A majority of Americans favor protecting transgender people from discrimination, but a rising share say a person’s gender is determined by their sex assigned at birth, and most support trans sports bans, a new poll from the Pew Research Center found.
The survey of more than 10,000 adults, which was conducted May 16-22 and published Tuesday, found that 60% say a person’s gender is determined at birth, up from 56% in 2021 and 54% in 2017.
Views on gender identity differ by age groups and even more sharply by political affiliation. Half of adults ages 18 to 29 say someone can be a different gender than the one assigned to them at birth, compared with about 4 in 10 of those ages 30 to 49 and about a third of those 50 and older, the report found. Democrats and those who lean toward the Democratic Party were four times more likely than Republicans and conservative-leaning people to say that someone’s gender can be different than the one assigned to them at birth.
The new poll also shed light on how people in the United States feel about one of the most politically debated issues regarding trans people — whether they should be allowed to compete on sports teams that correspond with their gender identity. Nearly 6 in 10 (58%) support policies that would require transgender athletes to compete on sports teams that match the sex they were assigned at birth, the survey found.
Of the hundreds of anti-LGBTQ bills filed in recent years — over 670 since 2018, according to an NBC News analysis — measures that would limit trans people’s participation in sports have been among the most popular and politically contentious in the nation’s state legislatures. Eighteen states have enacted the bills into law within recent years, with Louisiana doing so earlier this month.
Proponents of transgender sports bans say they are protecting fairness in women’s sports, arguing that trans girls and women have inherent advantages over cisgender girls and women.
Critics say the measures are less about protecting women’s sports and more about discriminating against trans people.
The Texas Republican Party unveiled its official position on LGBTQ issues over the weekend, defining homosexuality as an “abnormal lifestyle choice” and also opposing “all efforts to validate transgender identity.”
Thousands of Republican activists met at the party’s biennial convention in Houston on Saturday to agree to the party’s platformon a range of issues, including the rejection of the 2020 election results and a call to repeal of the 1965 Voting Right Act, which was enacted to prevent discrimination against Black voters.
In a section titled “Homosexuality and gender issues,” the party suggested that LGBTQ people should not be legally protected from discrimination and that being gay or trans is a choice.
“Homosexuality is an abnormal lifestyle choice,” the 40-page resolution reads. “We believe there should be no granting of special legal entitlements or creation of special status for homosexual behavior, regardless of state of origin, and we oppose any criminal or civil penalties against those who oppose homosexuality out of faith, conviction, or belief in traditional values.”
In addition, Texas Republicans called for the ban of gender-affirming care — including the distribution of puberty blockers or hormone-suppressing therapies, and the performance of gender-affirming surgeries — for anyone under the age of 21.
The party’s new official stance on LGBTQ issues was unveiled during Pride Month, and as advocates fight against a record number of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in states across the country this year — more than 340, according to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group.
Texas lawmakers have not enacted anti-LGBTQ legislation into law this year but have pushed headline-generating anti-LGBTQ policies in other ways.
In February, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott ordered the state’s child welfare agency to investigate child abuse claims filed against parents who might be providing their trans children with gender-affirming medical care. And earlier this month, a Texas lawmaker announced that he would introduce novel legislation to ban minors from attending drag shows in the state.
Ricardo Martinez, the CEO of Equality Texas, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group, called the platform “extreme, but not necessarily new.”
“I’m glad that they’re being really explicit in their words because these words now match their actions,” Martinez said. “This is not surprising, but it certainly is painful for LGBTQ people who live here in Texas.”
The Texas Republican Party blocked the Log Cabin Republicans, a longstanding group of gay conservatives — which also supports many of the party’s anti-LGBTQ policies — from having a booth at Saturday’s convention. The group rebuked the party’s decision to bar it from participating, calling on the state’s GOP to “expand the tent.”
“President Trump, who historically expanded the GOP’s coalition, made clear that LGBT conservatives are welcome in the America First movement and the Republican Party,” the organization said in a statement last week. “It’s shameful that the Texas GOP leadership is choosing to not follow his lead.”
Advocates have been urging public officials against using the charged rhetoric, warning that it could cause violence directed at LGBTQ Americans.
At least three LGBTQ events were targeted by white nationalist groups this month, with police arresting 31 people at an annual Pride in the Park event in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, on charges of suspicion of conspiracy to riot. Those arrested came to the event with gas masks and shields.
The Texas Republican Party’s new platform also counters President Joe Biden’s recent efforts to expand LGBTQ rights through the executive branch.
The Texas GOP’s stance on same-sex marriage aligns with the national party. The most recent Republican National Committee platform — which was enacted in 2016 and renewed in 2020 — includes at least five references to marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman.
The president’s order comes during LBGTQ Pride month and as advocates fight against a record number of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in states across the country this year — more than 320, according to the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group.
“President Biden always stands up to bullies and that’s what these extreme MAGA laws and policies do — they bully kids,” a senior administration official told reporters in a briefing on Wednesday. “Hateful, discriminatory laws that target children are out of line with where the American people are, and President Biden is going to use his executive authority to protect kids and families.”
A bulk of the bills signed into law in recent months — 24 in 13 states, according to the HRC — aim to limit access to gender affirming care for transgender youth, prohibit trans girls and women from competing on girls’ sports teams in school, and bar the instruction of LGBTQ issues in school.
Under the executive order, a coordinating committee will also be established to lead efforts across federal agencies to strengthen the collection of data on sexual orientation and gender identity.
It will also direct the Department of Health and Human Services to expand resources to address LGBTQ youth suicide and homelessness and study barriers same-sex married couples face in accessing government benefits.
Advocates have been urging public officials against using the charged rhetoric, warning that it could cause violence directed at LGBTQ Americans.
At least three LGBTQ events were targeted by white nationalist groups last weekend, with police arresting 31 people at an annual Pride in the Park event in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, on charges of suspicion of conspiracy to riot. Those arrested came to the event with gas masks and shields.
The president has been urging Congress to pass comprehensive LGBTQ rights legislation in the form of the Equality Act. But after passing in the House last year, the bill stalled in the Senate. Biden again called on Congress to take action in a White House fact sheet.
Gloria Allen, a Black transgender icon and activist who dedicated her life to Chicago’s trans community, died on Monday at the age of 76.
Allen — also known as “Mama Gloria” — is believed to have died peacefully while asleep in her Chicago apartment at an LGBTQ senior residence home, according to a statement from Luchina Fisher, who directed a documentary about Allen in 2020.
Allen transitioned in the 1950s, prior to the modern LGBTQ rights movement that began with the 1969 Stonewall riots and long before the term “transgender” became mainstream. In a previous interview with NBC News, she credited her coming out to the love and support of her mother, Alma, a showgirl and former Jet magazine centerfold, and her grandmother, Mildred, a seamstress for cross-dressers and strippers.
“I didn’t have all the tools that they have out today for the younger people. So I had to do my thing, and I did it. I walked with my head up high due to my family,” she said, noting there weren’t any community centers or resources for LGBTQ people that she could readily access. “I didn’t know anything about lesbians and gays, because we didn’t have any rights back then.”
Allen worked at the University of Chicago Hospital as a licensed practical nurse and then in private homes as a nurse’s aide. But she was best known for her work in transgender activism.
More than a decade ago, as a trans elder, Allen started a charm school at Center on Halsted in Chicago to educate trans youth about etiquette and proper behavior. Her school inspired the 2015 play “Charm,” written by Philip Dawkins, which ran in Chicago, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, New York and Washington, D.C.
Allen then rose to national prominence nearly two years ago, when she became the subject of a documentary feature “Mama Gloria.” The documentary showcased the intersection of race- and gender-based oppression, and it showed how trans people can thrive when they are loved and supported by their families.
“I want the world to know I have a life, and I have a right to be here on this planet,” Allen told NBC News shortly after the documentary’s release. “I’m happy to tell my story.”
Fisher paid tribute on Tuesday to Allen and her accomplishments for trans rights.
“Mama Gloria Allen always called me her angel. But she was my angel,” Fisher wrote on Twitter. “These last four years have been life-changing. I will carry her love and spirit with me always. RIP #mamagloria“
San Francisco Mayor London Breed announced Monday that she would not march in the city’s annual Pride parade in June unless its organizers reverse a ban on uniformed police officers from marching.
The group that hosts the city’s march, San Francisco Pride, initially enacted restrictions on uniformed police officers in 2020, following the nationwide protests for racial justice sparked by the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Last year’s parade was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.
For this year’s event, Pride organizers reinstated the uniform ban citing safety concerns for marginalized groups within the LGBTQ community. Officers are encouraged to participate, but wearing department T-shirts instead of uniforms.
Breed, a Democrat, condemned the move.
“One of the central planks of the movement for better policing is a demand that the people who serve in uniform better represent the communities they are policing,” Breed said. “We can’t say, ‘We want more Black officers,’ or ‘We want more LGBTQ officers,’ and then treat those officers with disrespect when they actually step up and serve.”
But in recent years, tensions between police and the queer community have grown in the wake of a global racial reckoning.
In 2017, Toronto Pride banned uniformed officers from participating in its annual march due to concerns of racial injustice raised by the Toronto chapter of Black Lives Matter. Vancouver’s Pride parade followed suit in 2020.
On Monday, the San Francisco Police Officer’s Pride Alliance also denounced San Francisco Pride’s uniform ban, pleading with the group’s board of advisers to reverse its decision.
“The board decided to punish LGBTQ+ peace officers for the failings of others,” the group said in a statement. “This is its own form of prejudice and further erodes the tenuous relationship between peace officers and the communities we keep safe.”
“For LGBTQ+ officers, this brings us back to a time when we had to hide at work that we were LGBTQ+,” the group added. “Now they ask us to hide the fact of where we work.”
San Francisco Pride’s interim president, Suzanne Ford, and its board of directors said in a statement on Monday that while they have been working with the city’s law enforcement to come to an agreement on uniforms at the parade, they have “not come to a solution that is mutually beneficial.”
“SF Pride remains committed to practicing radical inclusion, practicing harm reduction in our space, and supporting those who are marginalized within our community,” the group said. “We acknowledge and appreciate the steps that have been taken to heal decades of distrust between law enforcement agencies and the LGBTQ+ communities.”
The group added, “We look forward to working with Pride organizations and law enforcement agencies from around the world in finding a solution that is satisfactory to all.”
San Francisco’s annual Pride parade will take place on Sunday, June 26.
Florida’s newly enacted Parental Rights in Education bill — dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — has catapulted LGBTQ rights to the center of political discourse in recent months.
Leaders of global corporations, editorial boards of major newspapers and the White House have all weighed in on the new law, with some calling it “deeply disturbing” and others “noncontroversial.” The cast of NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” has repeatedly ripped into the bill in several of its most recent episodes. At last month’s Oscars, co-host Wanda Sykes took a jab at the measure in the Academy Awards’ opening monologue. And last week, officials in New York City and Chicago launched ad campaigns in Florida to persuade LGBTQ Floridians to pack their bags and move north.
While Florida has been ground zero for this nationwide debate, 19 other states have introduced similar legislation that would prohibit how educators can talk about or teach LGBTQ issues in school this year, according to the Movement Advancement Project, or MAP, an LGBTQ think tank that has been tracking the bills.
“The truth is, this has never been about Florida,” said Brandon Wolf, the press secretary for the LGBTQ advocacy group Equality Florida, which sued DeSantis over the law last month. “It’s never been about one state but rather a policy objective from the furthest right wing of the Republican Party to try to roll back civil liberties and progress through fear and manipulation of their base.”
He added, “You can, I think, imagine that we’re staring down a national ‘Don’t Say Gay’ debate if we’re not successful in pushing back against it here in Florida.”
Lawmakers in Indiana are weighing legislation that would require any student under the age of 18 to “obtain written consent” from a parent before participating “in any instruction on human sexuality.” In Arizona, House lawmakers introduced legislation in January that would prohibit schools from allowing students to participate in school clubs or student groups “involving sexuality, gender or gender identity unless the student’s parent provides written permission for the student to participate.”
And legislators in Tennessee proposed a measure in February that reads: “The promotion of LGBT issues and lifestyles in public schools offends a significant portion of students, parents, and Tennessee residents with Christian values.” The bill, HB 800, seeks to ban textbooks or classroom materials that “promote, normalize, support, or address” LGBTQ “lifestyles,” and subject LGBTQ issues to the same limitations religious teachings face in the state’s public schools.
“They vary quite a bit, but the thing that they have in common is that they restrict the ability of teachers and schools to provide students with an honest and accurate education that they deserve, that helps them to learn from our past and reflect the diversity of the world around them and prepare them for the future,” Logan Casey, a senior policy researcher and adviser at MAP, said.
Proponents of the measures disagree and contend that they would give parents more discretion over what their children learn in school and say LGBTQ issues are “not age appropriate” for young students.
At the Florida bill’s signing ceremony, DeSantis, who is widely believed to be considering a run for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, said that the law would ensure “that parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination.”
Tiffany Justice, a mother of four school-age children and the co-founder of Moms for Liberty, a national network of about 80,000 parents that says its mission is to defend parental rights in schools, previously told NBC News that Florida’s Parental Rights in Education and similar measures amount to “parents pushing back.”
“They’ve had enough. We’ve seen enough nonsense,” she said. “The kids are not learning to read in schools, and what I have said before is ‘Before you activate our children into social justice warriors, could you just teach them how to read?’”
Since DeSantis signed the Florida legislation into law on March 28, other conservative lawmakers have signaled that they would step up efforts to advance similar versions of the law in their states.
In a campaign email last Monday, Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick vowed to make a rendering of the law a “top priority” in his state’s next legislative session. That same day, Ohio state Reps. Jean Schmidt and Mike Loychik introduced their own version of the legislation.
Loychik and Schmidt did not respond to NBC News’ requests for comment. On Tuesday, Schmidt refused to answer reporters’ questions about the bill while walking through the state capitol building in Columbus.https://iframe.nbcnews.com/YY8G0Ez?_showcaption=true&app=1
At the federal level — absent majorities in Congress or at the White House — Republican lawmakers have largely stayed out of the fray concerning a nationwide version of the legislation. But last month, while speaking with Sandy Hook conspiracy theorist and AM radio personality Alex Jones, Georgia Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene vowed to introduce a federal version of the law.
“I will meet with my team right after this interview, and we will work on it,” Greene told the radio host, “because I will do anything I can to protect kids.”
LGBTQ advocates note that the new crop of LGBTQ curriculum bills are not totally new. They say the measures resemble legislation from the 1980s and ‘90s that activists dubbed “no promo homo” laws, which explicitly prohibited the positive portrayal of homosexuality in schools. The majority of those laws have since been struck down, but they remain in place in four states in the South, according to national LGBTQ youth advocacy group GLSEN.
Casey said that unlike today’s bills, the “no promo homo” laws were more “narrowly” focused on restricting what educators could or could not say in health classes.
“They at least had this pretense of limiting the censorship to classes about sex-ed specifically,” Casey said. “The bills today have removed all pretense. They are just saying flat out: ‘You cannot talk about these issues in any classroom, in any instructional materials full stop.’”
Melanie Willingham-Jaggers, executive director of GLSEN, said another differentiator is that these present-day measures — despite being dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” bills — are aimed at preventing gender identity and transgender issues from being taught, and in some cases even discussed, at school.
“What we’re seeing now is that because it’s no longer politically feasible to discredit someone because of their sexuality, the most isolated, the most marginalized, the most impacted part of the LGBTQ+ community, which are trans and nonbinary people, are being hit with the same political playbook,” Willingham-Jaggers, who is nonbinary, said. “It’s absurd, this idea that trans folks are a threat.”
Supporters of these education bills have also suggested that they are meant to target trans Americans. Justice previously told NBC Newsthat the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” laws are needed to fight a “transgender contagion” sweeping the country.
The share of anti-LGBTQ state bills that specifically target transgender people have noticeably ticked upward over the past several years, an NBC News analysis of data from the American Civil Liberties Union and the LGBTQ advocacy group Freedom for All Americans found.
For example, 22 of the 60 anti-LGBTQ proposed bills in 2019, or 37 percent, were anti-trans bills, compared with 153, or 80 percent, of 191 anti-LGBTQ bills in 2021. This year, about 65 percent of the anti-LGBTQ bills filed as of March 15 — 154 — targeted transgender people.https://iframe.nbcnews.com/j2EQSqk?_showcaption=true&app=1
While most, if not all, of these measures have been introduced by Republicans, not all GOP lawmakers are on board. At least five Republican governors have vetoed anti-trans bills in their states since last year (although some of those vetoes were overridden), and on Sunday, Maryland’s Republican governor, Larry Hogan, dismissed the Florida LGBTQ curriculum law, calling it “absurd.”
“I didn’t really actually see the details of the legislation, but the whole thing seems like just a crazy fight,” Hogan told CNN.
The national war of words over whether students should learn about LGBTQ issues in school — ignited by a recently enacted Florida law that critics dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill — has taken a charged, and some say dangerous, turn over the last several weeks.
In early March, the press secretary for Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis tweeted that anyone who opposes the bill “is probably a groomer or at least you don’t denounce the grooming of 4-8 year old children.” Several days later, Fox News host Laura Ingraham asked her millions of viewers, “When did our public schools, any schools, become what are essentially grooming centers for gender identity radicals?”
On Wednesday, Rep. Majorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., took things a step further, tweeting that “Democrats are the party of killing babies, grooming and transitioning children, and pro-pedophile politics,” in reference to the legislation. That same day, in a since-deleted tweetaccessed by NBC News through the Wayback Machine Internet Archive, the conservative podcast host Jack Posobiec urged his 1.7 million followers to buy T-shirts that say “Boycott Groomers, bring ammo” and incorporate the famous Disney castle logo and signature font. (The company, which has a large footprint in Florida, has become a frequent target of conservative politicians and pundits for denouncing the state’s legislation.)
This type of language — which had, at least in the past decade, appeared to be relegated to the margins of the far-right movement — has even made its way beyond politicians and political pundits. During a Fox News interview on Sunday, the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright David Mamet saidthat children are “not only being indoctrinated but groomed” and that “teachers are inclined, particularly men because men are predators, to pedophilia.”
Alejandra Caraballo, a clinical instructor at Harvard Law’s Cyber Law Clinic and a transgender-rights advocate, said using such language is “an attempt at the dehumanization and delegitimization of queer people’s identities by associating them with pedophilia and child grooming.”
“What terrifies me is that when you start labeling groups with that, the calls for violence are inevitable,” she said.
The recent rhetoric mirrors that of a QAnon conspiracy theory — known as “pizzagate” — which claimed that a Washington, D.C., pizzeria was harboring a child sex-trafficking ring with connections to Hillary Clinton. The conspiracy theory, which was debunked by the FBI and Washington police, prompted a North Carolina manto fire a rifle in the pizzeria. He was ultimately sentenced to four years behind bars.
The word “grooming” — which has long beenassociated with mischaracterizing LGBTQ people, particularly gay men and transgender women, as child sex abusers — was mentioned on Twitter 7,959 times on March 29, the day after Florida’s education bill was signed into law, compared with just 40 times on the first day of this year, Caraballo found through data she pulled from Twitter.
The legislation,officially titled the Parental Rights in Education bill, bans teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity “in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”
Proponents of the measure have contended that it gives parents more discretion over what their children learn in school and say LGBTQ issues are “not age-appropriate” for young students.
At the Florida bill-signing ceremony, DeSantis, who is widely believed to be considering a run for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, said that opponents of the measure “support sexualizing kids in kindergarten” and “camouflage their true intentions.” He added that the law would ensure “that parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination.”
Tiffany Justice, an ardent supporter of the measures limiting LGBTQ instruction in schools and the co-founder of Moms for Liberty, a national network of about 80,000 parents whose mission is to defend parental rights in schools, said that the LGBTQ community is “a part of the fabric of America.”
Simultaneously, she said that “we have reached a point now where we need to call this what this is,” referring to the rhetoric surrounding the law.
“If you want to talk to my first grader about sex and sexual identity and gender identity and sexual orientation, and I don’t want you to and you’re doing it anyway, you’re grooming my child without my permission,” Justice, who is also a mother of four school-age children, said to NBC News. “And if anyone says that they don’t like that label, then I say stop messing with our kids.”
Scott Hadland, the chief of adolescent and young adult medicine at MassGeneral Hospital for Children and Harvard Medical School, called the law and the recent rhetoric surrounding it “fear-based.”
“I’ve cared for, in my more than a decade of clinical practice, hundreds of kids who identify as LGBTQ and the number of times that somebody has shared with me that they came to understand their development because they were convinced to become LGBTQ by a teacher, or another community member, or a physician is exactly zero,” Hadland said. “This does not happen. This is not how young people establish their identities.”
The tactic of labeling one’s political adversaries as “groomers,” or insinuating that they are trying to prime children for sexual abuse, is nothing new, said Michael Bronski, a professor of women and gender studies at Harvard University and author of “A Queer History of the United States for Young People.”
“There’s a long tradition of making accusations against a minority group, potentially an unpopular one, using the notion of violating childhood innocence, which is seen as the worst possible thing that you could do — to abuse the child sexually,” Bronski said.
“Overwhelmingly, they were never about the children,” he added, referring to the accusations. “They were about mobilizing power within the culture and doing political organizing around it.”
Bronski recalled former beauty queen Anita Bryant’s “Save Our Children” campaign in 1977, which painted gays and lesbians as a threat to the country’s youth. That year, her campaign was successful in overturning a newly passed Miami-Dade County law that prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation in housing, employment and public services.
“Homosexuals cannot reproduce, so they must recruit. And to freshen their ranks, they must recruit the youth of America,” Bryant famously declared.
Decades after Bryant fortified a reputation as one of the countries most notorious anti-LGBTQ activists, her granddaughter came out as a lesbian during an episode of Slate’s “One Year” podcast and revealed that she was engaged to a woman.
When asked why these old tropes, popular in Bryant’s day, have resurfaced now, Bronski pointedto several LGBTQ policy wins in recent years — most notably the 2015 Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage, and the 2020 Supreme Court decision that won LGBTQ people nationwide protection from workplace discrimination — and greater numbers of Americans identifying as part of the LGBTQ community.
The percent of U.S. adults who identify as something other than heterosexual has doubled over the last 10 years, from 3.5 percent in 2012 to 7.1 percent, according to a Gallup poll released in February.
“If you have visibility for anything, whether it be for Black Lives Matter, whether it be for feminism, whether it be for LGBTQ identities, you are in fact creating a cultural space for people to learn about it and consider it,” Bronski said. “Any form of social progress engenders backlash.”
The backlash is what worries Caraballo. She notes that June 12 will be the sixth anniversary of the mass shooting that killed 49 at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
Hate crimes against LGBTQ people across the country are down overall, according to FBI data released last year, but have risen for incidents motivated by gender identity within the past two years. Late last year, LGBTQ Americans were spooked when federal prosecutors arrested a man who they said threatened to attack this year’s New York City Pride March with “firepower” that would “make the 2016 Orlando Pulse Nightclub shooting look like a cakewalk.” And this month, a man walked into a New York City gay bar, Rash Bar, with a bottle of flammable liquid, poured it on the bar’s floor, lit a match and set the venue on fire.
Caraballo said that social media companies like Twitter have a responsibility to curtail the rhetoric from proliferating online and thus stem the threats of violence.
“What worries me is that it’s going to take people getting killed for them to finally crack down,” Caraballo said. “I fear we’re going to end up with another Pulse.”
“My message to social media companies is,” she added, “‘Don’t wait till you have blood on your hands.’”
Twitter did not immediately respond to NBC News’ request for comment concerning several of the more high-profile tweets mentioning the word “grooming” in association with the new law.
One of the tweets came from DeSantis’ press secretary, Christina Pushaw, on March 4: “The bill that liberals inaccurately call ‘Don’t Say Gay’ would be more accurately described as an Anti-Grooming Bill.”
In an email to NBC News, Pushaw elaborated, saying that “the assumption that criticism of grooming is criticism of the LGBTQ community equates LGBTQ people to groomers, which is both bigoted and inaccurate.”
In a first, the Federal Bureau of Prisons has been ordered to secure gender-affirming surgery for a transgender prisoner.
A federal judge in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Illinois ordered the bureau on Monday to undergo a nationwide search for a qualified surgeon to perform the surgery for the inmate, Cristina Nichole Iglesias.
The directive will bring Iglesias — who has been imprisoned since 1994 for threatening to use a weapon of mass destruction — a step closer to receiving the procedure, which she has been fighting to get for six years, the last three in the courts.
“I am hopeful that I will finally get the care I need to live my life fully as the woman I am,” Iglesias said in a statement provided to NBC News by her legal representative, the American Civil Liberties Union. “BOP has denied me gender-affirming surgery for years — and keeps raising new excuses and putting new obstacles in my way. I am grateful that the court recognized the urgency of my case and ordered BOP to act.”
Monday’s court order could pave the way for othertransgender prisoners to receive gender-affirming surgeries as well. LGBTQ advocates have called these procedures “life-saving,” and Monday’s decision could bolster the Biden administration’s goal of improving the lives of incarcerated transgender people.
A 2015 report by the Justice Department estimated that 35 percent of trans prisoners surveyed had reported being sexually assaulted behind bars within the last year. Under the Trump administration, the Bureau of Prisons was required to “use biological sex as the initial determination” for housing trans prisoners.
A 2020 NBC News investigation that tracked 45 states and Washington, D.C., found that out of 4,890 transgender inmates in state prisons, only 15 were confirmed to being housed according to their lived gender.
In January, the Biden administration restored Obama-era guidelines for federal prisons to house transgender inmates by their gender identity “when appropriate.” The guidelines also require prison staff to refer to trans inmates by their lived name and pronouns.
Iglesias has been in federal prison for roughly 28 years and currently lives in a bureau-run residential re-entry center in Florida, according to the ACLU.
Although she identified herself as a woman upon her incarceration, she has been housed in men’s facilities for over two decades, and during that time has experienced physical and sexual violence, the ACLU said. In May, her lawsuit to seek gender-affirming surgery resulted in her being one of the few transgender federal prisoners moved to a facility that corresponds with her gender identity.
Iglesias then became the first transgender prisoner to be evaluated for gender-affirming surgery, which the Bureau of Prisons recommended in January. However, the ACLU said in a statement that the bureau had “sought to postpone any referral to a surgeon for months.”
In Monday’s ruling, Judge Nancy Rosenstengel slammed the prison bureau’s handling of Iglesias’ case and compared its “tactics” to a game of “whack-a-mole.” Rosenstengel also ordered the bureau to provide the court with weekly updates and a detailed plan to ensure that Iglesias gets the surgery before her release in December.
The Bureau of Prisons told NBC News in a statement that it does not comment on “pending litigation or matters subject to legal proceedings,” nor on “the conditions of confinement for any individual or group of inmates.”
“For years, Cristina has fought to receive the health care the Constitution requires,” Joshua Blecher-Cohen, an ACLU of Illinois staff attorney who represents Ms. Iglesias, said in a statement.
“The court’s order makes clear that she needs gender-affirming surgery now and that BOP cannot justify its failure to provide this medically necessary care,” he said. “We hope this landmark decision will help secure long-overdue health care for Cristina — and for the many other transgender people in federal custody who have been denied gender-affirming care.”
Last month, a group of parents in Orlando, Florida, demanded “consequences” against sixth grade science teacher Robert Thollander. His crime? Thollander acknowledged his marriage at school.
“He married a man. This alone is not an issue. Sharing the details … with all his 6th grade students is the issue,” the parents wrote in a letter sent to their children’s school board, which was shared with NBC News. “It was not appropriate. Many of these students felt very uncomfortable with the conversations and shared this with their families.”
Had Thollander just “said he will be out for a few days because he was getting married, no problem,” the letter continued, “but to discuss the details and create an uncomfortable situation for the students with no benefit to teaching his subject matter is inappropriate.”
Thollander denied having discussed his marriage since he and his husband tied the knot in March of last year, aside from acknowledging it when he was asked. No action was taken against him by school leaders, who defended him several days later with a letter of their own, he said.
Nevertheless, the incident prompted Thollander to make this school year his last after 11 years of working in Florida as a teacher.
“A lot of trust is given to teachers, and it made it seem like I wasn’t trusted because there’s something wrong with me for being gay,” he said. “It makes it seem like being gay is something vile or disturbing or disgusting when it’s described as making children uncomfortable knowing that I’m married to a man. It hurt.”
While the Orlando parents did not succeed in having Thollander disciplined or ousted, he and other LGBTQ teachers in the state worry that newly signed state law — titled Parental Rights in Education but dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law — will galvanize parents to take similar action against them. In fact, Thollander said he believes the parents who complained about him were emboldened by the bill even before it was signed into law.
With the new law in place, teachers fear that in talking about their families or LGBTQ issues more broadly, pointed letters will be the least of their worries.
The law, HB 1557, bans “instruction” about sexual orientation or gender identity “in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed it into law Monday. Parents will be able to sue school districts for alleged violations, damages or attorney’s fees when the law goes into effect July 1.
Lawmakers who support the law have repeatedly stressed that it would not prohibit teachers and students from talking about their LGBTQ families or bar classroom discussions about LGBTQ history, including events like the 2016 attack at the Pulse nightclub, a gay club in Orlando. Instead, they argue, it is about giving parents more jurisdiction over their children’s education.
But legal experts have said the broad language of the law could open districts and teachers to lawsuits from parents who believe any conversation about LGBTQ people or issues is “inappropriate.”
Nicolette Solomon, 28, taught fourth grade in Miami-Dade County for more than four years. As HB 1557 passed through the Legislature, she quit. Solomon, a lesbian, said that after months of having taught virtually through the coronavirus pandemic, the law was “the straw that broke the camel’s back.”
“The law would erase me as an LGBTQ teacher,” she said. “Nobody would be able to know, which then puts me in the closet, and I’m there seven hours a day, if not more, five days a week. I wouldn’t be able to be who I am.”
“And I don’t think I can bear to see the students struggle and want to ask me about these things and then have to deny them that knowledge,” she added. “That’s not who I am as a teacher.”
Some Florida teachers also worry that the law will worsen the disproportionate rates of bullying, harassment and mental health issues plaguing their LGBTQ students.
A survey last year by The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ youth suicide prevention and crisis intervention organization, found that 42 percent of the nearly 35,000 LGBTQ youths who were surveyed seriously considered suicide within the previous year. More than half of transgender and nonbinary youths who were surveyed seriously considered suicide, it also found.
“Will other students interpret that as ‘Hey, now I have a pass to bully or mistreat certain students?’” asked Brian Kerekes, who teaches math at a high school in Osceola County, referring to the law. “It’s not out of the realm of imagination that that could now be an issue.”
A separate survey conducted by The Trevor Project last year found that LGBTQ youths who reported having at least one LGBTQ-affirming space reported lower rates of attempting suicide.
With that in mind, he said, Kerekes asks his students for their preferred pronouns at the beginning of every school year. He also places other LGBTQ-affirming symbols in his classroom, including a rainbow Pride flag and a sign that says “safe space.”
“Our students need to see that the educators in their community are as diverse as the rest of that community. They need educators that look and resemble them,” said Kerekes, who is gay. “We want them to know that we see them and respect them so that they can focus on what it is that they’re learning in class and not have to worry about how they’re going to be treated because of who they are.”
Building successful teacher-to-student relationships has become increasingly important in recent years, Kerekes said, in light of remote learning during coronavirus lockdowns and the rise in school shootings nationally.
With the passage of the new Florida law, Kerekes worries that most teachers will now “hesitate to be the advocates and the mentors” for LGBTQ kids who may confide in them.
Supporters of the measure say exposing kids to LGBTQ symbols and identities is part of the problem.
DeSantis, who is widely seen as considering a run for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination, said Monday that the law will ensure “that parents can send their kids to school to get an education, not an indoctrination.”
Tiffany Justice, who served on a Florida school board for four years and co-founded a national network of about 80,000 parents, Moms for Liberty, agreed, saying the law is needed to fight a “transgender contagion” sweeping the country.
“This is parents pushing back,” Justice, a mom of four school-aged children, said. “They’ve had enough. We’ve seen enough nonsense. The kids are not learning to read in schools, and what I have said before is ‘Before you activate our children into social justice warriors, could you just teach them how to read?’”
She added, “Teachers really need to get back and focus on what they’re supposed to be teaching in schools.”
Michael Woods, a special education teacher in Palm Beach County, said legislators and parents are looking for a “solution to a problem that doesn’t exist.”
“Teachers do not go out of their way to create these moments where we’re ‘indoctrinating’ students,” said Woods, who is gay. “If I could indoctrinate a student, it would be to bring a pencil and a piece of paper, and if I was really good at ‘indoctrinating,’ I would be able to get them to do their homework.”
Some educators are also concerned about a section in the law that will require them to notify parents of a child’s “mental, emotional, or physical health or well-being … unless a reasonably prudent person would believe that such disclosure would result in abuse, abandonment, or neglect.”
Critics have said the provision will force teachers to “out” their LGBTQ students to their parents, potentially leaving them vulnerable to rejection at home.
From her first week on the job, Solomon said, “so many kids” throughout her elementary school — even those she did not teach directly — came out to her.
“They want to go to someone like a teacher who they might not know for the rest of their lives or someone who they know won’t judge them or won’t tell anybody,” she said. “They’re kids. They can’t just call a therapist and make an appointment.
“I don’t want to be in that situation where, instead of helping the students, I’m going to be hurting them,” she added.
On Monday, the American Federation of Teachers, the country’s second largest teachers labor union, slammed the measure, calling it an “assault” on students and teachers.
“Make no mistake, this bill will have devastating real-world consequences—especially for LGBTQIA+ youth who already experience higher rates of bullying and suicide,” Randi Weingarten, the group’s president, said in a statement. “And for teachers and school staff who work tirelessly to support and care for their students, this bill is just another gross political attack on their professionalism.”
U.S. Education Secretary Miguel Cardona met in private with LGBTQ students and their family members Thursday to discuss the impacts of the law.
Earlier in the week, Cardona issued a statement saying the Education Department would “monitor” the law upon its implementation and “evaluate whether it violates federal civil rights law.”
In the meantime, Thollander will be putting his new real estate license to work, and Solomon will be working on her newly launched LGBTQ family-focused podcast, “Flying the Coop.”
“I would teach in another state, but I cannot teach in Florida,” Solomon said. “It’s just so horrible.”
Beyond Florida, legislators in several other states — including Georgia, Tennessee, Kansas and Indiana — are weighing measures similar to the Florida law, which Justice said was “just the beginning.”
“We’re not stopping here,” Justice said. “If they think they have a problem with HB 1557 in Florida, wait until it’s in all 50 states. And we won’t stop until it is.”
Biden administration officials held a closed-door meeting Thursday with several Florida LGBTQ students and their families about the state’s so-called Don’t Say Gay bill, the Education Department said.
The legislation — officially named the Parental Rights in Education Act — would prohibit “classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity” in Florida primary schools. Its passage in Florida’s House and Senate in recent weeks sparked national debate.
At Thursday’s virtual roundtable, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona and the assistant secretary of health and human services for health, Dr. Rachel Levine, the first openly transgender Senate-confirmed federal official, reaffirmed support for LGBTQ youths and their families.
“Laws around the country, including in Florida, have targeted and sought to bully some of our most vulnerable students and families and create division in our schools,” Cardona said, according to a readout of the meeting. “My message to you is that this administration won’t stand for bullying or discrimination of any kind, and we will use our authorities to protect, support, and provide opportunities for LGBTQI+ students and all students.”
Proponents of the measure contend that it would give parents more discretion over what their children learn in school and say LGBTQ issues are “not age-appropriate” for young students.
Critics say the legislation would prevent youths and teachers from openly talking about themselves and their families.
“Being an LGBTQ student in Florida is already incredibly difficult due to bullying from fellow students and peers,” Miami high school student Javier Gomez said Thursday. “This legislation will compound this problem and make life even more difficult for LGBTQ students.”
The legislation would go into effect July 1 if it is signed by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is widely seen as considering a run for the 2024 GOP presidential nomination and has signaled his support for the measure several times.