Transgender youth at risk in red states

A wave of bills targeting transgender youth are forcing them and their families to flee nearly every red state in search of safe havens.

Speaking at a recent E.M.S. media event, Susan Maasch, director of the Trans Youth Equality Foundation (T.Y.E.F.) a non-profit that advocates for transgender youth, said that transgender kids are getting out of red states, but in higher numbers from Texas and Florida.

Twenty nine bills have become law in 14 states so far this year, sweeping past a record high of 20 bills passed into law in 12 states last year, according to an analysis of American Civil Liberties Union data by the Washington Post. They have all been either enacted by G.O.P.-led legislatures, overriding Democratic governors’ vetoes or signed into law by Republican governors.  

Families with transgender children head west

In an interview with India Currents, Maasch said that T.Y.E.F. had recently helped a single mom, on low-income, to leave Florida with her three kids, one of whom is transgender. “She had to sell all her furniture and other possessions, so that everything could fit into a small U-HAUL truck. A friend was going to drive with them to a “safe state” and help them settle down in a new town, where she knows no one,” she said.

“Most families we’re in touch with are heading West, to states like California, Colorado, Oregon as well as Minnesota. Few are moving to the Northeast and I believe it’s because they hear it’s very expensive,” she added.

Last year, in September, California Gov., Gavin Newsom, signed a bill that offers legal protection to transgender youths and their parents, if they flee conservative states that do not allow transgender youth to get gender-affirming health care.

Transgender youth under attack

Explaining the dire predicament that such kids are facing, Maasch said, at school, they are told not to talk about their gender journey, for fear of being separated from their parents. Their doctors are canceling their appointments. Afraid that they will be fired for supporting transgender students, their teachers too, are not standing behind them. Emboldened by the slew of anti-transgender bills, bullies are also stepping up their taunts and jeers. Believing that they have nowhere to turn to, those under attack are feeling abandoned.

Scores of people are, therefore, selling their houses, failing which, they’re abandoning them altogether, loading up their cars, leaving everything they’ve known all their lives and hitting the road, sometimes, in the dark of night, such is the level of urgency they are experiencing, Maasch continued.

Alabama, Florida and Texas target transgender minors

In February of last year, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott called on members of the public to report the parents of transgender minors, if it appeared that they were receiving gender-affirming medical treatment.  

In March, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed what some opponents have dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. It bans public school teachers in Florida from holding classroom instruction about sexual orientation.

In April, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey signed two bills, one of which makes it a felony for doctors to provide gender-affirming medical care to people under 19, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. In a statement Ivey said, she believes that “if the good lord made you a boy, you are a boy and if he made you a girl, you are a girl.”

The other bill bars transgender students from entering bathrooms that align with their gender. It also prohibits students and teachers in grade K-5 from engaging in conversations about sexual orientation and gender.

Backlash in India

If, in the U.S., there is a strong push to clip the wings of transgender youth, in India, Starbucks is hoping to promote a more positive message, one of social acceptance. On May 9, it posted a video on Twitter, which has since gone viral. At this writing, it has been watched some 9.5 million times, retweeted 2,239 times and bookmarked 1,363 times.

It shows a mom and a dad seated tensely at a table at a Starbucks. The dad is seen dialing a phone number, with the picture of a young man named Arpit. A while later, a svelte woman walks in the door and takes a seat at that table after hugging her mom. The gentleman then gets up to order coffee for the three. When the barista announces that their order is ready and calls for Arpita, the young woman is stunned, pleasantly so, at the change in attitude of her dad. Reaching out to clasp her hand, he tells her endearingly, “For me, you are still my kid. Only a letter has been added to your name.”

The commercial, starring the transgender actor, Siya, has been launched with the hashtag ItStartsWithYourName. But many do not approve.

It has sparked a backlash, with calls for boycotting the coffee shop giant. The more conservative elements in the country believe that the advertisement is propaganda-driven and too “woke.” But that does not take into account the feelings of India’s transgender population, which, according to the 2011 census, stands at 4.8 million.

Photo by Sandy Millar on Unsplash

Alakananda Mookerjee lives in Brooklyn, and is a Francophile.