Lambda Legal Senior Attorney Ethan Rice why we must protect trans youth.
I was 17 the first time I met an openly transgender person. I remember being in awe as he spoke about his life at a conference for LGBTQ+ youth in Florida. I didn’t know transgender men or nonbinary people even existed until I was in this affirming space. No one had ever told me that gender was so expansive and so beautiful, and even though it took me many more years to understand that I was transgender, seeing a model for who I could be in the world was truly life changing. The love and support I later received from my friends and family provided me with room to explore, understand, come out, and live more happily than I ever have before.
Working on LGBTQ+ legal issues for the last 7 years, I have celebrated a staggering increase in visibility of transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming people. This visibility has created opportunities for more people to meet openly trans people and has opened dialogues about issues we had never publicly discussed on such a scale before. Unfortunately, it has also led to a severe backlash against the trans communities as politicians have found trans and nonbinary people to be easy scapegoats for problems that don’t exist, and as pawns to be used to provoke their base.
Across the country this year, legislators, governors, and other state government officials have focused their attention on transgender and nonbinary youth. They have not used their power to create a safer, more supportive environment for children, but instead, they have spent countless hours and dollars to deny trans kids the right to play sports with their peers, to eliminate access to medical care that is appropriate for them, and to mount a disinformation campaign about their health and safety. We’re also seeing a renewed push to ban LGBTQ+ content from schools.
Officials can dress it up however they want, but these cruel attacks are based in hate, pure and simple.
In the coming year, we will see continued attempts to erase the hard-won visibility that we have been working so hard to provide for trans youth. We know that this visibility is not only affirming, but lifesaving, and it is vital that we don’t take these threats lightly. We’ll also continue to see attacks on healthcare for trans and nonbinary youth. Lambda Legal will continue to fight back in courts, legislatures, and in the media, but we need more voices to join in support of the youngest members of our community. We need to send a message that attacks on our youth will not be tolerated.
When I think back about where I was at 17, I know how powerful the experience of seeing a trans person living an open and proud life was for me. Today, I want the same thing for all kids, including trans and nonbinary youth. I want everyone to see themselves in the world, to build their dreams, and to find a place of belonging. I hope you share that vision. Trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming youth deserve both to have their most basic needs met, and to be affirmed and celebrated for who they are.
This Transgender Week of Awareness, I urge you to learn more about trans and nonbinary youth, and to take steps to ensure that youth in your state are safe and protected. Visit ProtectTransYouth.org to find out more about how Lambda Legal is engaging in this fight, and how you can join us.