor.”

For years, Republicans have sought to codify discrimination against trans and gender nonconforming people. In 2016, at least 16 states considered so-called “bathroom bills” to restrict trans people from using public restrooms that correspond to their gender identity.

Yet what’s especially odious about the recent onslaught of bills in more than a dozen states is their targeting of trans and gender nonconforming children and teens. These bills are designed to underscore the vicious lie that unlike other kids, these children don’t deserve the right to be who they are.

Since vanquishing one of the most anti-LGBTQ administrations in recent history, President Biden has been adamant about his support for queer communities. By executive order, he extended existing federal nondiscrimination protections to LGBTQ people and lifted the ban on trans people in the military. Last month, he issued the first presidential proclamation recognizing Transgender Day of Visibility, citing ”the generations of struggle, activism, and courage that have brought our country closer to full equality for transgender and gender nonbinary people in the United States and around the world.”

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Biden has pledged to sign into law the Equality Act, which, if it makes it through the Senate (admittedly a long shot), would amend the 1964 Civil Rights Act to prohibit discrimination based on sex, sexual orientation, and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, and other realms.

LGBTQ youth suffer disproportionately high rates of suicidal ideation and attempted suicide, according to the National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health released last year by The Trevor Project, a suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization for LGBTQ young people. Defending them with federal laws, bolstered by state laws, can have a remarkable effect on young people’s lives. Support systems that protect trans and gender nonconforming communities are “associated with dramatically lower rates” of attempted suicide, says Amy Green, The Trevor Project’s director of research.

Yet GOP-led state legislatures are disparaging young people because of their gender identity. Like Georgia’s “election integrity” law that enshrines voter suppression, these detestable bills and laws hide behind innocuous names like “Defend Title IX Now” and “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act,” though there’s nothing fair about them.

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What they defend is prejudice. A law that would compel a teacher to tell parents what their kid wore or how they behaved because of archaic ideas about gender is a horror no child should have to bear. To bar trans kids from participating in youth sports or deny them gender-affirming health care (which is health care) is to brand their existence as unworthy.

Such stigmatization can have lethal ramifications. So far this year, at least 12 trans or gender nonconforming people have been killed nationwide, including a 16-year-old trans boy and his 22-year-old nonbinary sibling. Their mother has been charged with their murders. That’s already ahead of the pace set during 2020, which ended with at least 44 fatalities, the most since the Human Rights Campaign began tracking such crimes in 2013.

As has been demonstrated in recent years, bigoted words and actions from political leaders encourage hate. After then-President Trump tweeted a racist phrase last spring blaming China for COVID-19, a study published by the American Journal of Public Health found that its usage on Twitter quickly increased along with other anti-Asian rhetoric. As harassment and violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders continue to spike, perpetrators still use invective that directly echoes Trump’s words.

Echoes of anti-trans hate will resonate from state houses to schools and playgrounds. Even if most of these divisive GOP bills stall, the impact on trans children is manifest. Even in a country that often refuses to protect its most vulnerable, these are despicable attacks against children who only want empathy, acceptance, and respect.

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Renée Graham can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.