In May, Governor Kay Ivey signed a bill into law which “makes it a felony to provide gender-affirming medical treatment to transgender youth” in Alabama, according to NBC News. Currently, the law bans gender-affirming surgeries for transgender minors and requires school officials to “out” students to their parents if the student thinks that they might be transgender. The legislation also criminalizes the prescription of puberty blockers and hormones to trans minors, but a federal judge has placed a temporary injunction on this section of the law.
This legislation illustrates the regressive and discriminatory ideologies that still plague Alabama’s state government and general political discourse. As the Human Rights Campaign and GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders have noted, this legislation poses “immediate and irreparable harm” to transgender youth in Alabama. Both of these organizations are involved in a lawsuit against the legislation, as is the U.S. Department of Justice, which has claimed that the law violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution’s 14th Amendment.
The law also exposes the ignorance of lawmakers who do not understand or empathize with the values or lives of their youngest constituents. The legislation explicitly bans gender-affirming surgeries for transgender minors, but doctors have testified that such procedures do not occur in Alabama. The people who are making serious decisions about the lives of transgender people lack a fundamental understanding of what those lives entail and what the process of transitioning in Alabama involves.
Obviously, a lack of understanding also signifies a lack of representation. The Alabama legislature only includes one known LGBTQ+ member: Neil Rafferty, an openly gay representative. Rafferty is the lone legislator of 140 members who represents the 3.1% of Alabamians who identify as LGBTQ+.
Rafferty is in the minority of state legislators who have spoken out against the recent legislation, saying “the proponents of these bills have been demonizing hard-working Alabama families and their children to predicate a culture war all under false pretenses.” Rafferty added that, “this is 100% about politics. It’s 100% about driving a wedge issue to distract us from the real problems that everyday Alabamians are facing. But this time they’re using kids as political footballs … it’s shameful.”
Rafferty is correct, it is shameful, and it is a wedge issue. Gov. Ivey and the legislators who supported the bills are further marginalizing an already marginalized group. They are capitalizing upon the widespread discrimination and rejection of transgender people, which is particularly prevalent within conservative circles, to advance their own political careers and retain the approval of bigoted voters. Instead of acting on larger issues that actually affect the lives of other Alabamians, they are obstructing the individual liberties of a group of people who simply wish to be themselves and whose identities have no consequence on anyone else’s freedom.
This is certainly demonstrative of a broader hypocrisy which has struck conservative politicians as of late. Most notably, this legislation reeks of the same odor emanating from the seemingly-imminent overturning of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court and the restriction of women’s rights which it will entail. Conservative politicians like Gov. Ivey claim to be in full support of individual freedoms and “small government,” yet consistently use their governmental authority to attack the liberties of others.
Within its larger political context, the laws against transgender youth indicate a frightening backslide towards antiquated restrictions on civil rights. Indeed, we are already witnessing discussions regarding the recriminalization of gay marriage and restrictions on birth control enter the wider political discourse.
It is certainly not outlandish to believe that Gov. Ivey and others will be ridiculed in the near future for their attacks on transgender people. The future leaders of America are in the classrooms, the dormitories and the workplace, and they believe in trans rights. Just look at a recent incident at the University of Wyoming where Republican Senator Cynthia Lummis was booed after saying that the existence of “only two sexes” is a “fundamental scientific truth” at the school’s 2022 commencement address.
Lummis’s claims are ignorant and purposefully offensive. She not only targeted individuals who identify as nonbinary or gender-fluid, but also completely ignored the fact that about one in 100 people in America are born intersex. The immediate backlash from Wyoming students illustrates how our politicians fail to represent the views and sentiments of young Americans, and how their antiquated worldviews will not stand the test of time. It is also important to note that this outrage occurred in an overwhelmingly Republican state.
This lack of connection between the views of young adults and their political representatives is a larger issue in our nation, and one which directly affects college students – including those at the University of Alabama. Alabama’s recent anti-trans legislation is just another example of their failure to acknowledge our voices.
Of course, this legislation also directly harms college students and young adults through its content as well. If transgender minors lose the ability to affirm their gender, then they will be entering college and/or the workforce with serious problems related to their identity and self-esteem. This is already an extremely challenging and stressful time in one’s life as you begin to manage the many responsibilities of young adulthood; adding gender dysphoria to the mix will only make this a more difficult experience for trans youth.
There is also no doubt that this legislation will lead to increased rates of suicide among transgender minors and young adults in Alabama. Trans people (and trans youth specifically) are already at an enormously high risk for suicide, with 1 in 3 trans youth attempting suicide in 2015. Some extremely large factors which contribute to suicide among transgender people are institutional prejudices, discrimination, lack of support and gender dysphoria – all of which are perpetuated by this law and the restrictions it puts on a trans person’s ability to confirm their gender.
To put it bluntly, the actions of Gov. Ivey and the Alabama State Legislature will directly lead to the death of trans youth in Alabama– they are either unaware of this fact or do not care, and either is a gravely disgusting reality.
The University of Alabama and its students must reject the idea that the transgender members of our community are less deserving of the personal freedoms granted to their cisgender counterparts.
Student groups have vocally opposed the recent anti-trans bills. OutLaw penned an open letter to the Alabama State House of Representatives, signed in solidarity with nine other organizations from the School of Law. The Queer Student Association’s Executive Council also wrote about the targeted harm of Alabama’s anti-trans laws. Their lead should serve as encouragement to speak out against unjust laws while providing routes for students to place their efforts in activism.
These student groups join larger organizations in fighting back. The Trevor Project reported on LGBTQ+ youth reactions to anti-trans laws, condemning the ban as an unpopular potential driver of suicide. Lawsuits by ACLU Alabama, Lambda Legal and the Transgender Law Center also form opposition to the bill’s progress.
As Alabama’s politicians continue to push younger constituents out the door, it’s increasingly necessary to fight back. Whether speaking out on your own accord or supporting activist groups, student voices must become louder as politicians attempt to undermine them. As the midterms come closer, there is also the potential to support transgender youth at the polls. No matter the route, taking a stand against injustices like these signals change for Alabama politicians regardless of the side they choose to be on.
We are all attempting to refine our identities as we move through college and young adulthood – for some, this process includes gender confirmation. Preventing someone from reaching their ambitions and becoming who they want to be in life is the absolute antithesis of college education. Our community must rally behind the trans youth of Alabama and continue to push back against the outdated, regressive and discriminatory actions coming out of Montgomery.
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Correction: In the original version of this story, published June 1, 2022, we previously referred to Neil Rafferty as a senator, when, in fact, he is a representative. We have corrected the mistake and apologize for the factual inaccuracy and any confusion this may have caused.