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OPINION

Where’s the ‘freedom convoy’ for trans kids?

Until there’s an Equality Act, there needs to be a national grassroots movement to stop the erosion of LGBTQ rights.

In a photo provided by Jeff Walker, he and his daughter Harleigh of Auburn, Ala., stand outside the White House on March 31 in Washington, where they were guests for Transgender Day of Visibility.Associated Press

Governor Kay Ivey of Alabama did something last week that was once unthinkable but, given the nasty political machinations fomenting nationwide, probably inevitable. She signed into law legislation that makes giving gender-affirming medical care to anyone under 19 a felony.

Alabama isn’t the first state to ban health care specific to transgender youth — that’s what most of the regressive Republican-led legislatures from Florida to Arizona are preoccupied with these days. But Ivey is the first governor to endorse making criminals of medical professionals who offer necessary care to youth related to gender identity.

In a statement, Ivey said, “We should especially protect our children from these radical, life-altering drugs and surgeries when they are at such a vulnerable stage in life.” But who’s protecting these children from these radical, life-endangering right-wing politicians when they are at such a vulnerable stage in life?

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Trans kids and their families are fighting what is clearly a coordinated years-long Republican assault on LGBTQ rights. So far in 2022, more than 240 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures. Some like Florida’s Parental Rights in Education, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, have already been signed into law. Similar laws are being enacted in other states, including Alabama.

In Texas, where gender-affirming care is falsely characterized as child abuse, Governor Greg Abbott has encouraged citizens to report to state authorities parents suspected of getting such treatment for their children. Several states, including Texas, have laws that bar trans kids from competing on school sports teams that correspond to their gender identity.

“I have zero faith that it will stop,” Heather Crawford, a Texas mother, told NBC News, referring to the onslaught of the state’s anti-trans legislation. She’s moving her family to Minnesota because she said she cannot ask her 15-year-old trans child “to spend the last years of their childhood in a state that wants to criminalize their existence.”

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Legislation that pretends to protect trans children is designed to endanger their lives. According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, trans kids are disproportionately more likely to attempt suicide. An American Academy of Pediatrics study in 2020 found that the risk of suicide among trans youth drops significantly when they received medical treatment to align their bodies with their gender identity.

Both the American Medical Association and American Psychological Association also oppose bans on gender-affirming care for trans kids.

That’s why it’s time to discard the phrase “culture wars.” It deliberately fails to adequately convey the insidious nature of what’s happening in Republican-led legislatures. In several states, books by LGBTQ authors, as well as many by Black and brown writers, are being pulled from library shelves and banned in schools. A Texas high school teacher is facing dismissal for challenging her school’s decision to remove rainbow stickers, symbols of LGBTQ Pride, from campus.

We’re witnessing a vicious assault against kids being waged by some of the same people denouncing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, and especially his targeting of civilians, including children.

What Republicans are doing to trans kids is also an unprovoked atrocity, another scorched-earth pursuit of total domination and subjugation. Instead of bullets and missiles, Republican governors are using lies and pen strokes. These are the same tools being employed in the steady demise of reproductive rights and in criminalizing those who still believe they have a right to decide what’s best for their bodies and their lives.

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I’m not trans, but I certainly know how it feels to grow up queer with a sense of difference that could be scorned or rejected. I know how it feels to live in a closet not entirely of my own making because the world convinced me that the cost of being myself was simply too high. And I know what looks like safety feels like suffocation.

Now laws backed by budding red state authoritarians encourage neighbors to turn on each other to deprive trans children of the care their parents want for them. We can’t wait for passage of the Equality Act, which would expand federal civil rights protections to LGBTQ people. What’s happening in state legislatures must be fought now with immediacy and urgency to save kids.

“Honestly, I’m a little scared now,” Harleigh Walker, a 15-year-old trans girl in Auburn, Ala. told an Associated Press reporter last week after the Alabama bill was passed. “But we’re still going to fight, no matter what.”

Any threat to the rights of one group is always a threat to everyone. We should all be scared. That’s why Harleigh, her family, and others like them shouldn’t be alone in a fight that belongs to all of us.

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Renée Graham is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at renee.graham@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @reneeygraham.