Imagine being an elementary school student from middle Georgia on your very first field trip up to the big city and the Gold Dome. You walk up the grand steps of the State Capitol into the mêlée of the legislators, lobbyists, staffers, and other spectators as you follow your teacher into the gallery of the Senate. You're awed by the grandeur of the room and the pomp and circumstance of the proceedings, and thrilled because you're about to watch a senator - maybe even your own - take their place in the well and introduce a bill that could become a new state law. It's everything you learned about in school! And as the senator begins to speak, your heart drops.
You slink down into your chair and cautiously look at your friends. Do they know the man with the microphone is speaking about people like you? Why is everyone clapping in agreement? Does everyone in the room hate you? Why are all of the politicians on the floor speaking about you as though you're some kind of threat to society?
Over the past few days in Georgia, thoughts like these have plagued the hundreds of thousands of LGBTQ people in Georgia. I've heard numerous stories of bouts with depression from students, parents, political professionals, and even journalists this week alone because the leaders of our state consider us to be a devious and deceptive population hell-bent on ruining society for everyone else. It's maddening, to say the least. With 8 different bills proposed in Georgia and over 160 bills proposed nationwide to enable discrimination against LGBTQ people (and in some cases, unwed mothers, people who are sexually active outside of marriage, and more) it's nearly impossible to avoid the hateful rhetoric.
My heart breaks with the pain of those without shelter from this verbal assault. I tremble in fear for how this will impact Georgia's vulnerable LGBTQ children and families. Too many in Georgia do not have access to LGBTQ safe spaces at home, schools, or even in religious institutions. For so many, Atlanta can be a safe-haven - but for our elementary school student? It's just another place on the list where she's no longer welcome. Children - everyone, really - internalize the messages we're sent on TV, in the news, and in our communities. How much more so the messages from our state leaders?
The effects of the debate go far beyond rhetoric. Just having the debate has real emotional consequences.
The 2014 Williams Institute report on suicide showed that 41% of all transgender people and 20% of all lesbian, gay, and bisexual people attempt suicide due to lack of societal acceptance. Those numbers are astounding - and reversible. But we won't make progress as long as our legislature keeps debating the best way keep LGBTQ people out of our state. And we won't make headway as long as our legislators have no understanding of what it means to be LGBT or Queer.
One of SOJOURN's friends and supporters is a genderqueer/trans masculine freelance reporter at the Capitol. They sent us this:
People down here clearly read me as queer, even if they don't fully know what that means.
A conservative lobbyist once put his hand on my shoulder and said something like: "You look like one of those LGBT people," after explaining to me that he had friends who subscribed to the gay lifestyle, but they were still friends. When I asked him why he thought I was an LGBT person, he stumbled, lost his smooth talking lobbyist voice for a moment, before saying "I've seen you talking to some of them."
I've been approached after press conferences, singled out with a heartfelt plea that the Baptists, "come from a place of love," even as they carry pamphlets with explicitly queerphobic content.
You know I am queer and yet don't know what that means. A Senator, a key player in this religious freedom debacle, said to me after one press conference, "are you talking about that gender identity stuff? I don't know anything about that."
No, you don't. You don't know what it's like to have your identity, as a genderqueer person - as a trans person - belittled, disregarded, and disrespected again and again by powerful people; to listen to trumped up concerns about "religious freedom," while another trans woman is brutally attacked, this time in my own backyard.
To be misgendered all. day. long. To sweat in a binder that's too tight because you can't afford the top surgery you want to make you body conform to own identity, your own internal image of yourself.
You have no idea who I am or what my life is. You have no idea how I cry, and pray - yes I, too, pray everyday - as I navigate the blatant disrespect and disregard for my queerness under the Gold Dome.
Rhetoric and words matter. The climate our legislators create matters. Every day we internalize the messages we're sent and it takes its toll on us - on all of us. This can't be how it's done anymore. Our lives depend on it.
To speak up against these discriminatory bills, contact your Representatives and the Governor here.
The Trevor Project provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth. They can be reached by phone 24 hours a day at 866-488-7386 or online here.