Pride month is once more upon us, and although we should celebrate our accomplishments and our identities louder than ever, we must also step up and fight for our rights and demand that our allies do the same—we must show up and vote at the polls, we must write and call our elected officials, to the extent we can be our true authentic selves in all walks of life—we must be out, and we must support the organizations (i.e., the National LGBTQ Task Force, Equality North Carolina, the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund and many others) that are fighting every single day to make sure that the rights we fought so hard for are not stripped away. This year alone, over 280 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced across 36 state legislatures—in less than six months of the year—with the majority targeting trans individuals. According to an NBC News analysis conducted earlier this year in March, which looked at data from the American Civil Liberties Union and Freedom for All Americans, in 2018, we saw 41 anti-LGBTQ bills filed. At the time of the NBC News report, about 238 bills were filed in the three months of 2022; since then, we have seen dozens of other bills introduced in state legislatures. We also saw a leaked SCOTUS decision, which, if the opinion becomes the official opinion of the Supreme Court, will overturn the right to an abortion established in Roe v. Wade—and reproductive rights are queer rights. And I am not even analyzing Alito’s criticism of Lawrence v. Texas (the decision that legalized sodomy) and Obergefell v. Hodges (the decision that legalized same-sex marriage), which we should take as a warning that our rights could also be stripped away. The number of anti-LGBTQ legislation has increased every year since 2018, and this year we have already seen an unprecedented number of legislative attacks on our community making it the worst in recent history and we still have another seven full months left in the year.
On March 28, 2022, Ron DeSantis signed Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, also known as a “Parental Rights in Education” bill, which reads, “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur 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 became the first state in 21 years to pass such legislation, which takes effect July 1, 2022, and Alabama immediately followed. Currently, at least 20 states have introduced their own “Don’t Say Gay” bills. In South Carolina, H.4605 was pre-filed on Nov. 17, 2021, in the South Carolina House by three House Republicans, Lin Bennett, Mike Burns and Cal Forrest, and was introduced in the House on Jan. 11, 2022. The bill seeks to “amend the code of laws of South Carolina, to protect the dignity and rights of all individuals to be free from ideological coercion and indoctrination in places of learning, childcare, and employment that receive, or benefit from, state funds or accommodations, directly or indirectly.” H.4605 further establishes a hotline that allows citizens to report violations of the bill to the Attorney General, and entities found in violation of the bill will lose funding, tax exemption status and other state-provided accommodations or privileges until the entity can demonstrate that it complies with the law. Most harmful to LGBTQ youth is that the law strips away access to counseling regarding gender identity and sexual orientation unless there is parental consent.
On June 1, 2022, on the first day of Pride Month, North Carolina’s Republican-led Senate also passed its own “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” House Bill 755, along party lines, 28-18, sending the bill to the state House of Representatives, which is also controlled by the Republican party—making it almost certain that the bill will be sent to Governor Cooper’s desk later this month. The bill states that “instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity shall not be included in the curriculum provided in grades kindergarten through third grade”. Further, the bill requires notice to parents “[p]rior to any changes in the name or pronoun used for a student in school records or by school personnel.” The bill also attaches disciplinary action and a fine of up to $5,000 for health care practitioners or other persons that violate the section of the bill on parental consent for treatment. Although the bill is likely to be vetoed by Governor Roy Cooper, and Republicans don’t have the numbers to override his veto, this is still an attack on LGBTQ students and LGBTQ teachers and the LGBTQ+ community at large.
However, we should not be surprised that this bill was introduced, in October 2021, North Carolina Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson stated, “I’m saying this now, and I’ve been saying it, and I don’t care who likes it: Those issues have no place in school. There’s no reason anybody anywhere in America should be telling any child about transgenderism, homosexuality—any of that filth.” He further stated, “And yes, I called it filth. And if you don’t like it that I called it filth, come see me and I’ll explain it to you. It’s time for us to stop letting these children be abused in schools, and it’s not going to happen till the people of God stand up and demand different, same ones that established those schools to begin with.” It is clear that what these bills are seeking to do, is to eliminate LGBTQ voices and history, because they’re not genuinely aiming at removing instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity—heterosexuality (which is also a sexual orientation) is imbedded in books about a princess following in love with a prince. Heteronormativity is okay, but any mention of LGBTQ individuals is not. Furthermore, it also was not long ago that North Carolina passed HB2, which required individuals to use public restrooms that match their gender at birth and excluded LGBT people from discrimination protections. These attacks on our LGBTQ community will not cease until we rise and demand change from our politicians and until we and our allies vote for politicians that care about LGBTQ individuals. However, in order to achieve this we must turn out and vote, and I’m not talking about the 20 percent that showed up to vote during the 2022 North Carolina statewide primary, but ALL eligible voters.
These attacks on our LGBTQ youth are concerning. According to studies done by The Trevor Project, about 60 percent of queer youth live in a home that is not affirming. These laws require school personnel to basically out students to unsupportive family members, which subjects our queer students to physical harm, abuse and homelessness. Further, The Trevor Project has found that over the last two years, 51 percent of LGBTQ+ students have considered suicide in the last two academic years. These laws do not only seek to erase LGBTQ history, voices and safe spaces but they have the potential of eliminating the only help that can save a youth’s life—a supportive teacher. So this Pride month, let’s be LOUD. Let’s allow all the corporations that change their logos and plaster rainbows all over their windows to also be LOUD and visible because visibility can send a message to an individual that it is okay to be who they are and that there are people that will accept and love them for who they are. However, at the same time, let’s demand that they do more than be visible during Pride; let’s demand that they be there for their LGBTQ+ employees 365 days of the year; let’s demand that they stop donating to politicians that are voting in favor of laws that harm LGBTQ+ individuals; and let’s demand that they call on Congress to pass the Equality Act; and most importantly let’s demand that they not stay SILENT the other 335 days of the year. To do this, we too must speak up and not stay SILENT.
Candelario is an associate in Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft’s Capital Markets Group in Charlotte and is one of their Black & Latino Association Immigration Clinic leaders. He is a member of the National LGBTQ Task Force Board of Directors and the Pauli Murray LGBTQ+ Bar Association Board of Directors.