From children’s books to TV shows and movies, media geared towards young people is more LGBTQ-inclusive than ever. Broadway and TV star Billy Porter recently guested on an episode of Sesame Street (an air-date has not yet been announced) donning the fabulous black dress that blasted away boundaries at last year’s Academy Awards ceremony. Netflix just released a new show, Chip & Potato, geared towards toddlers that features a two-dad family in the neighborhood and gender-neutral bathrooms. Drag queen story hours are sashaying into public libraries across the U.S. If these trends continue, tomorrow’s LGBTQ young person may not have to strain quite so hard to see their potential, future selves reflected in pop culture.
Don’t pop the bubbly just yet, though. If you think we have arrived, you are sorely mistaken. As it happens, the proliferation of inclusive media is unintentionally masking a highly coordinated, well-resourced political movement that is targeting the most vulnerable among us: our children.
To wit: While the world has been justly focused on the coronavirus pandemic, Idaho lawmakers decided to target an imaginary threat, trans girls. The state legislature voted last week, 24-11, to pass a bill that would ban trans girls from playing sports with their female peers.
And Idaho is not an anomaly.
In recent months, kids have become the new focus of the right’s relentless efforts to erase LGBTQ people from the map. Take the case of Luna, the trans girl living in Texas who has been a pawn in a custody case playing out on the national stage to determine whether her father can deny her healthcare related to her medical transition. Or Kimberly, who was expelled from her Christian school because she was perceived to be queer. They are just two of the many young people who face disproportionate discrimination and dangerous mental health outcomes because of who they are.
The most pernicious activity is happening at the state level: More than a dozen state legislatures proposed bills—one in South Dakota recently passed in the house before thankfully dying in committee—that would prevent transgender kids from receiving what study after study has confirmed is safe, medically necessary transition-related healthcare (which consists almost exclusively of entirely reversible hormone blockers to stop the onset of puberty). A dystopic bill in Missouri would imprison librarians for hosting drag queen story hour or making LGBTQ-themed content available in the children’s section at the library. To add insult to injury, the Trump Administration’s rule that allows adoption and foster agencies to turn same-sex parents away does more to hurt our children than adults, assuring that LGBTQ kids who are already vulnerable without a stable home and family are less likely to end up in affirming and supportive care. The Supreme Court recently announced it will weigh in on the issue, and the current configuration doesn’t bode well for foster kids or our families.
The battleground continues in our nation’s schools as well, with religious schools firing not only out teachers, but also straight teachers who support LGBTQ colleagues and students. Parents are suing schools for allowing kids to express their gender identities, and South Carolina is trying to erase and ban all L.G.B.T.Q-themed curriculum.
These attacks on LGBTQ children are not happenstance. They are coordinated, strategic moves fomented by right-wing organizations and media. They are hurting our children, including those who aren’t LGBTQ, by sending the message that bodies that don’t fit the binary gender mold are not valued and that no one is safe from attack, even if they’re too young to read.
The right has also slapped back at the heightened representation in children’s programming. A split second clip of two moms dropping their kid off at school in “Toy Story 4” amid a sea of non-LGBTQ parents with their kids set off a maelstrom by the hyperbolic advocacy group One Million Moms. Elected officials have threatened to pull funding for Sesame Street if it airs the episode featuring Porter.
We’re living in the best and worst of queer times: a whiplash-inducing explosion of LGBTQ-inclusive cultural touchpoints, sharply juxtaposed by an assault from right-wing zealots who have found a new target in their ongoing war. The decades-long fight against LGBTQ people is nothing new. It is the battleground that has shifted, to target not just LGBTQ adults, but our community’s youngest members as well.
Children are often the innocent casualties for much of what ails society—our selfish funding priorities that strip public education; our greedy energy and development policies that pillage the land they will inherit; our ignorant finger-pointing that compounds the suffering for those who are different. This time, though, there is no mistaking that the barrel is bearing down directly on LGBTQ children. They are our most unprotected among us, which may be precisely why the right is taking aim at them, like a vulture picking off the weakest in the pack.