By David DeWitt, Ohio Capital Journal Editor-in-Chief and Columnist
Happy Pride Month, Ohio, where LGBTQ+ people are under constant assault by bully Republican lawmakers who are weirdly obsessed with our community, especially the transgender members of it.
Transgender people — especially transgender people of color — have been leading the activist charge toward LGBTQ+ human rights and equality since the beginning, literally throwing the first punches at the Stonewall riots.
They are the icons of our human rights movement that every LGBTQ+ person ought to know: Sylvia Rivera. Marsha P. Johnson. Miss Major Griffin-Gracy. Stormé DeLarverie.
And since the beginning, transgender people have been the most victimized. They remain so, and Ohio Republicans have devised numerous abhorrent ways to target and victimize them further.
Extremist right-wing lawmakers have introduced bills to ban transgender kids from participating in athletics that align with their gender identity, to ban gender-affirming health care for trans youth, and to ban trans youth in schools and colleges from using bathrooms that align with their gender identities.
Probably what I find most obnoxious about all of this is that these are politicians who have virtually no experience with the LGBTQ+ community, who have expressed no interest in understanding LGBTQ+ people, who have no comprehension of the day-to-day lived experience of LGBTQ+ Americans, who have no expertise whatsoever in the broad scientific, mental health, and medical consensus on care when it comes to LGBTQ+ lives, and who show absolutely no interest in doing anything to help LGBTQ+ people legally, medically, or politically.
Yet they claim to somehow be the ones who “care” and are out to “save” LGBTQ+ people, by committing rampant harm and torment on our families in every way they can imagine.
It’s a very creepy and disturbing fixation they’ve revealed within themselves. The legislative sponsor of various attacks on transgender people, Vickery Republican state Rep. Gary Click, is a pastor who inexplicably and absurdly claims he has no religious motive, despite Click defending conversion therapy and suggesting that homosexuality and the idea that one can be trans are pushed by Satan in order to undermine the family.
Click even made an appearance celebrating his anti-trans attack with Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, a right-wing religious fanatic organization that is labeled as an anti-LGBTQ hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Parents of LGBTQ+ youth, medical professionals who provide LGBTQ+ health care, and advocates who have dedicated their lives to saving LGBTQ+ lives, all stand opposed to these bills.
Only six transgender girls play sports in Ohio, out of 1.5 million public school K-12 students. Both the Ohio High School Athletic Association and NCAA have rules around transgender participation that are well-established and based on a wide variety of expert advice and research.
Gender-affirming care is supported by every major medical organization in the United States. A study released last year found that gender-affirming care for youth was linked to 60% lower odds of moderate or severe depression and 73% lower odds of suicidality.
There is no evidence that letting transgender people use public facilities that align with their gender identity increases safety risks, but there is ample evidence that forcing transgender people to use bathrooms that do not align with their gender identity increases risk of assault against transgender people.
The Trevor Project found in a 2021 poll that anti-trans legislation led to 85% of transgender and nonbinary youth reporting negative impacts on their mental health.
Nearly 1 in 5 transgender and nonbinary young people attempted suicide in the past year, according to the Trevor Project’s 2023 survey of mental health of LGBTQ+ youth.
A 2022 survey from The Trevor Project found that 45% of LGBTQ+ youth across the country seriously considered suicide that year, while 14% actually attempted it.
In 2021, the Human Rights Campaign tracked a record number of violent fatal incidents against transgender and gender non-conforming people. These are people’s children and family members and friends whose last moments alive were suffered under the wicked violence of hate.
LGBTQ+ safe spaces and celebrations have been targeted with threats or acts of violence, including masked Nazis showing up with semi-automatic rifles to a drag show at Land Grant in Columbus in April.
Nazis have a history of victimizing transgender and gender non-conforming people first.
The world’s first trans clinic, the Institute for Sexual Research in Berlin, was one of the first victims of German Nazi targeting in 1933, when it’s clinic was shut down, administrators and doctors were forced to flee the country, and 20,000 books — including every bit of then-established transgender science and research — were set aflame in a public bonfire.
In America today, a new staggering rise in violence against LGBTQ+ people directly mirrors the recent rise in anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric and lawmaking among right-wing politicians, pundits, and loser internet trolls.
As of April of this year, at least 417 anti-LGBTQ+ bills had been introduced in state legislatures across the United States since January, a new record surpassing last year’s record.
Why are they doing all of this?
Radical reactionary politics. Heartless politicians seeking to roll back and destroy human and civil rights for their own political gain. To drive a wedge. To take advantage of a political moment to victimize others.
Theirs is a campaign of fear, hate, and intimidation, meant to dismantle 50 years of progress, meant to “other” us, as though we weren’t people’s daughters, sons, brothers, sisters, nieces, nephews, cousins, and cherished friends, wholly deserving of dignity, tolerance, and our fully protected human and civil rights.
As the larger community has gained widespread acceptance, many Americans will still tolerate victimization of our transgender sisters and brothers, even though a majority favors protecting trans people from discrimination. Even within our community, a disturbing level of transphobia sometimes exists among cisgender gay men, lesbians, and bisexuals.
And that probably breaks my heart the most. I expect nothing from small-minded, hateful bigots and cretins who live their lives in fear and intolerance, but I do expect the LGBTQ+ community and our allies to stand together in strength, love, and acceptance against them, especially at such a critical moment. This is a perfect month for us all to recommit ourselves to that.
This past Sunday, I attended a drag brunch in Columbus hosted by the always hilarious and inimitable Virginia West. We had a small crowd for the holiday weekend, but it included members of our community of all types, cheering, clapping, singing, and laughing so, so much.
We had straight people, gay people, lesbians, bisexuals, pansexuals, asexuals, and one beautiful family celebrating a mother’s birthday who raised two transgender children to be fun, confident, happy adults. Their straight, cisgender father was wearing a t-shirt that said, “Drag is Not a Crime.”
Sitting only a couple tables away, a wide smile spread across my cheeks as I observed this delightful family living in love and laughter and acceptance and joy with each other.
That is what this is all about, I thought. That is what our community is all about. That is what life — and living life well — is all about: Honor, decency, honesty, compassion, laughter, joy, acceptance, and living with love, tolerance, and understanding in our hearts. That is the LGBTQ+ community — and all communities — at our best.
How dare these voices of hate and intolerance assault that? These fringe zealots who want to dictate their dogma on everyone are not only un-American, they’re wildly ignorant of the fact that so many families of all types live in beautiful harmony. But the intolerant want only one way: their way. It’s a mean, narrow, base conceit.
These lawmakers who live with such contempt, such loathing, such a lack of empathy, and such bottomless cruelty for anyone who doesn’t live as they say everyone must live, are defiling both themselves and their positions of public trust. They are the shame of Ohio, deserving of nothing but mocking disdain.
As ever, America, we have a constant choice: Between tolerance or intolerance, courage or fear, kindness or cruelty, love or hate. It’s an easy choice.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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