Editor’s Note: Claire McCully is a writer and professor of English in Nevada. The views expressed here are her own. Read more opinion on CNN.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis recently defended a bill his opponents call a “don’t say gay bill” by claiming that this law prohibits “sexual instruction in grades pre-K through three,” and then followed that with the question of “how many parents want their kindergartners to have transgenderism or something injected into classroom instruction?”
As a parent – and a trans mother, daughter and sister – I have an honest answer to DeSantis’s disingenuous question.
I reject the fearmongering and dishonesty from the likes of DeSantis and his anti-LGBTQ colleagues and allies. The idea that school districts are actually trying to add anything like “sexual instruction” to pre-K through third-grade curriculum is ludicrous.
What is really angering anti-LGBTQ alarmists in Florida and other states – most notably in Texas – is that schools and society at large are promoting acceptance and inclusion for gender-nonconforming children and LGBTQ parents.
Texas attorney general, Ken Paxton, and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott even moved to classify gender-affirming care for children as “child abuse,” criminalizing health care providers and also making an effort to forcibly remove trans children from the homes of loving and supportive parents.
People like DeSantis, Paxton and Abbott want to stigmatize the mere knowledge, acceptance and inclusion of transgender and gay people. And as seen most horrifically in Texas, they even seek to criminalize parents who are doing their best to support and care for their children.
To be clear: as a trans woman, I am not an emblem of liberal ideology. Nor does my mere existence or presence equate to “sexual instruction” or an effort to “promote a lifestyle.” I didn’t choose to be trans. I am not a victim of abuse or grooming. I am not confused or need a basic lesson in biological facts. I just happened to be born into conflict with my assigned gender.
I am simply another human being and another parent at the local public school. I pack my son lunch and drive him to the bus stop in the morning. I help him with his homework when he gets home. We say our prayers before dinner, and I read a bedtime story to him and his older brother each night.
And like any other parent, I expect my family to be welcomed and accepted by others at the school. And of course, this acceptance might be more likely if some of the children’s stories read in classrooms feature two dads, two moms or even a trans mom.
If there isn’t an absolute ban on representing families like my own in the classroom, there is a good chance that more than a few of my son’s classmates won’t grow up having unreasonable fears about LGBTQ people. And even better, they might be less likely to shame or bully my son for having a parent who is a bit different. After all, understanding is a great antidote to ignorance and its toxic side effects: fear and hatred.
The only ideology I actually hear consistently from trans Americans who are either Republicans or Democrats (I know quite a few of each) is this: trans Americans simply want to celebrate the same opportunities other Americans cherish in our founding documents – the “certain unalienable Rights,” that Thomas Jefferson lauded in the declaration of independence as “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
So let us dispense with the fabricated political villain of “transgenderism,” and focus instead on reality. Transgender people are American citizens. They are your neighbors. They are your neighbor’s kids. Some of them are educators, firefighters, police officers, nurses, or doctors. Some of them are vulnerable children sitting next to your kids in the classroom who are just hoping they won’t be bullied during the school year.
And promoting acceptance of people who are born different won’t cause young children to become LGBTQ. Although it may give some who were already born a little different an opportunity I didn’t have: a chance to stop hating themselves a little earlier in life.
In fact, I am a good example of how trans people are clearly not products of ideology or social contagion. My parents, both Reagan Republicans, raised me in the same way that they raised their four other sons. They expected that my gender identity would agree with my assigned gender and that I would grow into a man. For them, that outcome must have seemed as certain as the sun rising the next morning.
And as a child who grew up in the 1970s and 80s, I didn’t learn about LGBTQ people in elementary school, and I didn’t have the internet to help me learn about others like myself. For me, there was really no other option but to try to be the boy my parents expected me to be.
Despite all of that, even in my earliest childhood memories, I remember my certainty that I should have been born a girl. And without any knowledge of other people who felt the same way, I was left painfully alone and isolated with this overwhelming dilemma.
I considered suicide by the time I was in middle school. By the age of 12 or 13, I feared being “outed” and was terrified at the prospect of being rejected by my family. Losing the approval and acceptance of my parents and siblings seemed worse than death itself.
I still carry the vivid memory of locking myself in the bathroom and considering whether I might end it all. Thankfully, I am still here, even though it took 30 years for that scared frightened middle schooler to fully accept and love herself. Only with the support of my truest friends and closest family, was I finally able to transition and stop hiding and hurting.
And over the last few years, with some progress in legal protections and public awareness of trans people, I had begun to hope that fewer and fewer people like myself would end up in such despair. But these recent efforts to further stigmatize and marginalize LGBTQ people have left me deeply concerned for children in America, many of whom are still dreadfully worried about losing the acceptance and support of family, friends, and even their country.
That rejection is now a painful reality in Florida where the “don’t say gay bill” tells LGBTQ people that it is taboo to simply discuss them in public schools, or in Texas, where parents can’t properly support and care for their own trans children without fear of social services removing these children from their home.
The fearmongering politicians in these two states are sending a poisonous message to young LGBTQ kids and adolescents, telling them that they are “inappropriate” and unworthy of the same love and acceptance given to other children.
These Florida and Texas laws are an effort to demonize and exclude LGBTQ people from American life. They are a desperate attempt to push LGBTQ people back into the shadows – to revoke their inclusion in public spaces, and to even criminalize the loved ones who accept them.
Texas is literally at the ready to tear families apart based on the incorrect conclusion that gender-affirming care is harmful to children and teenagers. For most who identify as trans, studies show the exact opposite. For the vast majority of trans-identifying people, gender-affirming care is lifesaving.
Public figures and politicians, like the ones in Texas and Florida, need to be held accountable for the falsehoods they spread and for the injury their lies inflict on their targets. At the ballot box, these hateful voices should be rejected and replaced with voices of knowledge and compassion. This will help us become a more unified and stronger country.
Our public spaces and our public schools need to be places where all Americans can learn safely and where all parents are welcomed to be involved in their children’s schooling. To get there, American citizens on both sides of our politics will need to confront uninformed emotional appeals that only seek to stir up division and animosity.
Americans should encourage their representatives to pass the Equality Act, which would amend the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to “prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex, sexual orientation and gender identity in employment, housing, public accommodations, education, federally funded programs, credit and jury service.” This amendment could hopefully put a stop to anti-LGBTQ politicians using LGBTQ Americans as a wedge issue and using state law to legalize discrimination.
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And until such legislation passes at the federal level, lies and prejudices faced by LGBTQ people need to be confronted with credible information. For instance, people can easily refute hysterical accusations that parents and health care providers are allowing trans children to permanently change their bodies with surgery. In fact, transgender health care in the United States is guided by standards of care, which offer a gradual and reversible process that young transgender people must follow. These guidelines do not permit surgery until the trans person has reached adulthood.
Also, in the face of these latest efforts to demonize LGBTQ people, the visibility of trans and gay Americans has become even more vital. It will become harder and harder for people to hate transgender or gay Americans with more and more of us simply showing up and participating in culture. It has already become more difficult to spread fear about LGBTQ people, since so many of them are simply the boy or girl next door.
In the end, my son should be able to acknowledge me as a parent in the classroom without fear that his family will be stigmatized as something inappropriate. And yes, other students may have questions about why I am different (taller and with a deeper voice than the average mom, for example), and teachers should be able to affirm and promote the acceptance of families that are different without fear of triggering a lawsuit by prejudiced parents.
In my experience, other children at my son’s school do not struggle or become confused when they learn of my existence. They seem to handle it just fine, except a few who have already been groomed by their parents’ own prejudices and fears.
All in all, I’m just like other parents right now, feeling a bit hopeful that with the lifting of some of the Covid-19 restrictions, I can become more involved in my son’s classroom again or even be able to accompany him on his next field trip. That hope can better be realized if the laws like the one in Florida can be put in their proper place: the dustbin of history.
If you are experiencing a suicidal crisis, you can call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text line by texting HOME to 741741 to get help.