The State of Queerness: The Attack on Children and Youth

“Never has America lost a war...But name, if you can, the last peace the United States won. Victory yes, but this country has never made a successful peace because peace requires exchanging ideas, concepts, thoughts, and recognizing the fact that two distinct systems of life can exist together without conflict.”

– Vine Deloria Jr., Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto

Can we exist without conflict?

Is there a path to becoming a nation where we are not viewed as our political party before we are seen as human?

Will there ever be a day when a portion of this nation is not seeking to annihilate and dehumanize a group based on nothing more than the opinions or beliefs of a few?

If you look at United States history, there has not been even a decade without a declared war on or against something. We are a nation born through war, and we have found commonality in remaining heavily armed and at war.

Our wars are not just the armed conflicts of each decade, and the gun violence we have grown numb to as it claims more lives every day. We have also been a nation where a faction of us is at war against the innate human dignity of other people. Although we publicly claim and laud our diversity, many have fought hard and long to make this a homogenous nation.

This week, Florida joined four other states and made it illegal for teachers in primary grades to discuss gender identity or sexual orientation with children. The “Don’t Say Gay” bill has been called a parental rights bill. While that claim may soothe the judgmental hearts of its proponents into believing that their bigotry is justified, the bill harms every single child in every single school. When we outlaw some relationships, some families, and some children, we all lose as compassion, love, empathy, and other commitments of a just society fail again. When we tell children that when they encounter beauty and diversity, they should ignore it and pretend it does not exist, we slide back toward a world that locked up neurodivergent people in asylums and where every LGBTQ+ person was considered less-than human.

Every person has a gender identity and a sexual identity, but this Bill makes some identities illegal to discuss. While it is technically only illegal to have formal lessons on gender or sexuality, it uses an implementation method that allows parents to accuse a teacher based on their own observations or opinions. The proponents fail to answer how the Bill protects the many LGBTQ+ teachers or how it will protect LGBTQ+ students if their very identity violates the law. It is causing those LGBTQ+ people in classrooms and schools, to hide, to try and pass, and to lie to each other and the world. The Bill assumes that children are too young to figure out the world and devalues their intellect and awareness, and it creates an adversarial relationship in the classroom. Teachers will trade the authenticity that connects them to their students for fear that if they say the wrong thing, they will be arrested.

The earliest primary grades form another purpose in our lives than just learning to read, write, and perform basic mathematics. They establish our first identities outside of our homes and families. This is often done through a series of lessons on identity that teach us to love our differences and accept our uniqueness. Those lessons also teach compassion and empathy, asking that children learn that not everyone looks, thinks, or acts the same but that all people deserve to be loved and allowed to live lives where they can thrive. These are vital and critical moments in a child’s education and form the base for later lessons designed to create good citizens and they are a primary purpose of public education that these bills seek to eliminate.

For example, many teachers have a “Student of the Week.” Each week, a student is asked to create a board of pictures or answer questions about themselves. Now, not only can the students not say they are a boy, or they are a girl, because those are gender identities, but a child cannot name their parents – heterosexual or gay – because nearly all adult relationships and family structures are built on sexual orientation which now cannot be mentioned or discussed.

One of the primary questions teachers want their students to answer through these lessons is “Who Are You?” This Bill has made it illegal for some students to answer and makes it impossible for teachers to teach this lesson, meaning that the students will be less equipped adults.

Of course, in most cases even though it is now illegal for all teaching about gender identity or sexual orientation, the Bill is only meant as a weapon against LGBTQ+ people and their families. No one anticipates accusations against teachers for lining the class up according to perceived gender and calling the students boys and girls. This Bill allows a small subcategory of the community to demand that every queer person and their families be judged as less valuable and valid. It legislates discrimination and bias into law.

The wave of bills against queer people is not unlike the wave of Jim Crow statutes used to subjugate Black and Brown people for nearly a century. Like Jim Crow, these bills seek to create two categories of people – the white, heterosexual, cisgender people who are “real” Americans and deserve wealth, laudation, and rights, and everyone else.

These Bills and the movements driving them are also not unlike the Red Scare tactics used by anti-Communist politicians like McCarthy who created lists of people based on the reports of other people, and then used those lists to ban the people named from jobs, home ownership, political office, and church membership. The result of those earlier actions was violence. They led to lynching, false imprisonment, and death for too many, and a free walk for the murderers. Both Jim Crow and Red McCarthy bigotry further divided this nation, and they seek to do it again because a people divided are easier to defeat.

Those developing and forwarding these bills belong to the “Christian” Right, a well-orchestrated and well-funded group founded in the middle of the twentieth century. Knowing that they were losing the fight for Civil Rights for Black people, the group was formed by former southern democrats, and they rose to slowly overtake the conservatives in the Republican Party. Because they were losing the fight to keep this nation separated by racial mandates, they decided strategically to make abortion their unifying cry. They created catch phrases like “Right to Life” even as they went to war to reclaim their right to end lives by extending the right to own weapons that had no purpose other than ending human lives. They fought to end the separation of church and state that the Constitution created.

We have seen the result of their policies. In many states, a person can now claim they are “standing their ground” and protecting their life or property from threat as they murder children like Trayvon Martin in the streets. Having seen the lynching they used to terrorize be correctly seen as sanctioned and allowed murder for white people, they have created a new path to murdering whomever and wherever they wish, even as they send others to demand that unborn babies have a “right to life.”

Their efforts are not new. The Christian Right’s name might be a recent adoption, but their version of Christianity was used to justify millions of African people’s transport through the Middle Passage into enslavement and Manifest Destiny.

These modern versions of the older hatred make love illegal for entire classes of people and seek to make other people disappear. They are based on a false idea – that adding a ban against a person’s identity will make the person be heterosexual or cisgender. The bills are a written version of the frequent call by the Christian Right to round up all the gays and put them into a concentration camp, so they die off. Of course, the pastors who preach from the pulpit with these fire and brimstone demands that their own prejudice be judge, jury, and executioner laugh them off, claiming they are “just kidding” even as they continue to fight for that freedom.

Outlawing terms does not outlaw identities. Gay used to be a term for happy, until it became a coded, “Are you?” Outlaw the word gay just as Indigenous gender and sexual identities were under colonialism, and a new term will rise, or perhaps the revolution long feared, when people simply become people, will happen.

Our communities have endured far worse than this attempt to erase us. LGBTQ+ people are phoenixes, and we have inherited the knowledge of how to endure and thrive under the mantle of judgement and hatred.

Queer people live in a world where some parents would rather see their child dead than to hear them come out. We live in a world that told us a hug or a touched hand was reason to fear and condemn us. We live in a world where LGBTQ+ people were jailed and sent to asylums for nothing more than being themselves. We live in a world where Rock Hudson would rather die in secret than accept the judgement of those who surrounded him. We live in a world where we died in a pandemic that critics dismissed as a “gay disease” before locking the suffering in wards with warnings that stole their humanity even as the disease stole their lives. We have given love and been loved in return, even as most of the world prayed for our death and demise. We cannot be erased.

We live in a world where some – including our parents - justify their hatred and condemnation by both claiming they “love the sinner, hate the sin” and that they are following the commands of the Bible. There are over 32,000 verses in the Bible. Fewer than ten of those are used by anti-gay activists.

When religion becomes a weapon used as a battering ram to destroy other people, it is not a faith practice – it is a crusade seeking destruction and death. Religious crusades are not holy and those fighting them are not blessed. Religious crusades led to the death of thousands on September 11th, 2001, and they led to millions of deaths in the Americas through Manifest Destiny and colonization. The religious crusade against LGBTQ+ people, turns the Bible into a grenade. Florida has now thrown those live grenades into every single school in the state.

We are a nation who has come to believe that as a nation, we are collectively exceptional and somehow better than the rest of the world; and that rich-conservative-white-heterosexual-cisgender people and especially the male members of that group are the most exceptional and deserve to be treated as royalty in this exceptional nation. Donald Trump and his family appeal to those who believe this false idol version of themselves because they see a man who ridicules, cheats, lies, and treats everyone with contempt, and who still makes it to the White House. Trumpism is many things, and one of them is nothing more than an assembly of people who want to throw public temper tantrums and demand that their abuse of others is justified and okay.

This most recent war fought by the Christian Right, and the party which endorses it and makes their platform the Republican platform, is a war against children. Bullying remains one of the primary causes of lives ended through suicide. A bullied child is a traumatized child, and now Florida has made bullying legal. Other states are quickly following, following the manufactured Bill draft written by the Right’s enforcers and passed on to Republican supporters to be introduced in state houses all over the country. This never was about Florida.

Lutheran pastor Martin Niemöller’s famous words admonished that “First, they came for the socialists…” before they moved on to others. It represents the destruction of a nation and the people who live within it. Most see it as a reminder to never stop seeking a world where all people are seen as having inherent worth and dignity.