Activist state

National anti-LGBTQ+ legislation

State lawmakers have proposed a record 238 anti-LGBTQ+ bills so far this year, according to a analysis by NBC News– nearly six times more than in 2018. They range from a proposal to ban school libraries on books about sexual or gender identity in oklahoma legislation prohibiting academics from publicly discussing or teaching “LGBT issues or lifestyle” in Tennessee.

Much of the legislation targets K-12 students, including those in Florida “Don’t Say Gay” Bill, which prohibits classroom teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity. But the deleterious effects of these legislative efforts are seeping into higher education, normalizing antagonism toward LBGTQ+ students on some campuses and creating additional pain and stress for a population that already bears more than its fair share.

“Anytime you have some type of extreme anti-LGBTQ rhetoric, it impacts not just K-12 kids, but having this climate where the news and the media are all focused on this very perspective. anti-trans and antiquarian with often demeaning language, 18 to 24 year olds are also affected,” said Shane Mendez Windmeyer, executive director of Campus pride, a national nonprofit that works to create more LGBTQ+ inclusive campuses. “LGBTQ students have a degree of resilience in college, but at the same time they are impacted by rhetoric, actions and lack of community support. Students who are in college in Florida are affected – their mental health, ability to feel safe and welcomed on campus in a state that passes these atrocious laws is concerning, even as they focus on K-12 .

Windmeyer said targeting LGBTQ+ people at the state level means students attending college in conservative states have a very different experience than in liberal states.

“I think there are a number of statewide initiatives that are impacting communities and campuses,” Windmeyer said. “I think it’s unique in that a lot of the anti-LGBT movement has shifted to state policies, as opposed to just the federal level.”

And anti-LGBTQ+ legislation affects students beyond the campus where they live.

“It impacts the perception of safety within the state, because as a student in Florida, whether it’s Florida State or the University of Central Florida, or any of the other campuses state, students live in communities; they don’t just live on campus,” Windmeyer said.

Red state lawmakers seem particularly determined to restrict the rights of transgender people. In Texas, for example, Governor Greg Abbott issued a directive calling on “licensed professionals” and the general public to report to state authorities the parents of any transgender minors undergoing “elective gender transition procedures.” A Texas judge halted the orderbut for trans youth, the damage was already done, said Ricardo Martinez, CEO of Texas Equality, a statewide LGBTQ+ political advocacy organization. The “campaign of fear” fueled by the current political climate increases the risks for an already vulnerable population, he said.

“Since the start of nationally coordinated attacks on transgender youth by state legislatures, we have seen a marked increase in bullying and violence against transgender youth,” Martinez said. “This type of bullying and harassment is not unique to high schools and often follows students enrolling in post-secondary education on campus.”

Martinez said the bills represent a “cruel effort” to further stigmatize and discriminate against LGBTQ+ youth.

Earlier this month, four groups of students from the University of Texas at Austin jointly published a report on the state of LGBTQ+ life on campus. They surveyed over 2,000 students and found that transgender and disabled LGBTQ+ students felt the least safe of all on campus.

This came as no surprise to Adrienne Hunter, director of the Queer and Trans Student Alliance, who worked with Queer & Trans Black Indigenous People of Color Agency, Students for Equity and Diversity and the Senate of University Councils to lead the survey.

“For me, a lot of the data just reflected my own experiences,” Hunter said. “And it mirrored the experiences of my friends and mirrored the experiences of so many other people who worked on the report.”

QTSA came up with the idea to conduct the survey about two years ago, around the start of the pandemic, Hunter said. And while they didn’t intend her exit to coincide with Abbott’s directive against transgender students, she’s glad it worked out that way. She hopes the moment will spark action at UT Austin.

“It’s just something that’s really frustrating for a lot of us trans Texans here,” Hunter said. “The whole country, but especially Texas, is so hateful towards trans people. We hope that at the very least this moment can make some administrators realize how important it is to stand up for trans students.

The report may actually highlight how inclusive UT is compared to the rest of the state, said Stephen Russell, director of the Department of Human Development and Family Sciences, which studies LGBTQ youth and has served as advise on the report.

“The stats aren’t completely dire,” Russell said. “It’s not that every queer student at UT feels disenfranchised and terrible. It is true that on average, queer students have a different experience of the campus climate, but many of our students are obviously deeply engaged. So I think that’s what this report can potentially do for LGBTQ kids in Texas is help them understand that you can go to college and find your own.

More activism on campus

The wave of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has produced an unexpected positive consequence: on some campuses, allies are mobilizing to show their support for their LGBTQ+ classmates. Windmeyer said that in recent years, student organizations at a number of institutions have worked to make their campuses more LGBTQ+ friendly.

Brigham Young University is one of those places, which is particularly noteworthy, given that it’s in Utah, a red state, and affiliated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. . The university officially bans LGBTQ+ relationships, but twice last year students went to the giant Y overlooking campus and lit up the letter with rainbow-colored flashlights to show their support for the LBGTQ+ community.

When the Utah State Legislature weighed legislation that would prevent transgender athletes from participating in girls’ sports, approximately 50 parents of LGBTQ+ students climbed the hill on March 19, around the one-year anniversary of the first rainbow show the students rode. The university was ready: BYU had fenced off the area and added signs warning that protests were prohibited, The Salt Lake Grandstand reported.

Parents of LGBTQ+ students and other allies joined the protest to keep students out of trouble, said Bradley Talbot, a recent BYU graduate who founded Color the campus, an LGBTQ+ movement at the university, and helped organize the protests. They broke through the orange mesh fence and lit up the Y with pink, blue and white flashlights to represent the transgender pride flag. Talbot said the protest was meant to show solidarity with BYU’s transgender community.

“It’s definitely a time to [BYU], because I think there are students and alumni who are really doing their best to activate and create change,” Windmeyer said. “Each campus has its own course. At BYU right now, I think there’s definitely a shift in activism. This is a good thing.”

Republican Utah Gov. Spencer Cox vetoed the anti-trans bill, but Friday the Utah state legislature voted to override the veto, barring transgender athletes from participating in women’s sports.

Still, the lighting of the transgender flag gives students hope.

“Every individual that was on that mountain holding a light represented someone else,” Talbot said. “I think it’s really important for people to see that there are things you can do and should do. You have to step out of your comfort zone a bit, take risks, be bold and be seen, to be a good ally, show love and support.