Shaking Up the South: The Battle for LGBTQIA+ Rights

It's now been weeks since Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed Senate Bill 140 into law. The bill outlaws gender-affirming care for transgender minors in Georgia. In the time since, as a Black, queer, gender-nonconforming Gen Z woman living in Atlanta, I've been building community with my LGBTQIA+ (lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, intersex, and asexual) friends and family. Atlanta has typically felt like a safe place to be myself. With Pride Month starting, we should be celebrating. Instead, we are grieving the loss of our youth’s bodily autonomy. We are asking ourselves: "What's next?" What does the future hold for all of us in Georgia and across the country?

Senate Bill 140–one of five similar bills in Georgia’s 2023 legislative session–is part of a wave of anti-LGBTQIA legislation across America. The ACLU is tracking 491 such bills, right now, in statehouses across the country. These bills, like so-called “don’t say gay” bills, seek to prevent children from talking about their families at school. They seek to prevent school libraries from stocking material telling the stories of American lives. And too often, they seek to criminalize medical providers for following established standards of care. Idaho, for example, made it a felony to provide transition-related care to minors. Backers are pushing the debunked idea that youth become trans through "social contagion." That's despite extremely high rates of bullying and suicidal ideation amongst trans youth. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics supports gender-affirming care. It says bans like Georgia's interfere with young people's mental health.

We will gladly respond at the ballot box. We will embrace our political power and show them: We've got this and we will take it from here. I am not a trans person. But this is about standing together with my community. It is about showing unity when the strategy is clearly to divide and conquer.

Gen Z is the most racial and gender-diverse generation. In fact, 20% of Gen Z identifies as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, or Other, according to a recent Gallup poll. And in the coming election cycle, we know more Gen Z voters than ever will turn out. By 2028, Gen Z and millennials will be the largest voting bloc in America. Our generation is heading to the polls based on the issues, more than along party lines. And guess what? The right to our bodily autonomy is at the top of the list. We are against bullying children to score political points. We don't buy into culture wars. Following the U.S. Supreme Court's overturning of Roe v. Wade, we are also motivated to vote on abortion access. Gen Z voters, for example, sent a pro-abortion judge to the bench of Wisconsin's Supreme Court. Abortion and mental health are top issues for us. We're not going to stand for leaders who try to trample on our bodies and ruin our mental health to preserve their power.

America is changing faster than such hate can keep up. In the past, our political leaders have tended to be white cis heterosexual men. We have all watched the Montana legislature's expulsion of trans Rep. Zooey Zephyr. Then we Googled "Montana legislature diversity". It is critical to our democracy that today's elected leaders represent the diversity and the values of their constituents. As Rep. Ayanna Pressley often says, “Those closest to the pain should be closest to the power.” We must embrace those who have been systematically excluded. Trans people need to be at the center of the conversation. As women, it can take us six or seven times to be asked to run for office before we consider doing it. However, we’re getting better at embracing our political ambitions and stepping up to lead. We see the life or death issues in our community and ask ourselves "Who makes the decisions about my body, my neighborhood, my school?" From the mosquito abatement board to school boards to state houses. We're ready to step up and lead well.

I grew up in Chicago, but my ancestors are from the South. I moved here to Georgia to attend college and now Georgia is home for me. I'm 24. And Atlanta has welcomed me with open arms. I have a strong community here; my people and I are not leaving. What I plan to do is continue to advocate for science-backed approaches to medicine, to elect leaders who respect my bodily autonomy, decisions, and mental health needs. I will continue to rally my friends and compatriots across the state and country to do the same.

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