This year, a twisted feedback loop of anti-trans rhetoric begetting anti-trans policies, and vice versa, has paved the way for more violence against trans people. Right-wing commentators have turned trans people into a boogeyman for the ‘traditional American family,’ while targeting them and gender-nonconforming people in turn. At the same time, scores of policies from school boards to state governments have been introduced as lawmakers have seemingly done their best to fearmonger and stifle trans existence altogether. It’s a circular situation where the end result is ultimately violence.
“All of us have been sounding the alarm that this was going to be the end result—we’ve all known it.”
“You don't just go in and get puberty blockers,” Heather added. “We were educated so well on the side effects… He saw a lot of medical professionals at the gender clinic—It seemed like it was like four or five individuals that we talked to well before we got to the point of getting puberty blockers.”
“It’s so disturbing that these people are not listening to science.”
In some ways, the attack on trans rights started comparatively small. It began with bathrooms and sports teams, and happened amid landmark victories for the community, like the Supreme Court’s 2015 decision to legalize same sex marriage and the military’s acceptance of open LGBTQ people in service. But soon, these attacks paved the way for a much more overt strike on trans existence writ large.Bathroom policies, like the one that targeted Grimm, became a flashpoint for conservatives. States introduced an onslaught of “bathroom bills.” Though many failed, these bills set the stage for painting trans people as a physical threat that needed to be eliminated. These bills were often based on the groundless myth that trans people, or cisgender men, would all of a sudden start posing as trans and sexually assault women in bathrooms. Despite being baseless, the myth has inspired mainstream opinions: Texas Sen. Ted Cruz has supported bathroom bills, and said that a lack of them is “opening the doors to predators,” while former President Donald Trump rescinded an Obama-era policy that protected transgender bathroom rights. The views transcend politics too, with household names like J.K. Rowling pushing this conspiracy theory.
One of the most disruptive examples of anti-trans policymaking to date wasn’t even legislated. In February, Texas Governor Greg Abbott, with the help of Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, directed the state to launch the child abuse investigations into families with trans children. The result is that families with trans kids are now fleeing the state—if they can afford it—and people are effectively becoming refugees in their own country. Families are fleeing Alabama, Arizona, and Arkansas too. Parents like Heather are concerned they will have to leave at a moment's notice to protect their children. “I cried for days when that came down because there are so many people who cannot leave,” Heather said. “There are so many people who are probably still not fully living their transition because of the fear of things happening.”And in Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law the “Parental Rights in Education”—or as critics call it, the “Don’t Say Gay”—bill. The act prohibits discussion of gender identity and sexuality between kindergarten and third grade, and also prohibits the topics for older kids if lessons aren’t deemed “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate.”
When an audience member yelled “blood is on your hands” and said trans youth would suffer if the board bans gender-affirming care, a board member replied, “That’s OK.”
News organizations like the New York Times, which published a decontextualized story about potential risks associated with transitioning, and Reuters, which questioned a “gender imbalance” among trans teens seeking treatment, have faced heavy criticism for “debating” trans healthcare.
In many ways, experts fear, these articles from accepted media sources have provided academic cover to the more questionable anti-trans sources that have been pushing fallacies for years.
Ultimately, the men didn’t succeed: After they were forced out, Panda Dulce came back out to the children, acknowledged what had happened, and then read "Families, Families, Families!" by Suzanne Lang, a story that uses zoo animals to depict various family structures. Afterwards, no charges were brought against the group of men. “As I left, they yelled, ‘You're not safe here’ and ‘Is 'it' still in the building? Let's go find 'it,'” Panda Dulce said.More than 120 drag events have been attacked or threatened this year, according to a new GLAAD report, as attacks on trans and gender-nonconforming people have occurred alongside incendiary vitriol targeting drag queens. In a segment posted on Oct. 19, the Daily Wire’s Matt Walsh, who recently put out an anti-trans documentary, targeted drag queens, calling them “creeps” and “degenerates,” while claiming that children who are part of the culture are “exploited,” “groomed,” and “conditioned.”
“As I left, they yelled, ‘You're not safe here’ and ‘Is 'it' still in the building? Let's go find ‘it.’”
Many believe that these attacks are not just about the rights of trans people, but also the canary in the coal mine, sounding the alarm on broader nationwide attacks on bodily autonomy.“The problem these people have isn't with trans people—it's with the entire modern world. It's with anything that deviates from the patriarchal norm,” Drennen said. “We might be talking about trans people in sports one day, but the next day we’re going to be talking about access to reproductive healthcare, to birth control.”Though things seem—and are—dire right now, there’s also a lot of work being done to counteract the hate. In the South, more LGBTQ people are coming out and living their lives more openly than ever before, Jasmine Beach-Ferrara, the executive director of Campaign for Southern Equality, an advocacy group for LGBTQ rights, told VICE News. “A story that many years ago might have been a really tough one about a kid being kicked out of the house, is now, in many cases, a story about a kid being told that they're loved and supported,” Beach-Ferrara said.“As more and more people come out, and more people express their support for trans equality or they come out as trans, the far right is trying to react to that and say, ‘no, no, go back. Don't be who you are,’” Beach-Ferrara added. “So it's inspiring to see people, even in the face of that, continue to come out, continue to share their stories, continue to fight back against these attacks.”And as drag shows, Pride events, and community group meet-ups are getting targeted across the country, the events themselves aren’t being canceled. “People are not shrinking away as a result of the escalations we're seeing. We're also seeing more and more people galvanize as allies in fights,” Beach-Ferrara said.The hate has also inspired community support. “It's been heartbreaking to see all of this (anti-LGBTQ hate) happen, and also nourishing to see a community rally with each other, to support each other,” said Derrick T. Jordan, the director of Gender and Family Project (GFP) at Ackerman Institute for the Family. He added that in New York, kids as young as 8 and 9 are spearheading conversations about what it means to create safe spaces for people, and what it means to be an ally.
Though anti-trans hate isn’t new, and Black and brown trans people have disproportionately faced fatal violence for a long time, the current brand of rhetoric appears to have paved the way for unspeakable violence.
Trans activists and experts are hoping that people who don't identify as LGBTQ will also take up the mantle.“I've said for years that if we're going to be a priority for our enemies, we need to be a priority for our friends,” said Branstetter. “We cannot fight this off on our own. We need people to hold the line on our own humanity.”Recently, Gavin Grimm co-wrote a non-fiction book for youth titled “If You’re a Kid like Gavin,” and regularly interacts and works with trans youth and adults. He wants to help kids see the joy in being trans, but he said he’s noticed a concerning trend: “I talk to trans young people, trans adults all the time,” Grimm said. “What I'm seeing overall is that kids who were proud of their trans identity before now, all of a sudden they don't want to talk about it.” “That’s a problem. That’s a really big problem,” he added.In Alabama, Heather understands firsthand the stakes of the moment we’re in—and how important it is to affirm trans youth. For now, while still in Alabama, she tries to keep life as normal as possible for Rob, who “I had never seen more comfortable in his own skin” after he transitioned, she said. “He was a different child. He was so happy and so comfortable in his own skin,” Heather said. “I feel like if more people understood that—the change that we see when our kids come to the realization that they are trans—if they knew what that looks like, they would want to have an education about LGBT [identity] early on, in kindergarten and first grade.”A report released in January found that 85 percent of trans youth said that debates over anti-trans policies in state legislators negatively impact their mental health. Grimm said he’s seen kids express fear, shame, and embarrassment for being trans. “You can't wait until it progresses to the point where they are actively hurting people in a more robust fashion,” Reed said of the people spreading anti-trans misinformation and hate. “Right now we're seeing the growth of that and we need to stop it because if we don't, it might be too late.”
“It's inspiring to see people, even in the face of that, continue to come out, continue to share their stories, continue to fight back against these attacks.”