I fell in love with the art of drag long before I really understood or accepted my own queer identity. We can learn a lot from drag queens. And not just fashion tips. The news has me exhausted and worried lately. But today, I’m going to take a lesson from Bianca Del Rio:
”Not today, Satan, not today.”
As bleak as things have been looking, there have been a couple little victories; a couple of “Not today, Satan” moments. And I have been holding onto those moments if only because the people passing anti-LGBTQ legislation want me to succumb. It’s easy to get lost in the dark, though, if you’re trying to do it on your own. When you feel like you have no power and every effort you make is defeated. But sometimes we get a little help. And more than the help itself, the feeling that someone else is fighting alongside you is enough to keep going.
Little Victories in Greece
On Friday, as I was kicking off a weekend of documentaries about conversion therapy (research for some possible future topics; not wallowing in misery, I promise) I read about Greece banning conversion therapy for minors. I read this and was thrilled that another country was beginning to ban conversion therapy. (It seems that in Greece the ban is on conversion therapy for sexual orientation but not gender identity.) There are so few countries in the world with such bans. Whether they’re comprehensive bans that include both sexual orientation and gender identity, or only sexual orientation. The first was in Brazil in 1999. It covered only sexual orientation, but was expanded to include gender identity in 2018.
Like I said: I was thrilled. At the same time, I was filled with the usual mix of sadness, anger and frustration (why isn’t there a word for that emotion) at the mess in the US. In the US, less than half of the LGBTQ population live in states that ban conversion therapy for minors.
If Only we could Pass a Law like that Here at Home
This means a lot of kids live in dangerous places. In the US, 25 states plus DC have complete or partial bans on conversion therapy. The rest either have no bans or are currently in federal court with a preliminary injunction preventing enforcement of conversion therapy bans either statewide or municipal. You read that correctly. Preventing bans. As in: there’s a law on the books banning it. But someone else in the government says: “nope, we want to allow you to continue to harm kids with dangerous and discredited practices. That have been rejected by medical and mental health professional organizations for decades.”
Even Dr. Robert Spitzer, one of the loudest voices behind the idea that it was possible to “cure” queerness, apologized several years before his death. He even called his own study “fatally flawed.” When one of the biggest proponents of the therapy says: “Sorry, nope. I was wrong,” you would think that people might pay attention and oh, I don’t know…maybe stop doing it?
But that’s not what’s happening in the US. Some states are doubling down on their efforts to harm queer people and especially queer kids. Fortunately, like crocuses in the snow, there are bright spots.
Little Victories in Connecticut
Last week Connecticut joined eighteen other states who are creating transgender safe haven laws. I spent a lot of time trying to decipher what the bill actually says. (It’s a budget bill. It was a lot to untangle.) Connecticut is particularly aggressive in their efforts, which cover refugees fleeing bans on gender affirming care but also regressive abortion bans. Someone on Erin Reed’s Twitter thread called it “legal interstate warfare.” (Erin Reed is an LGBTQ+ advocate and Christian Deacon.) States like Connecticut are ensuring that families fleeing the draconian anti-transgender policies being codified around the country have safe and welcoming places to go. Place where their kids will be safe. Where doctors and social workers, not politicians, are deciding what medical care will be available to families.
I hate that it’s a step forward to legalize health care providers using evidence-based care to provide real treatment where necessary. Instead of using mythology, wishful thinking, and debunked studies to provide fake cures for something that isn’t actually a problem. But it is. And I’ll take it.
Legal Protections against Extradition
The Connecticut bill protects people from being extradited. It prevents the state from using resources to bring you back to Texas, Alabama or another unsafe state. Judges can’t enforce out of state subpoenas or bring you in for a trial. Connecticut is saying they won’t use their own police, or jails to support these laws. They’re demanding that if another state wants to enforce the law they need to do it themselves. No time, resources, facilities, money or personnel will be spent to do it for them. Connecticut’s law will also allow people to sue Texas for reimbursement of any abortion bounties they may have collected. Along with any legal fees. Other states are providing similar protections, although not necessarily as comprehensively or aggressively.
This is great news, of course. But we have to remember, just like Mel Cordner of Q+, a queer youth organization in Hartford, said: “It means progress isn’t permanent.” For that, we hope we can rely on the court system, although we’ve seen otherwise in recent weeks. Even so, sometimes we can count on them to do the right thing. Like this past weekend.”
Little Victories in Alabama
What happened this past weekend that had me feeling a bit optimistic, too? On Friday evening, as I was trying to decide what to do with my night, I got some news via TikTok of all places that the federal appeals court in Alabama had issued an injunction against certain provisions in the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act. (Alabama’s extremely aggressive anti-gender affirmation bill. Which would have made it a felony–the only state to make affirming gender a felony–with up to ten years of prison time possible for health care providers to provide gender affirming care to minors.) I quickly visited the website for the eleventh circuit court of appeals so that I could read the decision. It seemed like a good way to start off a Friday night.
Of course the decision wasn’t posted yet although sources seemed to indicate that it could be found online, and someone very kindly uploaded it to their Google Drive and shared it.
Trump Appointee Overturns Spurious Arguments
The judge (Liles Burke, appointed by Donald Trump in 2017,) disagreed with the claim made by Alabama legislators that gender affirming treatment is experimental, citing the fact that more than twenty established medical organizations endorse evidence-based gender affirming medications and treatment for minors.
As good as that news is, numerous articles I’ve read have also suggested that by issuing this preliminary injunction, the judge’s final ruling is likely to permanently block the limitations on these kinds of gender affirming treatments. The judge’s order did uphold the part of the law barring gender affirming surgeries on minors. But that’s not that big a deal, because those surgeries are not generally part of the standards of care for minors anyway. Yes, that’s what the anti-trans lobby is most afraid of. But like so many other things that homophobic political groups are afraid of, it’s a boogeyman at best, and projection at worst.
This Time it’s Conservatives Laying Siege to an American Tradition
Judge Burke talked about American traditions (something certain politicians seem to be trying to convince us they represent or want us to return to,) and how those traditions mean that parents, not states or federal courts, are primarily responsible for the care and nurturing of children. Judge Burke has the right idea. Health care providers need to be able to freely give advice about health care. Without the fear of felony charges. Parents, guardians and caring adults need to be able to make health care decisions for children (with input from those children as appropriate.)
These anti-transgender privacy laws take all of that away. They undermine our trust in our health care providers. They undermine children’s ability to trust the adults around them. And that’s not healthy for anyone. Especially not queer kids who face a greater risk of mental health challenges, experiencing things like anxiety, depression and suicidal ideations much more frequently than their peers. These same kids face higher rates of bullying and other kinds of physical violence, too. They need safe, trusted, loving adults who can help them navigate these situations. Who can help them cope with stress. Who can teach them not just How to Human (which all kids have to learn) but how to live full, authentic, healthy lives. More and more these attacks on privacy, this anti-trans and anti-queer legislation not only makes life difficult for queer adults but it undermines the very survival of queer kids.
Small Victories Keep us in the Fight in More than One Sense
I can’t live with that. And so I keep coming back and fighting. Again, and again and again. Which is why I need these small victories. Without them, it’s easy to lose hope. It’s easy to get mired in things like a weekend of research about conversion therapy and find it hard to recover. There’s a good reason why Adam’s first words to me when I told him I’d spent the weekend watching documentaries about conversion therapy were, “Are you okay? No, you’re not.”
More than 300 anti LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced this year throughout the states. They ban participation in sports. They ban gender affirming care based on sound medical science and mountains of psychological evidence for the physical safety and mental and emotional importance of this care. There’s a long, hard fight ahead to ensure human rights are preserved and that people are safe and allowed to live, love and grow, to become their fullest, most authentic selves.
That battle is exhausting and these small victories are not a time to let our guard down. They’re a time to celebrate. To lick or wounds. To regroup and reenergize ourselves. And to make ourselves ready to keep fighting until we don’t have to anymore and we can move on to the next fight. I love these moments. They lift me up. They enable me to keep going; to keep making calls, and writing letters. To call my legislators. Ultimately, to keep pushing for the next little victory.
The Need for Self-Care and Checking-In
Small victories like the Connecticut bill and the appeals court in Alabama mean that instead of writing these pieces week after week because I feel I have to, I am able to do so because I want to. It’s a fine distinction, but it means I am able to do my writing without getting lost in the depression. I write for the people who already know what’s going on, to help them remember that other people are with them. To help them connect with the people who may not understand what’s happening or why it matters to them. There are all kinds of religious and secular interpretations of the idea “what you do to the smallest, you do to all,” and this is one of those times. What you do matters. And one of the things I do is write.
We’ll have victories like these in the future. And we’ll have defeats. But like Bob the Drag Queen says, “I kind of have this mentality that says, ‘everything will work out in the end. And if it’s not working out, it’s not the end.’” Bob tells us to enter the room “purse first.” I know what I can stash in my purse. Hope. Anger. And the spirit to fight another day.