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Chester County Press

Editorial: Tearing away our boundaries

05/02/2023 11:57AM ● By Richard Gaw

Last week, students from several Philadelphia high schools staged a walkout in protest of anti-transgender legislation in the hallowed halls of their state government and throughout their country.

The timing of their march was both profound and perfectly timed; they were a well-organized and unarmed militia that codified its voice in response to the vehement and unrelenting directive by Conservatives and Republican lawmakers to strike down the rights of transgendered citizens – both in Pennsylvania and throughout the country – in the form of overtly anti-trans legislation, with particular attention toward transgender youth.

The battle is on: Through March 7, at least 385 bills targeting LGBTQ rights have been introduced around the country, a figure that already surpasses the 306 that were introduced in all of 2022. This year, at least 12 states have passed legislation to limit or ban gender-affirming health care for young people, adding to several other states that have already done so.

In the name of preserving Culture and in the name of preserving Traditional Values, statehouses and the presidential campaign trail have become performance venues where the rhetoric of exclusion and mockery have become flashpoints to the satisfaction of their base, who wish to eliminate the rights of people who do not look like them or do not live in accordance with their belief system or abide by the scripted tenets of their religion.

During a New Hampshire town hall meeting last week, Nikki Haley, a former U.S. ambassador to the United Nations and a candidate for the U.S. Presidency in 2024, poked fun at Dylan Mulvaney, a transgender woman, referring to Mulvaney as “a guy dressing up like a girl making fun of women.”

During his presidential campaign to regain the office he lost in 2020, former President Donald Trump referred to gender-affirming surgery for minors as “child sexual mutilation,” and told those at his campaign rally that he would seek to make such surgeries illegal if he wins election in 2024.

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Most prominent at this Mount Rushmore clown show of insults and allegations has been Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, projected to be a presidential candidate and now America’s self-appointed Minister of Culture. With his ruthless attack on Disney for its support of instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity in schools serving as his show topper, DeSantis has also issued a series of legislation that aims at depriving transgendered people of fundamental medical rights.

Meanwhile, awaiting DeSantis’ signature is a bill backed by a GOP-controlled Florida state legislature that would prohibit teachers from using their preferred pronouns in front of students, and ban schools from requiring that students be called by a sex that differs from what is on their birth certificates. The ramifications of this ugliness have become so dire that Equality Florida, a leading state LGBTQ civil rights group, recently issued a travel advisory to transgendered people, warning of “the risks posed to the health, safety, and freedom of those considering short or long term travel, or relocation to the state.”

Not one to feel left out of the laughs, DeSantis has also joined his Republican colleagues on the comedy circuit, most recently referring to University of Pennsylvania transgender swimmer Lia Thomas as a “that.”

Had enough? In referring to transgendered people, DeSantis’ Republican colleague Rep. Webster Barnaby said, “We have people that live among us today on planet Earth that are happy to display themselves as if they were mutants from another planet.”

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In much the way that a virus spreads, this same ugly manifestation of moral bankruptcy has also begun to reek in Pennsylvania, where two anti-transgender bills have recently been introduced by Republican lawmakers in Harrisburg – HB 216 and HB 319 – that propose a ban on transgender girls and women from participating on girls’ and women’s sports teams at public schools and colleges, and restrict public school education concerning sexual orientation and gender identity.

Perhaps the most important act that attempts to protect the transgendered population in Pennsylvania was accomplished by those high school students in Philadelphia last week, many of whom have not even reached voting age. They called on Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro to declare the commonwealth a “refuge” state for transgender people, like California has. While no other state in the U.S. has given its transgender population “sanctuary status,” Colorado, Illinois, Maryland, New Mexico and Minnesota have all passed bills designed to shield transgender health care through legal protections, health care coverage and access.

Adopting such a measure in Pennsylvania would go a long way to protect transgendered people in the commonwealth, and prevent HB 216 and HB 319 from ever be enacted. Yet, better ensuring the equality of our brothers and sisters will form only a fraction of our responsibility. The remainder of the job is the hardest one; to reimagine our nation’s future not through the cloudy visage of “Traditional Values” and invented “Culture.” Both are at their core, exclusionary. Rather, we must embody the same message that those students from Philadelphia expressed so eloquently last week: That no society grows stronger from the drawing of boundaries that separate us.