Activists say wave of anti-LGBTQ bills makes Black trans community especially vulnerable

“Our opponents may claim to not know intersectionality, but they sure do know how to attack our issues and communities intersectionally,” LGBTQ activist Preston Mitchum told theGrio.

Activists took to the streets last week in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the visibility of transgender and non-binary Americans and protest a bevy of proposed bills and laws they say seek to erase their existence and cause them further harm.

What’s more, advocates say, Black and brown trans and non-binary people are most vulnerable to societal harm.

Queer Youth Assemble, supported by Human Rights Campaign, organized Friday’s march to the United States Capitol to express opposition to the more than 430 bills introduced in state legislatures around the country that would restrict or ban aspects of LGBTQ+ lives, particularly for trans people.

Kelley Robinson, Human Rights Campaign President, speaks at a rally in Washington, D.C., organized by the Queer Youth Assembly in honor of Transgender Day of Visibility and joined by more than 1,000 people on Friday, Mar. 31, 2023 in Washington. (Joy Asico/AP Images for Human Rights Campaign)

Kelley Robinson, HRC’s first female Black queer president, spoke to theGrio at Friday’s rally commemorating International Transgender Day of Visibility. The veteran political and community organizer said the wave of anti-LGBTQ bills is meant to “instill fear [and] to get us back into the shadows.”

One of the more recent bills to advance on the state level is in Kentucky, where the supermajority Republican-controlled legislature voted to override Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of a bill that activists call one of the most extreme anti-trans bills in the nation. 

The legislation bans gender-affirming health care for trans youth and the use of pronouns in schools, among other restrictions related to gender identity and sexuality. A similar bill was signed into law by the governor in West Virginia on Wednesday.

Outraged by what they see as an onslaught of dehumanizing bills that could lead to an uptick in suicides among LGBTQ youth, and transphobic and homophobic violence more generally, hundreds of protesters marched to the Capitol Friday demanding that lawmakers cease targeting already vulnerable communities.

“This is a crisis point — I think that’s what’s inspiring people to come out,” Robinson said.

LGBTQ+ activist Preston Mitchum told theGrio the combination of proposed anti-LGBTQ legislation and other measures that also seek to ban discussions related to race in schools — like Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ political crusade against all things considered “woke” — are especially harmful to Black trans women and non-binary people.

Florida governor Ron DeSantis
Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a campaign rally at the Cheyenne Saloon on November 7, 2022 in Orlando, Florida. DeSantis faces former Democratic Gov. Charlie Crist in tomorrow’s general election. (Photo by Octavio Jones/Getty Images)

“Our opponents may claim to not know intersectionality, but they sure do know how to attack our issues and communities intersectionally,” said Mitchum, who runs PDM Consulting, which focuses on Black LGBTQ intersectionality. 

“When you think about the attacks that are happening to Black folks, and then pair that to attacks also happening to trans folks, the nucleus of that are Black trans folks.”

He added: “There’s certainly a legislative attack and sometimes, unfortunately, a physical and emotional attack happening to people at the intersection of race, socioeconomic status, sexual orientation, of course, gender identity.”

Transgender activist Hope Giselle shared with theGrio that for Black trans women like her, the rise of anti-LGBTQ bills is personal — particularly as it relates to the harm the bills create within the Black community.

“These laws… aren’t necessarily being explained to the Black community, and so all the Black community is hearing is that our Bible was right, and we got to do something about you all,” Giselle said. 

She explained, “Doing something about that goes anywhere from causing physical harm to us, to trying to get us out of spaces where we can provide for ourselves.”

When asked about protesters taking to the streets over the LGBTQ-related bills during Thursday’s press briefing, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre, who is the first openly queer person to hold her position, said the Biden-Harris administration stands with the community and their right to “peaceful protest.”

White House Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre talks to reporters during the daily news conference in the Brady Press Briefing Room at the White House on March 30, 2023 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

“We think it’s important for Americans and people just across the country to make their voices heard,” Jean-Pierre told theGrio. The presidential spokesperson called the wave of anti-LGBTQ bills “shameful” and “unacceptable.”

Addressing Republican lawmakers directly, she declared, “They don’t want to talk about lowering costs. They don’t want to talk about actually making Americans’ lives better. They want to take away people’s freedoms.”

Jean-Pierre added, “Our hearts go out to the trans community as they are under attack right now.”

To mark Trans Day of Visibility on Friday, President Joe Biden issued a statement, calling out “MAGA extremists” for “advancing hundreds of hateful and extreme state laws that target transgender kids and their families.”

Biden decried that the anti-LGBTQ laws have “exacerbated our national mental health crisis” and said his administration is providing emergency mental health resources through the suicide prevention and crisis hotline “988.”

The Biden-Harris administration also convened a White House roundtable with transgender youth and their families to learn more about the “devastating effects these political attacks are having on their mental health and wellbeing.”

Robinson of the Human Rights Campaign commended the White House for “using their bully pulpit to take a strong stance.” She said, at this moment, “we need them to do even more.”

She added, “Our opposition isn’t going to stop until we stop them. That’s got to be led by our leaders.”

Mitchum said that while he commends the Biden administration’s actions to combat state bills banning aspects of LGBTQ living, particularly as it relates to young people — like an executive order signed last year during Pride Month — it’s just going to “take a long period of time” to see true results from guidances issued by the president. 

U.S. President Joe Biden signs an executive order on advancing equality for LGBTQI+ individuals as Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg (2nd L), Vice President Kamala Harris (3rd L), first lady Jill Biden (3rd R) and Javier Gomez (2nd R) of Florida and other LGBTQI advocates look on during a pride event at the East Room of the White House June 15, 2022 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

“Unfortunately, people are dying while we follow this very bureaucratic red-taped process, and that’s the part that’s particularly frustrating for many people,” he said.

Lawmakers in Congress are also making efforts to protect the rights of transgender Americans.

U.S. Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington and other Democrats re-introduced a resolution called the “Transgender Bill of Rights” that would outline a policy framework for establishing protections for public services and accommodations like employment, housing, health care, and other specified areas. 

Mitchum said such messaging bills are helping trans people “see that there are some people fighting for them.” However, he said, “the cynical side of me also says the reality is we’re not in a congressional space where that bill can move in any real way.”

Despite Republican lawmakers aiming to prohibit LGBTQ and specific trans-related issues, polling shows that a majority of Americans actually oppose such bans. 

“Legislators really don’t care because all they’re worried about really is seeking reelection and not listening to the voices of people,” said Mitchum.

Giselle, who attended Friday’s rally, said she believes conservative politicians are up to “something more sinister.”

LONDON, ENGLAND – JULY 09: Yasmin Finney, actress from Netflix show Heartstopper, poses in front of a banner ahead of the London Trans Pride protest on July 9, 2022 in London, England. Trans rights activists took to the streets of central London this weekend to march for the fourth year under the slogan, Pride is a Protest at Trans+ Pride. (Photo by Hollie Adams/Getty Images)

“There’s something in the works that is going to affect everyone involved in this conversation — and that includes the Black and brown community,” she warned.

The transgender advocate said that while the visibility of trans people has opened new doors of empowerment for the community, “our visibility has, in some ways, become our own noose.” 

“We’re seeing an influx of people who are saying now we’re too visible and that visibility has become a problem for their children, that visibility has become a problem for their rights,” she said. “In some regard, our normalization is also spearheading our eradication.”

Still, she said, “The idea that queer and trans people can bail out and hope for the best is not a thing that we have the luxury and the liberty of doing.”

Robinson of HRC encouraged the LGBTQ+ community, particularly trans youth, to keep fighting for their rights and assured them that leaders and organizations like hers would continue to fight for them.

“Know that there are more of us than there are of them,” she said, referring to Republican lawmakers. “We are not going to stop until you get the justice that you deserve.”

Gerren Keith Gaynor

Gerren Keith Gaynor is the Managing Editor of Politics and White House Correspondent at theGrio. He is based in Washington, D.C.

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