“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.
Declaring that children who are LGBTQ+ do not deserve to be protected from bullying, and institutionalizing hatred and bigotry into law does not diminish their inherent dignity and worth of queer kids. Calling some of these attacks anti-racism bills, because they also ban any discussion of any history that might make any white student feel uncomfortable, making whiteness and the fragile egos of white students protected classes, does not hide the bigotry any more than the white hoods of past years hid the identities of those who wore them.
The states passing these laws are trying to claim two things. On one side, they claim that it is child abuse to support your transgender child, and that is educational abuse to allow curriculum that includes positive affirmation of gender and sexual identity before a child turns eighteen because they are too young to legally consent. They seek to remove the rights of some parents.
But on the other side, they are claiming that it is not abuse for parents to send their minor children to Conversion Therapy, designed to change their gender or sexual orientation, against their consent. The fact that Conversion Therapy have been linked to a lifetime of adverse mental and physical health conditions for those subjected to that form of indoctrination and torture is legal but asking teachers and peers to address them by their correct name and pronoun or allowing transgender youth to use the bathroom is criminal. We do not need to witness the disconcerting Upside Down on our televisions, because we are witnessing the efforts to make the entire nation a horror show for LGBTQ+ children and youth is being played in every house and senate in the country.
Those driving this effort are empowered and they are emboldened by the Republican Party’s success in stealing seats on the Supreme Court. They know that Republicans succeeded in their long-term efforts to make certain they had a legal system that would grant them the rights to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people not unlike those given to their ancestors to enslave and eradicate Black and Indigenous people.
In 2021, the most recent surveys by The Trevor Project found that 42% of LGBQ+ and 52% of transgender children, youth, and young adults between 13 and 24 considered suicide last year. One main cause of suicide is bullying, and now these students do not just face bullying by their peers and their parents, they are being bullied by their entire government. Every time they turn on the news, the reports echo of states seeking to label their very personhood and identity as the biggest enemy of this nation. You cannot claim you are moral or claim you speak for a human “Right to Life” when your primary bully pulpit tells children they should never have been born.
The Right spent decades centering the “Right to Life.” In every anti-transgender or anti-gay bill passed, they make a mockery of the slogan. They continue to be supported by parents and churches who continue to stand outside of abortion clinics demanding that those who are not yet born have rights they want removed from their living, breathing children who happen to be gay or transgender.
The Christian Right is a hate group acting out their own religious crusade exactly like the Taliban and Isil. Just as those groups pervert Islam for violence and hate, the Christian right perverts the Bible to justify violence and hate through gun ownership and white nationalism. They are not protecting anything other than their right to harm those they judge, and that is the antithesis of Christianity.
Vine Deloria notes that we can never have a peace because we cannot learn to listen and exchange ideas and thoughts that are different from our own. This is true. But the Christian Right does not care about peace. They are intent on LGBTQ+ eradication. You cannot exchange ideas with a group who exists to eliminate you. These terrorists are attacking every person who is not like them because of race, ethnicity, religion, bodily or mental ability, sexual orientation, gender, and gender identity, and their ears are too filled with the ringing sound of their own rage to listen or exchange ideas.
The members and supporters of the Christian Right are not the people who followed Jesus. They are the people who came for Jesus and called for him to be crucified because his very existence offended them, and then demanded that their murder be called holy.
They are the group that came for Black people, enslaved them, profited from them, and embedded racism in front of equality and democracy, and now demand their racism be declared holy.
They are the group that came for Indigenous people in the Americas, Caribbean, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific and called them savages and then demanded their annihilation and murder of billions of people be declared holy.
Now, they are asking that the authorities come for the LGBTQ+ people, and that their god commands/demands it and so want their homophobia and transphobia declared holy.
The Christian right may be religious, but they have traded holiness for hatred.
They will not win this war they have declared, even if the passage of these bills is a successful battle.
During high school student Gavin Grimm’s fight against his school board’s discriminatory policies, he said. “I did not choose to announce to the news media that I am transgender. My school board made that decision for me. But now that I am visible, I want to use my position to help the country see transgender people like me as real people just living our lives. We are not perverse. We are not broken. We are not sick. We are not freaks. We cannot change who we are. Our gender identities are as innate as anyone else’s.
We each have a gender identity.
We each have sexual orientation.
Erasing those innate categories will not make us invisible.
Like Grimm facing the school board, we did not choose this fight. But we will fight it.
Children are our communal future, and we will never quit fighting for every LGBTQ+ child has the same access to pathways and an education where they can thrive as their cisgender and heterosexual peers.
Even more, children are the future, and they will never quit fighting for themselves, even long after we are all gone.
Love will always outlast hate, but we will never become a nation of peace until we silence those who are intent to codify their own limitations and discriminatory beliefs into law.
Fighting for equal rights for LGBTQ+ students is an act of justice and an act of fair access. Many who are Christian seek to follow the teachings of Jesus, it is an act of faith to protect the least of these, to protect all children.
By state or territory, below is a grade based on the movement advancement project’s measurement of how safe that state is for LGBTQ+ youth and children as of March 11, 2022. Next week, we will consider how safe each state or territory is for all LGBTQIA+ people – children, youth, and adults by looking at the overall picture and at newly proposed laws which are targeting queer people.
States and Territories which are very safe or mostly safe for LGBTQ+ students and have an A or B rating from the MAP project.
State or Territory
Percentage of Adults (18+) living in State/Territory who are LGBTQ+
Total Number of LGBTQ+ residents over age 13