The Tidal Wave of Transphobia Across America
When the Lack of Compassionate Leadership Rules the Day
Over the last couple of weeks, I attended hearings at the Tennessee State Legislature in Nashville. Bills restricting the rights of trans people and drag queens were introduced and overwhelmingly moved forward, despite the well-researched and impassioned testimony of LGBTQ+ leaders, legal and medical professionals, and family members of transgender youth and adults from across the state.
I sat in the legislative chambers of the Cordell Hull Building near the Tennessee capitol building with my partner and fellow LGBTQ+ friends and community members. What I witnessed appeared to be more of a veiled formality than a thoughtful discussion about the reasoning and motivations behind these transphobic and discriminatory proposals. These leaders operated with a decorum that was colored by politeness and gratitude, but the winning majority votes made by Republican leaders went toward eliminating gender-affirming healthcare for trans and non-binary youth, criminalizing drag queens (aka “male and female impersonators”) who perform in public spaces (with a second offense being a felony charge), and a ban on trans athletes participating in sports in private schools.
These proposals are smoothly advancing through these committee hearings and will be voted on to become laws and statutes expeditiously.
After witnessing these proceedings for myself in the state where I live, I can step back and see a much larger agenda in motion.
Transphobic bills are being introduced in legislative bodies across the country. In Arkansas, Mississippi, Iowa, South Dakota, North Dakota, Indiana, Wyoming, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Hawaii, Utah, and Montana—Republican and Democrat states alike—hundreds of bills have been put forth. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has tracked 234 anti-trans bills that have been proposed across the US in the 2023 legislative session as of February 1. While many of these bills will not pass, it is clear to see that something is amiss.
A well-funded, organized, ultra-conservative campaign against trans and LGBTQ+ rights is being orchestrated across the country at the state level. It is currently an unstoppable tidal wave of transphobia that continues to gain momentum.
What I find incredibly discouraging is the lack of compassionate leadership. Republican representatives are marching in step to an agenda that safeguards their influence and power by restricting the rights and personal freedoms of their own constituents.
What we need is compassionate leadership that advocates for the least of us—the downtrodden, the poor, the helpless, and the people who live on the margins of society who are being bullied by everyone else. I want leadership that does not exclusively favor the wealthy, the privileged, and the powerful. The true measure of a society is how we care for the most vulnerable and impoverished among us.
The question that haunts me now is, “how do we fight a tidal wave?”
I suppose that, as it washes over us and attempts to drown us in its wake, we gather together as a community and hold on tight. We assess the skills and tools that are at our disposal, and we use them to build our own strategic defense.
Call and email your state legislators and let your voice be heard
Stand in solidarity at marches, rallies, and protests to make a public outcry
Vote for local, state, and national leaders who will actively fight these bills
Volunteer with local nonprofits and grassroots efforts that are mounting campaigns against this
Donate money to local and national trans and LGBTQ advocacy groups
Educate yourself. Stay informed. tnep.org, transequality.org, and aclu.org/issues/lgbtq-rights are great places to start.
Actively share information on social media and wherever you have your own audience
Talk to your friends, family, neighbors, coworkers, and life partners about what is going on
I am asking you to do what you can as you are able. (I am making my own plans as a skilled filmmaker, writer, and musician to do something about this.)
Even a small act of defiance is still an act of defiance.
Every little thing that you can do will matter.
In the aftermath of any tidal wave, there is despair and destruction. There are far-reaching implications to these bills that are being codified into law. In the short term, they appear to only degrade the rights of LGBTQ+ people. But they serve as templates for how to undermine and deconstruct the rights and personal freedoms of everyone who is not wealthy, privileged, and powerful.
If I am sounding alarmist, it is because this feels all too familiar. Every piece of transphobic legislation that becomes law sets a precedent for even more restrictive and dare I say hateful governance.
It was not long ago when it was deemed morally and legally sound to require African Americans to sit at the back of buses, drink from separate water fountains, and to refrain from using public facilities that were designated for white people only. During World War II, hundreds of thousands of Japanese immigrants and US citizens in America were forced to surrender their homes and businesses to live in concentration camps against their will for several years. It was less than a century ago when a seismic wave of nationalism and fascism in Germany justified the extermination of millions of Jews in horrendous gas chambers across Europe.
Hatred will flourish wherever it is allowed to grow, and it will have no bounds.
A Note about the Images.
I captured these photos at the Have a Heart Tennessee Rally that was held this past Tuesday, Valentine’s Day, at the legislative plaza in front of the state capitol building.
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