Christine Kelley is a junior journalism major and The Statesman’s assistant opinions editor.
While Texas Gov. Greg Abbott orders state agencies to seize transgender children and prosecute their families for “child abuse,” the United States government and news outlets are looking the other way.
On Feb. 22, Gov. Abbott sent a letter to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) in which he deemed any gender-affirming medical care of transgender youth as “child abuse.” With this outrageous claim, he ordered the agency to perform a “thorough investigation” of transgender children’s parents and medical facilities that provide this care.
Abbott’s order is already devastating trans children and their families. One Texan employee of DFPS has been placed on administrative leave and investigated by the government for having a 16-year-old trans daughter. The unnamed worker is suing Abbott with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Lambda Legal, an LGBTQ rights organization.
The letter is clear: “elective procedures,” from reassignment surgeries to hormone replacement therapy (HRT), are considered abuse. Abbott is criminalizing transitioning. As journalist Katelyn Burns points out, Abbott’s action “meets three of the five criteria for the United Nations’s definition of ‘genocide.’”
Yet media and government responses to this flagrant transphobia have been muted. The New York Times has not once featured the Texas ruling on its front page. While President Joe Biden said in his State of the Union Address that “state laws targeting transgender Americans and their families” were “simply wrong,” this statement excludes the Texas order, which is not a law.
The atrocity in Texas is not new to trans people. Last week, the Alabama Senate passed SB184, which criminalizes HRT for trans minors. Florida’s Senate is examining the “Don’t Say Gay” bill which would ban discussions of LGBTQ issues from classrooms. CBS News reports that nine state legislatures are reviewing 18 similar bills. In February, the South Dakota House passed Gov. Kristi Noem’s SB46, which bans trans women and girls from participating in women’s sports.
In a South Dakota House committee debate, Noem said that trans girls playing sports with cisgender girls was “sort of like terrorism.”
This trend of transphobic legislation has been accelerating. Last year, U.S. legislators in 34 states introduced a record 147 bills to curb trans people’s civil rights. More than 20 states floated additional bills restricting trans participation in sports, despite legislators admitting trans people had not caused problems in sports. This is not some popular project: polls show that the majority of Americans believe trans people should live freely. A movement of reactionary Republicans is persecuting trans people.
It’s no coincidence that 2021 proved to be the deadliest recorded year for trans people, as 375 trans and gender-diverse people were murdered. In the same timeframe, the Census Bureau reported that 13.1% of LGBTQ adults didn’t have enough to eat (as opposed to 7.2% of non-trans adults).
As a trans woman, I can attest to these horrors. Since I came out three years ago, I have suffered abuse, poverty and marginalization. These experiences have traumatized me. I’ve also grown more in that time than I did in 20 years, and found a beautiful community of queer people to bond with. We share our pain, and we lift each other up.
When I see these national attacks on trans people, I see myself in them. I am one of the kids whose biological family rejected us for being ourselves. I am one of the many queer people who have endured domestic violence and emotional abuse. I am one of the 42% of LGBTQ youth who have considered taking their own lives. We are common. We are not silent. But we are ignored, unheard, unseen. Gender dysphoria is not simply an uneasy relationship with one’s body: it’s a feeling the entire world is wrong for you.
Trans and non-binary people are commonly ignored in public life. While responding to the Texas atrocity, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki didn’t once use the word “transgender.” The words “trans” and “transgender” are absent from most anti-trans bills. Katelyn Burns writes that avoiding references to trans people is a bipartisan strategy: “Trans people need more than just words, but many Democrats won’t even say our names.”
To many people, trans folks are considered a social issue, a minority to be patted on the head rather than acknowledged. Recently I found this patronizing chauvinism in a National Press Club webinar about diversity. Some of American media’s major executives were present, and I asked them whether they were reporting this rise in transphobia.
Predictably, most responses avoided using the word “trans,” or mostly referred to hiring trans journalists as a priority. One panelist told me that “people have varying levels of knowledge about this subject” (a strange comment from a journalist, whose job is presumably transmitting information). Another speaker remarked “everything can’t change overnight” but that “change is on the way.” To these people, market readiness for trans issues was a priority.
Most revealingly, The Washington Post’s managing editor responded to my question about trans people by saying, unprompted, that “our obit writer has written obits a certain way for a long time.”
It’s comforting to know that trans people will matter when we’re dead. I’m reassured knowing that someday change will drunkenly emerge and puke on my tombstone. Maybe that will happen when a bipartisan Congress forces President Tucker Carlson to shut down a few of the state-run queer conversion therapy centers we’ll probably have in a decade. What’s a better answer to “will you pay attention to our mass murder” than “imagine how the money feels?”
Yet trans people are visible, present and active. The Trans Journalists Association (TJA) does great work. Journalists and activists like Katelyn Burns, Chase Strangio, Emily Gorcenski and Alejandra Caraballo are vigorously raising consciousness about trans people. Such talented musicians such as Laura Jane Grace, Backxwash, Laura Les and Ezra Furman are proudly trans.
Trans liberation movements are globally active. Our mere existence proves that Gov. Abbott is wrong. Come look for us. We aren’t going away anytime soon.