Markfield: Who will speak for you?


Courtesy of Cecilie Johnsen via Unsplash

Columnist Harrison Markfield asks readers to speak out against the recent wave of anti-LGBTQIA+ bills.

Harrison Markfield

I know that there have been other things in the news cycle these last two weeks.

Between the nonstop information surrounding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, its consequences around Europe and the myriad of things that we all have going on in our own lives, it can be easy for entire controversies in other news streams to bypass us, upturning the lives of thousands while we carry on. But three recent governmental actions, Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, colloquially referred to as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s directive to the state’s Family and Protective Services to investigate and separate transgender children in the state and potentially prosecute their parents for child abuse and Utah’s House Bill 11, threaten the LGBTQIA+ community in those states, taking specific aim at transgender youth, as well as their families and loved ones.

If you haven’t heard of any of these three, then I wouldn’t be surprised; they’ve largely, with the exception of a few opinion columns that could be easily buried underneath hundreds of other stories, been kept out of mainstream news (of course, this will depend on your media consumption habits: whether you subscribe to national newspapers, your preferred cable news channel, if any, or social media preferences, of course, have a large impact on what you see and how you might react to it).

The bills are not so close together in their method. In Florida, schools are barred from discussing any LGBTQIA+ content up to third grade or at the discretion of the school, and parents are allowed to sue if they find any content disagreeable. In Utah, trans athletes in school sports would be targeted by “a baseline range of physical characteristics,” given invasive full-body testing, and, in a separate bill, the medical transition of any kind for minors is criminalized. Members of the commission are also “immune from suit.” In Texas, well, hopefully, you clicked the link above. Conservative political and civic leaders have said in each case that they are trying to protect children and allow families to have control over their children’s lives, two popular shibboleths for conservatives to rally around in many political cases, and in Utah and Texas’ case trying to “prevent children from abusive surgeries being forced upon them,” which is not true, but more on that later.

In all three cases, it sends the same, explicit message: Transness or nonconformity is not acceptable and will be punished. Children who may not be transgender or LGBTQIA+ but who have hair of an “unbecoming” length, are too sporty or not sporty enough or do not fit the ideals of their gender may also be targeted. These policies are even more regressive than some of the world’s harshest countries or policies.

The consequences are immediate, far-reaching and terrifying, whether you do or do not have an LGBTQIA+ loved one, whether or not you understand anything at all about gender dynamics and healthcare, or even support LGBTQA+ rights and justice in the first place. These voracious attacks on an extremely small and underrepresented group of society mean that no matter your relationship to or stake in these bills, something about it should concern you to the core and, in my opinion, you have a moral obligation to speak and act out against them.

I think it important, if not imperative, at this point to dispel some misconceptions about transition, especially as it relates to the goings-on in Texas, because disinformation is a large part of the story there, and people’s own experience with their bodies. I also think it important to mention that no matter one’s personal opinion of nonconformity in a largely heteronormative society, where a plurality of people are straight and feel comfortable with their assigned or assumed gender, that people have existed outside those constraints for as long as society has existed.

Understand as well that the framing of this issue often does not allow for an important point to be made: gender affirming care is something that gender-conforming or non-LGBTQ+ people do too; it just isn’t explained or thought of as such. But if you’ve ever, say, taken workout supplements (many of which contain testosterone, the hormone that transmasculine people take) to achieve a certain physique and body image, that’s gender affirming care. Same for cosmetic surgeries like nose augmentations. Even something as innocuous as a haircut can be gender affirming. All of them are done with the goal of making the recipient feel more comfortable or confident with the body they have.

Trans youth do not take hormone replacement (any medication they take are puberty blockers that postpone the effects of growth until they feel decided on a course of action) or receive any kind of surgery until the age of majority, and any instances otherwise are significant outliers. Instead, they often realize their gender incongruence from a young age and spend years waiting to feel comfortable enough to come out to their families, who could possibly react with corporal punishment, blocking access to communication, conversion therapy or kicking their child out of the home entirely. Access to care, counseling, blockers, even just a supportive group of adults can make a massive difference in the mental health of a population that spans across racial, class, geographic and religious lines. And many of the people who do take blockers continue on to get affirming hormones and surgery.

That intersectionality feels like an important thing to keep in mind during all of this. Trans people are an exceedingly small group, estimates have them hovering around one percent or less of the population of the United States, but the studies of trans youth were very diverse, and so, such a concerted legislative effort to attack such a group can easily strike a wedge between other groups who have their own battles, be it equitable housing, racial justice, et cetera, to worry about might not have the ability to put their time and voices behind yet another political project.

So, instead, the burden of pushing back against an extremely regressive wave of legislation must fall, at least in part, on the rest of society. Allowing any marginalized group, whether you know or care about them or not, to be targeted without rebuke is an unacceptable failure. Over the course of my research, namely, combing Twitter, I saw a number of posts from trans people of all different backgrounds expressing dismay at the lack of response from the cisgender people in their life, some of whom knowing but not commenting and some not hearing of these events at all. I know that calling upon people to be empathetic is something largely left for the early stages of one’s life as they learn what empathy is in the first place, but understand that if nobody speaks out, lawmakers will move on to the next group that they think they can target without reproach. And who would speak for you?

As loathe as I am to draw comparisons to the Holocaust, partly because I am Jewish, and partly because I think those comparisons are drawn too easily in some corners of society, banning content in schools and punitive legal actions against non-straight and gender-nonconforming people, as well as researchers in that field, is quite literally following in the footsteps of the Nazis.

Thankfully, the White House is taking some action. In his State of the Union address Tuesday night, President Joe Biden made a statement in support of the American LGBTQIA+ community, and his administration has taken steps to prevent authorities in Texas from following through on the horrific promises made by their governor. It is a step in the right direction, but only temporarily. Without vociferous opposition, conservative state governments and political groups will try in as many states and as many outlets as possible to make nonconformity with regards to sexuality or gender illegal. Each time, they must be repelled with uniformity.

In my earlier mention of Utah’s HB11, I mentioned that “Members of the commission are immune from suit with regards to all actions done in good faith.” This means that groups of what will likely be older white men will be responsible for inspecting, in granular detail, the bodies of trans youths, which, and I can only speak for myself, feels tantamount to abuse.

It reinforces, in my estimation, Frank Wilhoit’s view of conservatism: that “There must be in-groups whom the law protects but does not bind, alongside out-groups whom the law binds but does not protect.” Trans youths being separated from their families, investigated for the crime of not belonging in their bodies and not told of their existence or history is a truly cruel punishment, one that is not worthy of any crime or any group in society. Meanwhile, the people instituting these laws or carrying them out are immune from recourse through the legal system. The former bound but not protected, the latter protected but not bound. 

In closing, I hope that you, reader, are able to understand that fighting for any group, as I have asked you to do in many of my previous columns, takes all of us. Whether or not you are personally affected by these bills should not matter in the slightest and, in fact, should encourage you to fight all the more. If you only look out for yourself, you’d never see the wrongdoings committed against everyone else. Fight back because nobody should have to fight alone. If we, as a society that fancies itself modern, just and equitable, left LGBTQIA+ youth to fend for themselves, there’d be nobody left to tell us just how wrong we were.

Harrison Markfield is a sophomore in community and regional planning.