This week, legislation was passed in Florida that restricts elementary school teachers from addressing gender and sexuality in the classroom. But cisgender and heterosexual identities are implicitly addressed in classroom settings every day. This bill is targeting LGBTQ+ kids and LGBTQ+ families. The “Don’t Say Gay” (HB 1557) bill is part of a larger effort to not only ban teaching LGBTQ+ history, but even simply acknowledging LGBTQ+ people in the classroom.
Recently in Texas, Governor Greg Abbott called on “licensed professionals” and members of the public to denounce parents of transgender kids to state authorities. Providing kids with gender-affirming medical care, in the opinion of the Texas governor and the state’s attorney general, is akin to child abuse. While Lambda Legal, the ACLU, and the Biden administration have stepped in to protect transgender kids in Texas, it’s clear that this isn’t over.
And it’s not just Florida and Texas. Idaho’s House of Representatives just passed legislation threatening life in prison for doctors who provide gender-affirming care for transgender kids and parents who agree to their kids receiving it. It also makes traveling to a different state to receive such care a felony. Iowa recently became the eleventh state to enact anti-transgender legislation in relation to sports. According to the Human Rights Campaign, there are currently more than 266 anti-LGBTQ+ bills under consideration in state legislatures across the country – 125 of those directly targeting transgender people.
We must speak out.
As a queer woman and the Director of Education at Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center – whose mission is to use the lessons of the Holocaust to combat hatred, prejudice, and indifference today – I am compelled to speak out against these attacks against the LGBTQ+ community in general, and in particular attacks against our youth.
Proposed legislation to erase LGBTQ+ people from the classroom while innately acknowledging heterosexual identity in others sends a message to LGBTQ+ kids. This kind of teaching invalidates their identities and implies there is something intrinsically wrong about who they are, suggesting they should hide themselves from their teachers, classmates, and the rest of the world. It is tragically unsurprising that in the U.S., 35% of LGBTQ+ students drop out of high school, three times the national average. 65% of all homeless youth identify as LGBTQ+, and queer youth are four times more likely to attempt suicide than cisgender and/or straight youth. I was one of those kids.
Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center teaches the history of the Holocaust, which includes the persecution, imprisonment, torture, and murder of LGBTQ+ people by the Nazi regime. In the decade after the Holocaust, LGBTQ+ upstanders in the U.S. started to form the country’s first long-lasting LGBTQ+ rights organizations. These groups, which included Mattachine Society, Daughters of Bilitis, and ONE, Inc., all worked to change the world for future generations through education and fighting unjust laws, all while withstanding police harassment and arrests, censorship, and a culture that claimed LGBTQ+ people were sick, sinful, and mentally ill. The U.S. has made great progress in the last couple of decades, but the actions of certain leaders in our country remind us that the fight is far from over. And it is imperative that we all join that fight.
Illinois Holocaust Museum & Education Center works to empower visitors to be upstanders and create positive change in their communities. The Museum currently has an exhibition Rise Up: Stonewall and the LGBTQ Rights Movement, detailing the fight for equality to the present day.
Queer people are still writing our history. We must question where we fit in the story of our country’s ongoing struggle with human rights.
LGBTQ+ activists are currently fighting for the passage of the Equality Act, which would ensure protections for LGBTQ+ people in employment, housing, credit, education, public spaces and services, federally funded programs, and jury service. It is shocking those protections do not currently exist. And like every other struggle for equality and equity, the LGBTQ+ community needs advocates and allies outside the community to create change. Call or email your Senator and tell them to pass the Equality Act.
And for any LGBTQ+ kids who may be reading this, know that you are not alone. I see you, I am you.
Leah Rauch, Director of Education
Learn about our country’s LGBTQ+ rights movement and the ongoing fight for LGBTQ+ rights by visiting Rise Up: Stonewall and the LGBTQ Rights Movement.
Access Human Rights Campaign’s page on the Equality Act, which allows people to fill out a form to send to their senators.