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As Anti-Trans Bills Pass, Anxiety Escalates in AU Trans and Gender Non-Conforming Community

By Lizz Panchyk

In 1933, Nazis burned the largest collection of gender-affirming literature at one of the first institutes studying sexuality. Ninety years later in March 2023, Nazis marched in Ohio to protest a drag queen story hour, said Mena Sposito ‘10, adviser to Adelphi’s Students Beyond the Binary (SBB) club. Sposito said that anti-trans ideology is not new, but it is dangerous, and since Kentucky’s government passed “one of the worst anti-trans bills our country has seen as of March 17, 2023, we need our allies to speak up now and be louder than the hate.”

The sweeping Kentucky Senate Bill 150 is one of 487 anti-trans bills introduced this year in 46 states and 19 that have already passed. And that threat is causing anxiety among Adelphi’s LGBTQIA+ community who are worried about their safety and their access to hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and surgeries. Sposito said that they’ve experienced an increase in students reaching out for support since last year in response to the bills.

“Some students are afraid to come out to family members or start transitioning and be cut off or kicked out by their families. Other students worry about returning home to their red states and losing access to gender-affirming care,” Sposito said. “Violence against trans folks has increased with these anti-trans bills, which is why some students fear for their safety. Attacks on trans rights directly affect the safety, mental health and well-being of trans students and there is a lack of education and understanding among cisgender students (and teachers) as to how this is affecting their peers and how they can help. Being mindful of what trans students may be feeling while our government criminalizes parts of their existence is important.”

Sophomore Wynn Andersen said, “All we want is to live, to have friends, careers and happiness. The violent rage that transphobes feel at the prospect of transgender life and happiness is utterly vile. To see such evil being spoken openly and then brushed away by everyone around me is crushing.”

Sposito, the videographer for the Office of University Communications and Marketing, said they have been an advocate for trans rights in the state since they came out as trans in 2007 as a student at Adelphi. “The anti-trans bills make me feel angry, scared, overwhelmed, stressed and sometimes hopeless,” they said. “It is terrifying to be trans and live in the US. Most of these bills were introduced under the guise of `protecting children’ even though they are working against the recommendations of every major medical and psychological association in the US. For years studies on mental health outcomes in trans people show that access to gender-affirming care improves quality of life by treating gender dysphoria, drastically reducing both depression and suicidal ideation. It's no surprise that people are happier when we allow them to live authentically. ”

The Kentucky bill originated as an act to protect teachers who misgendered students and quickly erupted into a threatening bill for trans youth. It is being called the “worst anti-trans bill” because of its appalling contents. It is directed at schools and allows teachers to misgender students by using incorrect pronouns and includes a ban on gender-affirming medical care for trans youth. Schools will not be allowed to discuss sexual orientation or gender identity at any age, and sexually transmitted diseases and sexuality will not be discussed until sixth grade, where students are required to get parental consent. Districts will also not allow trans kids to use the bathroom of their own gender identities (“at a minimum”).

In response, Mylo Fisherman, a senior in the Scholar Teacher Education Program (STEP) said, “As varieties of the `don’t say gay’ bill that originated in Florida emerged across the nation and became increasingly worse in others, I became scared and frustrated. I’m scared that my dream job feels no longer viable as I would just be labeled as a ‘groomer’ who wants to ‘indoctrinate’ children and I’m frustrated that as I sit through my STEP classes I feel like I am the only one with this heavy thought on my mind that my job is not secured solely based on my gender and sexuality.”

Students at Adelphi’s Pride march on May 5, 2022. New anti-trans bills put focus on the need for more public events. Photo by Mena Sposito

Fisherman added, “I can’t imagine a future classroom where I would have to deadname my students or out them to their parents before they are ready and safe to do so. Furthermore, I can’t imagine going into a field where this would be a commonplace practice. We already teach about gender and sexuality in elementary school. It is only seen as a ‘problem’ when the gender and sexuality is something other than cisgender and heterosexual.”

The Kentucky bill also forces doctors to create a timeline to cut off treatment for children currently receiving hormone therapy or puberty blockers and prohibits transgender youth from getting access to the medical care they require. The “goal” of this is to stop the transition from occurring or ever happening.

“As someone who has not yet started hormone replacement therapy, these bills have pushed me to rush my decision into starting hormones because who knows if I will have access to this treatment in a year, a month or even a week from now?” said Fisherman.

Supporting Adelphi students through these challenging and painful developments is a focus for Sposito and SBB, a club founded in September 2022 as a safe space for all members of the trans, nonbinary and gender-nonconforming communities and their allies.

“Doing what I can to help other trans people helps me deal with all the negativity that comes from these bills,” Sposito said. “Whether it’s through mutual aid, making phone calls for resources, or just spending time with the students of SBB, connecting with my community has brought me the most joy.”

To that end, since March 31 is International Transgender Day of Visibility, SBB and the Center for Student and Community Engagement (SCE) will be co-hosting an event titled Trans Day of Visibility: Crafts, Culture, and Community from 4-6 pm in the University Center rooms 113/114/115. All community members are encouraged to attend, regardless of their identity. Members of the Adelphi community who identify as Trans and Gender Non-Conforming (TGNC) will be acting as a human library to share their unique experiences in conversations while attendees enjoy making custom pins and keychains.

Sposito said it's more important than ever for trans folks at Adelphi to have access to community and equally important that cisgender folks show up and learn how to be allies on campus and in their everyday lives.

“I am fortunate to live in New York State and have access to gender-affirming care but many trans lawyers and activists have warned federal bans on HRT could be next,” Sposito said. “For trans people who aren’t governed by these bills, we still have to deal with the emotional toll of being told we are not worthy of protections or autonomy. The constant news of politicians and media calling for our `eradication’ from society is draining. The lie that all trans people are `groomers’ or perverse fails to see us as whole human beings and instead sexualizes our existence, even though being trans is not about sexuality but about gender identity and expression. I have friends who are fleeing their home states and others who are making plans to leave the country.”

But students are pushing back to make sure these laws aren’t passed in New York and other states. Andersen said, “Voting. Protesting. Trans people are a small percentage of the population, but we speak. We need people to hear us and to carry our voices. Socially, make transphobia unacceptable in your day to day. Listen to people, engage in local politics and activism. Our strength is in community.”

Sposito added, “Talk to the people in your life that vote for politicians who support anti-trans bills and educate them on how these bills harm trans people. Direct them to trans people telling trans stories, like journalist Imara Jones, whose investigative podcast, `The Anti-trans Hate Machine’ has tracked the organizations funding these bills. Debunk the lies and narratives being pushed by these bills. Vote, especially in local elections. Even if you live in an accepting town/state, contact all your representatives and tell them to do everything in their power to support trans people.”

To continue the conversation on these bills, join the SCE on April 20 from 3-4 pm in the Multicultural Center (UC 301) for an LGBTQIA+ Legislation Listening Session. It will serve as a safe space for individuals to share their concerns and worries about the plethora of anti-LGBTQIA+ bills that have been spreading across the nation.

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