As someone who has spent over three decades fighting for the rights of our LGBTQ+ communities, particularly safe spaces for our youth, I have seen and been part of many forward changes. I lead the LGBT Network, which held the first LGBTQ+ youth prom in America’s suburbs, started the first recognized Parent-Teacher Association in the nation to focus on LGBTQ+ youth, and opened America’s first LGBTQ+ senior affordable housing in suburbia. We have helped to start hundreds of gay-straight alliance clubs in our schools and have been a part of the many struggles, rallies, and fight for full equality and equity. After watching the most recent episode of HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher, it feels like 1993 all over again, although this time it’s different and even more frightening.
On last Friday’s Real Time With Bill Maher, Maher said the number of youth identifying as LGBTQ+ is rising because it’s “trendy,” while he spewed other harmful, homophobic and transphobic rhetoric. Maher continued his vitriolic commentary by taking several more potshots at LGBTQ+ youth, including claims that society was “experimenting” on children through the use of puberty blockers and genital surgery as a means to perpetuate culture wars. Maher correlated his comments on “trendiness” with statistics on LGBTQ+ youth in California versus other states, like Ohio, claiming that “either Ohio is shaming them or California is creating them.”
Back in 1993, I would chalk this up to ignorance and truly believed education would help folks to critically think and change, and it did. But today is different, and the alarm bell is ringing — loud! The onslaught of attacks legislatively and in the media against our community goes well beyond ignorance; it is hateful, purposeful, and intentional. We need to wake up and be smart in our fight, as all our LGBTQ+ youth need us now more than ever. We need to speak up and hold everyone accountable, even those who purport to be “liberal and progressive.” That’s why I am calling for the LGBTQ+ community and supporters of LGBTQ+ youth to boycott HBO until Real Time With Bill Maher is removed from its platform. Maher has gone too far.
Now, I am not one for getting caught up in the extreme left and right’s battle on “cancel culture,” and I know many of us, including myself, will suffer from not being able to watch Jean Smart in Hacks. But the LGBTQ+ youth are the ones who are really suffering from being told that it is a trend to say you are LGBTQ+, while at the same time being shoved and kicked in school hallways, and HBO must take immediate action and remove Bill Maher and simultaneously take action to let every LGBTQ+ youth know they are loved.
The consequences of not doing anything can be deadly. Nearly half of LGBTQ+ youth seriously considered suicide in the past year, and it’s comments ones Maher’s thar give license to others to dehumanize and torment LGBTQ+ youth. Maher’s words are also nothing more than a dog whistle for those who seek to roll back the rights of the LGBTQ+ community which we are seeing happen throughout our nation. The trend is not willy-nilly identification as being LGBTQ+; it is the alarming measures being passed to deny LGBTQ+ people’s existence and rights. Whether it’s Florida’s “don’t say gay” law or the dozens of states that are banning trans athletes and rights, this is unfortunately the real trend we should be talking about and organizing around to change.
Our LGBTQ+ youth are perfect just the way they are — they need no fixing. They need supportive spaces and policies to be completely free and authentic and to achieve their full potential. What they don’t need are the rants on a platform like Bill Maher’s show, which pose the greatest risk to LGBTQ+ youth’s safety and well-being. Call on HBO now to take immediate action and remove Real Time from its lineup. Maher has simply gone too far. Our actions and voices will send a loud message that these types of careless and negligent behavior and speech will not be tolerated, and in doing so we can instead focus on the work of making sure that not one more kid contemplates taking their life simply for being who they are. It’s the least we could do as we get ready to celebrate Pride.
David Kilmnick is the founder and president of the LGBT Network, one of the largest LGBTQ+ advocacy groups in the U.S., which is based in New York City and Long Island, N.Y. The LGBT Network operates four LGBT community centers throughout the expansive Long Island and Queens region to reach and serve as many LGBTQ+ people and their families as possible.