In the past few months, some incredibly hateful legal actions in Texas and Florida made national headlines. Idaho and Georgia are following their lead, and there will be more. These laws attack LGBTQ+ kids and their families, denying them their right to learn about the world and about themselves.
MEDIAGIRLS is a Boston-based nonprofit, and it’s easy to imagine that in a blue state, we are safe from such attacks. It might be tempting to turn away from sights like this, sure that it could never happen here. But even if that were true, that does not erase the suffering that these lobbyists and lawmakers have decided to bring on this community, my community. And all so they can cynically score points with their base or out of ancient moral panic that refuses to see us as people with the same dignity as any other. In times like this, we need to stand by each other and fight for our community. This article will break down what the Texas and Florida governments are saying and doing, what they mean for LGBTQ+ kids, and how we can take a stand.
Texas: Criminalizing Trans Youth
Going chronologically, we open in Texas on February 22. when Governor Greg Abbott sent this vile letter, calling for the state’s existing laws against child abuse to be expanded to now include gender-affirming treatments as abuse. Abbott is setting the stage for families, health care providers, teachers, and other trusted adults who seek to do right by the trans children in their lives to be investigated and punished as “abusers.” This is in spite of the fact that gender-affirming treatments for trans kids are largely supported by pediatricians across America. This is not about helping kids; it’s about using them as props so Abbott can rally his supporters. And once the election is over, no matter who wins, trans children and the adults who love them will pay the price.
Since Abbott’s order is not Texas law per se, it falls to various leaders and departments in Texas to interpret it as they see fit. Some lawyers and district attorneys have made it clear that they will not accept gender-affirming treatments as abusive. But others are empowered by the governor’s hateful rhetoric and can assert any number of judicial powers over these families. Anecdotes from across Texas say that these “child welfare investigators” are showing up at people’s homes. In the worst extremes, the statement opens up the possibility for trans kids to be taken from their families. One woman, an employee at the state’s protective services and the parent of a transgender child, has filed a lawsuit against her government for this attack on children. To protect themselves, trans children and the adults who love them are being forced to commit self-erasure, returning to the closet, or discontinuing treatment that could save their lives. And like the equally cruel anti-abortion law Texas passed last fall, it incentivizes neighbors to turn against each other, reveal the actions to the hostile government, and claim a reward for it. Trans people are to be treated not as members of the community or people with dignity but as game to hunt in pursuit of money, acclaim, a “moral” crusade, or some hybrid thereof.
Abbott’s campaign manager described this action as a “winning issue,” yet another example of how hate can be transformed into political acumen. As we will discuss later, these actions enable other politicians elsewhere in the country to introduce similar measures and laws. Idaho followed Texas’s lead and set in motion a bill that could send parents to prison for trying to get gender-affirming care for their children and classified medical care for trans kids as “mutilation.” This is a recurring pattern in this rush of orders and laws: our identities are not our own and within our personal jurisdiction, but a political issue to be debated and deliberated by those in power. There’s a bitter irony in the party of small government going out of its way to tell citizens who they can and cannot be.
Florida, “Don’t Say Gay,” Georgia, and “Common Humanity”
On March 8, the “Parental Rights in Education” bill passed Florida’s state senate and is now on its way to the very receptive governor, Ron DeSantis. This law, a close cousin of the book bans and classroom censorship efforts MEDIAGIRLS discussed last month, declares that public schools are not allowed to teach anything related to LGBTQ+ to students between kindergarten and third grade, with the room to extend into higher grade levels, based on “developmental appropriateness.” Again, bear in mind that none of these legislators are educators or developmental psychologists; they are basing this entirely on their own opinions about what people should and should not be allowed to learn and think within their states. If a student is LGBTQ+ or has an LGBTQ+ parent or loved one, they are not allowed to discuss it because Florida legislators are prioritizing their own feelings and prejudices over human beings’ existence and right to education.
As is always the case, copycat laws were quickly drawn up and introduced elsewhere in the country. In this case, Georgia introduced a bill remarkably similar to “Don’t Say Gay,” which aims to keep discussions of gender and sexual orientation out of the classroom. Unlike Florida’s bill, which targets public schools, this bill is specifically about private schools. There’s a much more complicated discussion to be had about private education that is beyond the scope of this article, but the intended result is the same: curb kids’ ability to learn about the world and themselves. Appallingly, the bill is named the “Common Humanity in Private Education Act,” a textbook example of saying the quiet part out loud: they do not see us as part of “common humanity.”
We Need to Talk About Disney
Closely related to “Don’t Say Gay” is the Walt Disney Company. As a media literacy organization, the MEDIAGIRLS dynamic with Disney is a complicated one. On the one hand, they have made some fascinating and beloved works of art; in the past, we have reported on some of their content and the positive messages these stories and characters can have on girls+. On the other hand, Disney is one of the most powerful companies of all time. They do a lot of business in Florida and direct a sizable portion of their revenue to make sure that Florida’s lawmakers are receptive to their wants. Those lawmakers that Disney supports with donations and lobbying are the same people who wrote and sponsored this bill, making Disney a de-facto financier and enabler of “Don’t Say Gay.”
Disney CEO Bob Chapek refused to condemn the bill until very recently. Instead, he said that Disney will fight for LGBTQ+ rights with its “inspiring content.” Even sidestepping Disney’s history of minimal, marginalizing LGBTQ+ representation, this is a blatant attempt to use representation as a shield to ignore the company’s unethical actions. Aware of the public relations crisis they have brought upon themselves, Disney tried to donate to the Human Rights Campaign, which rejected the token gesture. Later, Chapek released a public apology in which he promised, among other things, to “paus[e] all political donations in the state of Florida.” People spoke up for what they believed in and made change, but that doesn’t erase the harm already done or the harm that is likely underway once this bill arrives on the governor’s desk.
MEDIAGIRLS is a Boston-based organization. It’s tempting to say that we are in a safely blue part of the country and that these decisions in Texas and Florida, while unpleasant, don’t impact us. Disney runs counter to that idea wholesale. Disney is a giant corporation whose products touch all of our lives. I wouldn’t be surprised if, in the coming months, MEDIAGIRLS writes an article discussing the representation in some upcoming Disney property since their output is just so ubiquitous. But Disney, the vessel of beloved entertainment, cannot be divorced from the frighteningly powerful business that directs its money to unsavory causes and hurts real people.
What Can We Do?
When bills and motions like this pop up seemingly every day, it’s easy to feel powerless. But giving up is the first step in letting these things happen. Across the country, people are already taking action to stand up for themselves and the people they love. In Florida, students organized a walkout protest. A Texas judge has halted the invasive anti-trans investigations, at least temporarily. Employees at Disney subsidiary Pixar penned an open letter to the higher-ups that forced the company to reckon with its hypocrisy. Linked below, you will find educators, activists, and coalitions you can visit online or follow on social media to learn more. When we work together, we have the power to challenge institutional hate.
People in power justify their power with stories, culturally accepted narratives about why they should have power and someone else should not. Texan politicians want people to believe that trans children have no right to exist. Florida politicians say that knowing about the LGBTQ+ community threatens the innocence of straight and cis kids. Disney tries to hide behind the storytellers and artists it employs to avoid scrutiny at its higher levels. One of the most important lessons MEDIAGIRLS can offer its audience is the ability to see these fictions for what they are and fight back against them. We are here, we are proud, and we are not going anywhere.
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Disney Walkout: Disney employees are organizing a walkout on March 22 and are encouraging people to spread the word
Activists and Educators
Katherine Lynch is a student at Emmanuel College in Boston, Mass. She studies Communications and Media with a minor in Marketing. She loves to read, write, and learn about the world, passions she is eager to share with the MEDIAGIRLS community.