Tennessee governor Bill Lee signed Senate Bill 3, which seeks to ban “adult cabaret entertainment” — including drag performers — from performing in public spaces, on March 2. While the bill has been hailed by some for protecting children from obscenity, the bill actually only serves to further stigmatize and endanger youths belonging to the LGBTQ+ community.
SB 3 is only one of many anti-LGBTQ+ legislations that have been recently proposed by conservative officials. While some problematic legislation targeting gender expression and same-sex relationships have been removed throughout the 21st century, the recent onslaught of anti-LGBTQ+ laws proves that America is still far from being a country that respects the rights and identities of queer people.
In particular, these laws target transgender people. More specifically, transgender youth.
Idaho, Indiana and South Dakota have banned gender-affirming care for minors and made giving gender-related health care subject to 10 years in prison. Ohio State Representative Gary Click has not only introduced multiple bills that ban such medical care, but also a companion bill to make March 12 “Detrans Awareness Day.” These are just a few disturbing examples of how state officials are legalizing anti-transgender practices and rhetoric.
Even more disturbing is that all of these anti-transgender legislations are covered under the justification that they protect children and minors from “harmful” medical practices. In reality, gender-affirming care is a life-saving treatment for transgender and nonbinary children. Moreover, these treatments are not confined to just surgeries, as many government officials imply. They include puberty blockers and hormone therapy, which are all safe and reversible forms of treatments for children. To label these services as forms of abuse is unequivocally false when all evidence points to the opposite.
It should also be noted that the bills contradict themselves as almost all of them make exceptions for doctors to perform unethical surgeries on intersex children. These unnecessary surgeries are serious violations of the health and rights of intersex infants whose gender is decided by their parents or doctor. In the eyes of these lawmakers, however, this intervention is perfectly legal, while providing hormonal medicine to a 17-year old is viewed as a criminal offense. This hypocrisy reveals how these laws are not made to protect children in any way at all but rather to eradicate any children not aligned with their strict gender binary.
Traces of biases can be further seen inSB 3. The language in this bill is strategically vague in lumping “male and female impersonators” into the category of “adult cabaret” performers. It’s a subtle but malicious attempt to criminalize not only drag queens, but transgender people as well. By saying “male and female impersonators” instead of “drag queens,” the bill could legally justify the prosecution of transgender people in any public space. It also labels all drag performers and transgender people as “offensively sexual.” This perpetuates the wildly false narrative that conservatives have been pushing for years now: drag performers and transgender people are pedophiles and need to be kept away from children.
In a YouTube video, internationally-renowned drag queen Trixie Mattel speaks to the significant harm anti-drag laws may have on transgender women, especially of color.
“On my second offense of doing drag in Tennessee, I could become a felon,” Mattel said. “As a white, rich drag queen that scares me. How do you think that people of color and transgender women and transgender women of color who do drag feel?”
When the first wave of anti-transgender legislation first started being proposed, transgender and nonbinary people had already experienced major effects toward their mental health when it happened. The Trevor Project’s polling study revealed that 85% of the transgender and nonbinary youth participants said that debates restricting their rights had negatively impacted their mental health. After this even larger wave of legislation and with some of them even being passed, who knows how much larger this percentage will be.
Anti-transgender and LGBTQ+ legislation both directly and indirectly harms the rights and mental health of transgender individuals. By trying to legalize the discrimination of transgender people and force transgender and nonbinary youths to either never transition or detransition, Republican officials ultimately show that they only care about select youth.
This narrative that transgender people are a danger to youth needs to be refused by everyone. Even if you don’t live in the states affected by these laws, you can still stand in solidarity with the transgender community by writing to the state officials of Tennessee, South Dakota, Idaho and Indiana or going to protests.
Skylar Paxton is an Opinion Staff Writer for the spring 2023 quarter. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.