“I fear for our youth”

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Transgender Awareness Month marks a time to celebrate the history and perseverance of transgender and gender non-conforming people and to raise our voices and experiences. But we face growing legislative attacks on our health care, our history and our existence. As the creator of the Transgender Pride Flag, I fear where I can safely fly our flag.

In 1956, at the age of 5, I prayed that God would make me a girl. The word “transgender” will not be created and popularized for 20 years. I couldn’t even read or write, but I knew I was born in the wrong body.

I hid my identity for over four decades, but at the age of 48, I finally began to live the truth that I knew at age 5. But after winning a number of important victories in the fight for LGBTQ+ equality, today’s right-wing extremism threatens to take us back to an America of the past – one in which I was not free to to be myself.

In the early 1960s, few people dared speak openly about LGBTQ+ issues. At 12, I remember dressing in girls’ clothes in the privacy of my bedroom. There was no way to describe how I felt; I gravitated towards stereotypical female clothing and interests, but I had to hide those feelings. Without this knowledge, I felt confused and forced to “act like a boy.”

The reality for today’s trans youth is starting to resemble that silence I faced as a trans girl in the 1960s. Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill started a wave of anti-trans laws that have swept the country, from school boards to Congress. In 2021, Republican lawmakers in state legislatures introduced a record 130 anti-trans bills, a number the country has already surpassed in 2022 with 155 anti-trans bills.

In August, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ ban on Medicaid coverage for gender-affirming care went into effect. Then U.S. Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene, another Republican, introduced a bill that would make it a felony with a sentence of up to 25 years for providing gender-affirming care to young people, mirroring a law recently enacted in Alabama.

It’s not just about extremist beliefs held by a radical minority. Fourteen House GOP members are co-sponsors of Rep. Greene’s legislation. After decades of progress towards LGBTQ+ equality, our rights hang by a thread that could be cut in 2022.

Access to health care is a privilege that few transgender people have and one that many right-wing lawmakers work tirelessly to deprive trans youth of. But gender-affirming care is not a new, experimental or dangerous practice, as Greene claims. protect children from. During my own transition in the 1990s, I had easy access to hormone therapy covered by employer-provided insurance throughout my transition.

Trans people have always existed and will continue to exist. We are not a trend and we will not disappear when conservative politicians banish us from the army, the toilets or the history books. Under the guise of “protecting the children,” right-wing extremists hurt the most vulnerable members of our community: trans youth.

About 40% of trans people have attempted suicide, and young trans people are most at risk of suicide. This number is even higher for LGBTQ+ youth of color. Faced with anti-trans bills, 85% of trans and non-binary young people report the debate around bills having a negative impact on their mental health. But LGBTQ+ youth who live in affirming contexts are 50% less likely to attempt suicide. So when Texas criminalizes parents who affirm their child’s gender and Virginia restricts trans students’ right to identify, it directly affects that child’s risk of suicide.

The increase in discrimination against trans people is part of a resurgence in hostility towards the wider LGBTQ+ community. With a Supreme Court poised to reconsider marriage equality and 157 House GOP members voting against it, the threats to our rights are far from over. Extremist MAGA candidates are openly threatening our rights to stoke hatred in their base and score political points, and House Republicans are calling for federal legislation to ban discussion of LGBTQ+ history and existence in schools across the country.

With attacks coming from state legislatures and now in the halls of the US Congress, where are we free to be who we are and love who we love? The ever-shrinking list of states that don’t attack us? The country that grants all of its citizens life, liberty and happiness, except those it deems unacceptable?

As a trans woman who lived through the conception of the LGBTQ+ rights movement, I know the fight for trans rights will be difficult. But we never backed down from a fight. In the face of hatred and extremism, we have no choice but to be proud of our identity and our history. And when we come out of the fight, our flag may be in tatters, but it won’t stop flying proudly.

Monica Helms is the co-founder of the Transgender American Veterans Association and created the original Trans Pride Flag. She lives in Marietta, Georgia with her wife, Darlene.

The opinions expressed in the lawyerOpinion pieces are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the lawyer or our parent company, equalpride.

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