Last week, the Supreme Court heard arguments in three cases that will each have a significant impact on LGBTQIA+ rights in the United States. Two involve men who were fired because they’re gay. The third involves a woman who was fired for being transgender. The court will determine whether Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex, applies to queer, trans and gender-nonconforming people.
Despite the fact that marriage equality was enacted into federal law in 2015, basic human rights are still far from guaranteed for LGBTQIA+ people in the workplace, in public spaces and in schools. There is currently no federal protection for trans and gender-nonconforming individuals and less than half of all states have any specific LGBTQIA+ anti-discrimination laws on the books. According to the Human Rights Campaign, laws in some states still restrict the inclusion of LGBTQ topics in schools and some even actively prevent school districts from protecting LGBTQ students. To date, only 17 states have banned conversion therapy.
According to a recent KUOW article, regardless of what the Supreme Court decides on these cases, Washington workers are protected. But while that is reassuring for residents of our state, it does not protect Washington LGBTQIA+ people, including kids, from federal rulings. This court decision could drastically affect the immediate economic and physical safety of LGBTQIA+ people in states without legislative protections in place. Instances of hate crimes have been shown to increase in an environment of incendiary political rhetoric, and homophobic and transphobic behavior is likely to increase if the court rules against the rights of the plaintiffs. This would put queer people everywhere at risk.
Regardless of the outcome of these Supreme Court cases, the fact that the country is debating trans and queer people’s basic humanity is still harmful even to those of us who live in somewhat safer places like Seattle. It’s damaging to all kids to see queer and trans people’s right to work, to go to the bathroom, to live their lives, held up for debate in our nation's highest court. It’s especially damaging to queer and trans kids.
It’s no secret that students who identify as LGBTQ are at higher risk of suicide, and a 2015 survey conducted by the National Center for Transgender Equality estimated a rate of suicide among transgender people to be nine times higher than that of the general population. That is a scary statistic: Suicide in trans and queer people is directly linked to the hatred, implied or explicit, that they face when their humanity and protections under the law are questioned by society.
So, what can we do to protect our queer and trans kids?
- Talk about current events. Kids are hearing about this; let them know that they’re loved and actively affirm the humanity of LGBTQIA+ people.
- Be an ally by seeking out or creating a community that includes a diverse array of people.
- Find or be a role model for cis/straight and LGBTQIA+ kids alike.
- Diversify your library. There are age-appropriate books and even TV shows that feature LGBTQIA+ protagonists. Seek out stories that normalize these identities, rather than use them as a heavy-handed moral lesson or sob story. A good place to start with kids’ books is Social Justice Books.
- Talk to administrators and teachers at your kids’ school. LGBTQIA+ history is virtually nonexistent or outright banned from public education in many places in the country, which means many trans and queer kids are left isolated and vulnerable. Speak up and demand more inclusive curricula.
If kids know that their caretakers esteem people of all gender and sexual identities, they will know that whatever identity labels they themselves use or grow into, they will still be loved — if not by federal law (yet), then at least by their family and community.