Here’s what recent anti-LGBTQ legislation means for progress

Demonstrator waving the Trans flag
Photo by Marcos del Mazo/Getty Images

A host of new legislative measures designed to discriminate against LGBTQ people has been introduced in states across the U.S., a dark trend that, oddly enough, still may signal hope, says K.J. Rawson, associate professor of English and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Northeastern.

“As any oppressed group gains visibility and increased rights, it’s fairly predictable that that group will then become targeted,” says Rawson, who studies rhetoric of queer and transgender archival collections. “In some ways, we might see this as part of the path to more human rights, but the cost is to the more vulnerable members of the community.”

k.j. rawson poses for a portrait

K.J. Rawson is an associate professor of English and women’s, gender and sexuality studies in the School of Social Sciences and Humanities. Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Indeed, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott told state health agencies last week that medical treatments provided to transgender adolescents, widely considered to be the standard of care in medicine, should be classified as “child abuse” under existing state law. He called upon “licensed professionals” and “members of the general public” to report the parents of transgender minors to state authorities if it appears the minors are receiving gender-affirming medical care.

Some officials have already tried to begin those investigations. The Texas Department of Family and Protective Services opened an investigation into one of its own employees who has a transgender teenager, according to a lawsuit filed Tuesday.

Lawyers from the American Civil Liberties Union, Lambda Legal, and the firm Baker Botts, filed a lawsuit in Travis County on behalf of another anonymous family on Tuesday as well, asking the court to block enforcement of Abbott’s order. A judge on Wednesday granted a temporary restraining order to prevent the state from performing a child-abuse investigation of a family seeking gender-affirming care for their transgender child.

And in Florida, members of the state House of Representatives passed HB 1557, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. The measure would limit when and how teachers and school staff can discuss gender and sexual orientation in the classroom.

Neither measure has passed so far, and the Texas measure faces gaping questions over how—or whether—it’s even enforceable, says Libby Adler,

Libby Adler, professor of law and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Northeastern. Courtesy photo

professor of law and women’s, gender, and sexuality studies at Northeastern.

“It is not clear that the governor has the authority to unilaterally declare a

medical protocol to be abuse,” she says. 

Still, Abbott and those who support the measure “could start causing a lot of trouble for parents trying to do the right thing for their kids,” Adler says.

Adler and Rawson both emphasize that the proposed measures target queer and transgender children and teenagers—some of the most vulnerable people in the broader LGBTQ community.

“That is where we see the challenge and the cost of progress, the burden of those costs are not equally shared by all,” Rawson says, adding however, that the cost of progress need not be so high.

“If you imagine the long arc of queer and trans human rights, you can see this intentional backlash as a sign that we’re gaining momentum and traction,” Rawson says, “but it’s a mistake to think that’s inevitable. Doing so only solidifies the belief that to make progress we have to make sacrifices.”

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