Some good news: Queer wins in 2023 US legislature

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While 2023 was a historically bleak year for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, the past 12 months have also seen groundbreaking wins for equality. Whether at the ballot box, in the courts, or even in hostile state legislatures, advocates have won major victories that either further the rights of LGBTQ+ Americans or safeguard the protections that queer and trans people hold dear.

At first glance, though, it may seem as if LGBTQ+ people have little to celebrate: Of the more than 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills that the American Civil Liberties Union tracked this year, at least 84 were signed into law. The enacted legislation included 26 bills restricting trans youth access to gender-affirming medical care and 34 bills targeting trans students and restricting the rights of educators to discuss and teach LGBTQ+ topics in schools.

But for as many big wins as the far right scored in 2023, civil rights advocates remain hopeful about the LGBTQ+ movement’s future — and even its present. Chris Erchull, an attorney for GLAD, takes inspiration from the LGBTQ+ youth activists and families who successfully opposed a New Hampshire bill that would have required teachers and faculty to out trans students to their parents.

While the state has voted Democrat in the past five presidential elections, New Hampshire has a Republican trifecta in power, with the GOP controlling both houses of the legislature and the governor’s seat. In preventing the forced outing bill’s passage, Erchull believes it shows other victories are possible, including in tough places.

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US Supreme Court allows anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination

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The Supreme Court on Friday allowed certain businesses to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people, creating a large loophole in federal and state civil rights laws that have protected Americans for decades. Justice Neil Gorsuch authored the opinion for the court’s conservative justices, who made up the 6 vote majority. The court’s three Democratic-appointed justices dissented.

The case, 303 Creative v. Elenis, was brought by a web designer who wants to create wedding websites for opposite-sex couples but not for same-sex couples—a form of economic discrimination that harkens back to the era before the civil rights movement. But under Colorado’s public accommodations law, services offered to some people must be offered to all. Today, the Republican-appointed justices rolled back the clock and once again opened the marketplace to discrimination.

The court ruled that the web designer’s work is a form of artistic expression and that forcing her to create a website for a same-sex wedding is compelling speech in violation of her First Amendment rights. The ruling thus draws a huge loophole in civil rights law for businesses who claim that their product is a form of speech.

It creates a new reality for LGBTQ+ people, who can now face discrimination from businesses that refuse to serve them because of who they are. In some areas of the country, this might make it difficult to procure certain goods and services. But throughout the nation, it creates the impression that LGBTQ+ people are second-class citizens who do not have the same freedoms as everyone else.

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The religious group behind US effort to roll back queer rights

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With the US besieged by a rightwing culture war campaign that aims to strip away rights from LGBTQ+ people and others, blame tends to be focused on Republican politicians and conservative media figures.

But lurking behind efforts to roll back abortion rights, to demonize trans people, and to peel back the protections afforded to gay and queer Americans is a shadowy, well-funded rightwing legal organization, experts say.

Since it was formed in 1994, Alliance Defending Freedom has been at the center of a nationwide effort to limit the rights of women and LGBTQ+ people, all in the name of Christianity. The Southern Poverty Law Center has termed it an “anti-LGBTQ hate group” that has extended its tentacles into nearly every area of the culture wars.

In the process, it has won the ear of some of the most influential people in the US, and become “a danger to every American who values their freedoms”, according to Glaad, the LGBTQ+ advocacy organization.

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America’s queer youth is struggling

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A new survey conducted by The Trevor Project shed light on the mental health struggles and hopes of LGBTQ young people. In a time when anti-LGBTQ legislation is at an all-time high, it’s critical to understand the needs of the communities that are being targeted. Through surveying more than 28,000 LGBTQ young people between the ages of 13 and 24, The Trevor Project brings us closer to that understanding.

Nearly 1 in 3 LGBTQ young people said their mental health was poor most of the time or always due to anti-LGBTQ policies – which shows that the political is personal and when politicians advance anti-LGBTQ legislation, they’re harming the mental health of their targets. This is especially important to note in 2023, when the highest amount of discriminatory legislation is being proposed in state houses across the country.

LGBTQ young people who had access to affirming homes, schools, community events, and online spaces reported lower rates of attempting suicide compared to those who did not. Affirmation – whether it’s in the form of a home environment or an online space – can actually change whether a person attempts suicide. And affirmation can be so simple. It can be respecting someone’s pronouns or honouring their sexual orientation.

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It’s about control, not protection

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It doesn’t take a genius to recognise the gaping logical flaws in the moral panic US conservatives are trying to cause when they assert that kids are in grave danger if books in school libraries would be allowed to mention homosexuality or if drag performances remain legal while they on the other hand refuse to tackle the country’s huge gun problem, vote against child marriage bans and roll back child labour protections.

It’s quite obvious that these people couldn’t care less about the welfare of children, they would rather kids be shot than let them read books.

On the most recent episode of The Problem with Jon Stewart, the show’s namesake and host grilled an Ohio Republican, using his support of drag show bans to expose the hypocrisy behind his opposition to gun control legislation.  Read on…

Pronoun fines and jail time for librarians: The conservative culture war to divide America

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Several anti-LGBTQ+ laws are being passed or proposed across the US as political attacks against the communities continue. In North Dakota, conservative lawmakers have introduced at least eight laws targeting LGBTQ+ communities, many of which target transgender people.

One bill, rejected on Friday, mandated people affiliated with schools or institutions receiving public funding having to pay a $1,500 fine for using gender pronouns other than those assigned at birth for themselves or others, the Grand Forks Herald reported.

Many in the state’s senate judiciary committee that voted down the bill noted that they agreed with the bill’s intention to limit transgender rights, but they felt that the bill was poorly written and difficult to enforce, according to ABC News. Christina Sambor of the North Dakota Human Rights Coalition testified against the bill on Wednesday, noting that “its very purpose is gender-based discrimination”, ABC reported.

In a separate proposal, Republicans lawmakers introduced a bill to ban “sexually explicit” materials from libraries, with possible jail time for librarians that do not comply. Under house bill 1205, public libraries could no longer provide books on a range of topics, including any on “sexual identity”, and/or “gender identity”, the LGBTQ+ magazine Them reported. North Dakota has long been problematic to LGBTQ+ communities. The state was among the last to recognize same-sex marriage.

In the US, several states have filed over 100 laws targeting LGBTQ+ rights, NBC News reported. Such bills have targeted almost all aspects of life, ranging from sports to healthcare to education.

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U.S. anti-queer laws drive young people into mental health crisis

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Over 150 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced across 23 U.S. states in 2023. Recent research finds that 71% of LGBTQ youth say restrictive state laws and the debates surrounding them are having a negative impact on their mental health.

More than 150 anti-LGBTQ bills have either been pre-filed or introduced across 23 states so far in 2023, according to nonprofit organization The Trevor Project. These policies themselves — and the dangerous rhetoric that surrounds them — are taking a toll on LGBTQ youth across the country.

In a recent poll, The Trevor Project sheds light on how these proposals and legislation that directly target LGBTQ youth are having a tangible effect. Among the findings, 86% of trans and nonbinary youth report that debates around anti-trans bills, specifically, have had negative effects on their mental health.

Due to 2022 debates that swirled around these policies, and fears over what will happen if they are enacted, 45% of transgender youth reported experiencing cyberbullying, while nearly 1 in 3 reported “not feeling safe to go to the doctor or hospital when they were sick or injured,” according to the poll.

These data are just a snapshot of the wider picture of how anti-LGBTQ legislation and rhetoric are filtering from political forums through tv and laptop screens and directly into the day-to-day lives of queer youth in the U.S.

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In the era of “Don’t Say Gay,” queer youth need more representation

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As students across the U.S. return to school, a slew of new laws, policies, and hostile attitudes have meant that queer and trans young people are walking into environments that seek to erase them. In American Bully, we report on how anti-LGBTQ+ panic and political agendas are playing out in classrooms, libraries, and school board meetings nationwide — and why we should all be fighting back.

In this essay from Say Gay Walkout organizer Abbie Garretson, the author grapples with an important question: At a time when telling queer stories is of dire importance, what role do those stories serve and what should that representation look like?

It’s impossible to talk about my life without talking about queerness. I was raised by my two gay moms in St. Petersburg, Florida, and have been out as queer since the sixth grade. I grew up in the LGBTQ+ community. That’s why, when the state of Florida passed the “Don’t Say Gay” law restricting discussion of sexuality and gender in K-12 education, I was horrified — and decided to fight back.

Last school year, I was the leader of the Say Gay Walkout at Gibbs High School in St. Petersburg and helped organize walkouts all throughout the Tampa Bay area. I also coordinated teen lobbying efforts, served as the leader of my local GSA, organized a gender-affirming makeup class and fundraiser, and spoke at local middle schools about activism and using your voice.

This has been an emotional and unprecedentedly difficult period for queer youth, and as we rise to respond to legislative threats, I’ve wondered more about the role media plays in representing this struggle: At what point should real-world threats like the “Don’t Say Gay” law or trans healthcare bans be reflected back to us in the media we watch?

As shows like Heartstopper, Love, Victor, and Euphoria become popular, many creators  — whether that be authors, illustrators, producers, or directors — might be trying to decide what tone to strike going forward, especially in media intended for young adults. Do people like me, for whom anti-LGBTQ+ laws are a daily threat, want more movies and TV shows that address the hardships our community faces? Or do we want to find escape in media that presents an idealized queer life?

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