Em-URGE-ing Voices

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Florida’s legislation continues to target LGBTQ+ young peoples and their futures

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December 5, 2022

As a high school student in Florida, I served two years as the Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) president. I faced resistance from my school’s administration, who would not provide GSA funding, allow us to honor historical LGBTQ+ stories, or even advertise the existence of GSA. In many ways, the administration forced its LGBTQ+ students “underground,” actively erasing our existence from the school’s culture. Despite that, we found solace in a communal space in which we could express our joys and pains of being LGBTQ+.  Following these recent violations of Florida LGBTQ+ rights, however, Florida’s young LGBTQ+ people will have even less than I had in my youth.

Young people in America are living in unprecedented times with many fears and uncertainties. While “unprecedented times” have been referenced countlessly  in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it still rings true as we continue to face a global pandemic, the impending climate crisis, and a time of great division among our communities and nations. To add to these fears and uncertainties, Florida’s transgender youth under 18 are facing a ban on gender-affirming healthcare which will prevent their access to puberty blockers, hormones, cross-hormone therapy, and gender-affirming surgery.

This attack on marginalized Florida youth is not new – it is a continuation of horrifying onslaughts that Florida’s conservative politicians continue to stack against our young people and their rights to safe and affirming healthcare and education. Since his election in 2018, Florida’s governor, Ron DeSantis, has made strides  to appease conservative voters by continuing a long line of attacks against LGBTQ+ Floridians and demonstrating a blatant disregard for the well-being of Florida’s LGBTQ+ youth. Among some of the anti-LGBTQ+ atrocities DeSantis has committed during his time in office, he has banned the rights of transgender girls to play sports that affirms their gender, vetoed mental health funds for survivors of Orlando’s Pulse gay night club shooting, and vetoed essential funds for an LGBTQ+ focused houseless shelter. Most recently, the Don’t Say Gay bill has been in effect for over five months, banning the rights of kindergarten through third grade educators  from teaching topics related to sexual orientation or gender expression.  Any K-3 educator who fails to follow these guidelines risk losing their teaching license and thus, their livelihoods. Following the tail of the critical race theory book ban, LGBTQ+ books will likely be next on the cutting floor.

Despite popular misinformed conservative beliefs, these policies and laws will not dissuade LGBTQ+ youth from being LGBTQ+, but effectively coerce them to find alternate ways to learn about and discover themselves at the risk of their emotional and physical safety. The ban on access to gender-affirming healthcare for Florida’s transgender youth will force transgender youth through puberty, which is a crucial time in which gender dysphoria can be at an all time high, further exacerbating mental health concerns. The 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that nearly 1 in 5 transgender and nonbinary youth attempted suicide in the past year, with LGBTQ+ youth of color reporting higher rates. However, they also found that LGBTQ+ youth who went to LGBTQ+ affirming schools had lower rates of suicide attempts, and those who lived in LGBTQ+-affirming communities had significantly lower suicide attempts. Florida LGBTQ+ advocates understand the weight of these policies as a death sentence on many young people’s lives; while Florida’s medical board voted to move forward with the ban on gender-affirming healthcare for transgender youth, right outside protestors staged a die-in.

There was a time when Florida served as a safe haven for  LGBTQ+ peoples; many people flocked to Florida for its large and inclusive LGBTQ+ communities. These LGBTQ+ peoples found safety in Florida, and started their families here. That time is long gone. Now LGBTQ+ families are being forced to relocate because of the harsh violations of LGBTQ+ rights. To add to the despair, Florida’s conservatives won a super majority in the recent mid-terms earlier this month. Governor Ron DeSantis was re-elected into office once again and Florida, once a swing state, has been awash by a wave of red. The militant anti-LGBTQ+ legislations that have been stacked against Floridians by DeSantis may foreshadow what’s to come for the rest of the country – a warning that is being echoed by progressive Florida organizations such as Equality Florida – as DeSantis is being pressured by fellow conservatives to make a bid for presidential candidacy.

Outside this long list of grave news, there is hope yet. The red wave that overtook much of Florida stopped short of overtaking the rest of the country. And more, for the first time in our country’s history, Florida elected its first progressive Gen Z congressperson, 25-year-old Maxwell Frost, a proponent against gun violence and advocate for addressing climate change, healthcare access, and reproductive justice issues. A small wave in Florida’s red seas, Frost may bring some much needed light and representation for the voices of Florida’s young people and their collective futures. It is crucial that we continue to speak on and fight for the issues that are plaguing marginalized young peoples in Florida and beyond Florida, the Deep South – it was in the Deep South, after all, that the civil rights movement was birthed. Perhaps with the right conditions, Florida may once again become a swing state.

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