Welcome back to OptOut’s LGBTQ+ Newsletter. And Happy New Year!
As I said in my last newsletter, 2023 was a rough year for the LGBTQ+ community. Over 500 anti-LGBTQ+ were introduced, most of which targeted trans folks. The continued politicization of LGBTQ+ identities means that part of our lives are not ours. Instead, we are spread thin, advocating for the safety, validity, and livelihood of marginalized communities amidst engaging in climate activism on a dying planet. We work, many of us in states that do not guarantee protections that would safeguard us from being fired due to our gender or sexuality. We love, raise children, cook meals, sleep, and pay our taxes in states that are passing laws to eradicate our very existence. So to no one’s surprise, I can’t start our first newsletter of 2024 on a positive note–not when private interests and the ultra-conservative powers that be are still working in full force in a critical election year.
Our efforts require continued, fact-facing diligence. We owe it to ourselves, our youth, our allies, and to a loud minority who, though seemingly averse to it, also benefits from a more just and diverse world.
With that, let’s get to it.
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We’re taking a closer look at Ohio this week for a few reasons. First, it’s positioned to become one of the most restrictive states in the country in terms of gender-affirming care. Second, Ohio is a notorious swing and bellwether state. Since 1900, only three presidents have won the election without winning Ohio. Joe Biden is one of them. A swing state that helps predict electoral outcomes is not one to be looked over, especially not when that state has been pushing forward anti-trans legislation and it's a presidential election year.
So with fact-focused diligence in mind, we’re zooming in on the Midwest.
The worst news, of course, is that the Ohio state legislature is poised to overturn Gov. Mike DeWine's veto of a bill, HB 86, banning gender-affirming care for minors. But DeWine should not come off as a hero.
Despite his veto, he has been deploying an all-too-familiar playbook when it comes to gender-affirming care. While all out bans aren’t popular with the majority of voters, restrictions can be more easily sold based on false justifications of concern or precaution. And that's exactly what DeWine has sought to do, issuing an executive order banning gender-affirming surgery for minors (which are not performed in the state of Ohio anyway, per The Buckeye Flame) and proposing new restrictions on gender-affirming care. DeWine's new move aimed to restrict such care for both minors and adults 21 and under. (The New Republic) According to Chase Strangio, the deputy director of transgender justice for the ACLU, “These proposed rules could turn Ohio into one of the most restrictive states in the country in terms of accessing transgender care for adults.” (Ohio Capital Journal)
We've seen this before. It's the exact strategy used by opponents of abortion rights. Policies like the 6-week abortion bans in Georgia and South Carolina are meant to appear more lenient than all out bans, even though they effectively prohibit medical care by making it virtually impossible to access. (Francesca Fiorentini from The Bitchuation Room discusses the connection between these bans/restrictions with trans activities River Butcher, who grew up in Ohio).
What’s more, the proposed restrictions would provide options for a surveillance state, one where every gender-related diagnosis is tracked and reported to “the Ohio State Department of Health within 30 business days.” (The New Republic) The release of trans medical records is unfortunately happening on and off “the books,” and was recently seen in Texas with Eithan Haim, “a former resident at Texas Children’s Hospital” who “is under federal investigation...for releasing the private medical records of transgender youth to a conservative think tank.” (Assigned Media)
To justify these unnecessary bans and restrictions on gender-affirming care, proponents cite those who detransition and/or those who regret seeking and receiving care as reasons for legislative action–even when they are repeatedly presented with the fact that regret is extremely rare. (Assigned Media) The use of fake concern and junk science is worsening health and safety risks for trans youth, a community that is among the highest risk for suicide. (Ohio Capital Journal)
Of course, DeWine knows the stakes. At a press conference earlier this month, the governor acknowledged that “Parents looked me in the eye and they said, ‘My child would be dead if they had not received this care.” (The Buckeye Flame)
As if the situation in Ohio weren't bad enough, there's more. A 1995 Ohio law, which requires a disclosure of past names for candidates who have undergone name changes in the last five years, has been used to disqualify Democrat Ohio House District 50 hopeful Vanessa Joy because she did not disclose her dead name “on petitions for her election.” At first glance, this might not seem as vicious an attack on trans political candidates in the state given the age of the law. However, Alyssa Steinsiek from Assigned Media couldn’t “find any evidence that an Ohioan political candidate has had to disclose a marital name change on their ballot petition.” What’s more, this rule is so little-known, that Joy wasn’t even aware of it until she was disqualified. She told Ohio Capital Journal: “Something that is that important should have been on the instructions…It should have been on the petition.” As such, it appears that Joy’s disqualification is targeted.
Ohio also has a new bathroom bill on the table. OhioHB 183 “would require K-12 schools and colleges to mandate students could only use the bathroom or locker room that matches their sex assigned at birth. It would also prohibit schools from allowing students to share overnight accommodations with the opposite sex.” Who asked for this?
One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Beth Lear, compared gender-dysphoria to thinking you’re an animal. She stated: “If I had a child who thought he was a bird, am I going to take them to a doctor who tells me the best thing to do is to let him explore being a bird and oh by the way, there’s a five-story building next door, why don’t you jump off and see if you can fly…There are ridiculous things that we are doing and allowing.” (Ohio Capital Journal)
🏳️🌈 Some good ol’ Gen Z activism: Also from Assigned Media, EIC Evan Urquhart sat down with Cam Ogden, founder of Trans Allies of Ohio, who is on the ground in the state fighting bills like HB 86. (Note: this interview is from Jan 3rd, so it comes before the announcement of more widespread restrictions).
🏳️🌈 For our Ohioan readers and allies, here’s a comprehensive list of Ohio lawmakers’ voting records on LGBTQ+-related bills. (The Buckeye Flame)
LGBTQ+ Ohioans are understandably devastated over these recent events. I was able to connect with Briden Schueren, a queer trans artist, activist, and business owner living in Columbus, Ohio, about his perspective on these legislative developments.
*This interview has been edited and condensed.
🏳️🌈 OptOut: Tell me a bit more about yourself.
🏳️🌈 Schueren: My name is Briden Schueren. I go by he/they pronouns. I’ve lived in Columbus, Ohio, for the better part of my life, but I’m originally from Erie, Pennsylvania. I run a gallery/studio and am a fine artist myself. I’m a partner in an embroidery company, Mr. Seams. I work at a costume place building mascots. I also started Columbus Trans Pride, an organization for the trans/nonbinary community, where we put on a march in celebration of the trans/nonbinary community, to create awareness about the trans/nonbinary community. We also partner with TransOhio and T Talks to put together Trans Day of Remembrance and other trans-focused events.
🏳️🌈 OptOut: So you’re not busy at all.
🏳️🌈 Schueren: [laughs] Yeah. I try to do a lot of community activism. I just love the community and I don't know how to stop sometimes, but because I feel like the queer community has struggled–especially our generation. We struggled to have community, so what’s constantly on my mind is to create those spaces for the newer generations, so they have a community ready to welcome them.
🏳️🌈 OptOut: Being on the ground with the LGBTQ+ community, do you feel that the actions of lawmakers represent the majority view in Ohio?
🏳️🌈 Schueren: I feel like they have their own agenda, and they don't care to listen to anybody that is actually crying and screaming out, “Please listen.” Sometimes it feels like we're screaming into the void. It's like a political scheme trying to distract us from what they're really trying to do. But then, they're getting away with potentially passing these bills that are causing true harm. I tell people it feels like we’re going back to when I first started to transition in 2007.
🏳️🌈 OptOut: Bring us back there. What has your experience as a trans person been like in the Ohio healthcare system?
🏳️🌈 Schueren: Doctors didn't really know what to do for trans people, how to help them, or even how to get testosterone. I was also seeing a therapist that was trying to do conversion therapy on me. All of that led me to find testosterone off the black market, which is very dangerous. I didn't know what I was doing. I was being told how much to inject myself with by some random person. And I actually sustained an injury injecting myself, which caused my leg to fully go numb for a week. I couldn’t walk. It was very scary. Now, I can see a caring physician with a knowledgeable team, but that’s not the case at every facility. You have to search. It can’t be understated how dangerous these laws are. They're not completely taking away the ability to have people transition and get the hormones they need. They're taking away the safety of it. Because people are still going to transition if they like it or not.
🏳️🌈 OptOut: Within that lack of safety, what do you fear most about these widespread restrictions on gender-affirming care?
🏳️🌈 Schueren: I fear that as we restrict people being able to have access to what they need suicide rates will go up. It's baffling. A very close friend of mine passed away, less than a year ago, due to suicide. In that, there was a stem of not being accepted wholeheartedly by her parents, at least at first. There’s also the fact that the mental health system is fucked up. It creates this shame in people who are then going to feel less of a desire or ability to continue on.
It's so scary, especially for people who are younger and more vulnerable and don't have anywhere to go or anyone to talk to. The first therapist that I went to said, “Well, you're not trans. You're not transitioning. We're going to try to take that away and bring you back to being a lesbian and then back to being straight.” That's who was pushing information down my throat and telling me who I needed to be. If I wasn't as hard-headed and stubborn as I am, I would have probably listened and gone through with trying to “be saved by God.” To be honest with you, if I had to go through that, I don't think I would be here today.
I see other people who are vulnerable, who don't have anywhere to go, who are being told by professionals that their existence isn't worthy. This wears on a person. Over time, they have no faith, which leads to an endless cycle of depression that then carries on to their adulthood.
All we want is just to be happy and live in peace, and they’re taking that away.
🏳️🌈 OptOut: What’s your response to anyone urging you to move to a more liberal state?
🏳️🌈 Schueren: I have my community and family here. I’ve also started multiple businesses and nonprofits in Ohio, so to just get up and start over is not easy to do. It’s also very expensive. You’re talking a demographic that doesn't make a lot of money to begin with because of lack of work-place acceptance, generational wealth, etcetera. So to just uproot your entire life to move to a different state sounds so daunting and so scary and so expensive. Beyond that–there’s a part of me that just wants to run away so badly, but knowing that there's other people here in the fire would just make me feel sad.
🏳️🌈 OptOut: Well after all that, it’s time to dig deep. What gives you hope?
🏳️🌈 Schueren: What gives me hope is that the younger generation is more on it when it comes to standing up and speaking out for themselves and for others. They’re making sure that people are listening, that things are changing. Being 35 and a little jaded, or even considering my older comrades who are even more jaded, seeing the younger, vibrant generations gives me hope. They’re going to fight for their siblings.
More of the Latest
🏳️🌈 Oklahoma wants to out trans students in schools, preventing students who might rely on “passing” for safety to be at risk for physical and emotional violence. (Assigned Media)
🏳️🌈 A similar move is being advocated for in Kansas, where GOP lawmakers are arguing that driver’s license gender markers must match the driver’s assigned sex at birth. (Kansas Reflector)
🏳️🌈 A West Virginia bill could effectively ban transgender people from schools by classifying them as “obscene matter,” preventing them from coming “within 2,500 feet of a school.” (The New Republic)
🏳️🌈 A Florida school district banned five dictionaries from their libraries because they might be in violation of HB 1069, which prohibits books containing sexual content. Such a move seems to make clear the glaring importance of education. (The New Republic)
🏳️🌈 Alabama’s ban on gender-affirming care for those under 18 will go into effect. (Alabama Reflector)
🏳️🌈 With Trump having won the Iowa Caucus, the continued onslaught of anti-LGBTQ+ bills, the fervent politicization of queer and trans identities, and the steady violence against LGBTQ+ folks, we must be diligent and aware of the upcoming election and the plans of the far-right. (The Humanist Report, The New Republic)
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🏳️🌈 From Prism: “In the feature-length documentary 'Can’t Stop Change,' queer climate stories from Florida’s front lines take center stage, and water and queerness are kin, similar in their shapeshifting instance on eternality, rejection of possession, and openness to being experienced. Queerness and the environment can’t be held down, but in Florida, queer people and the more-than-human queer world are under attack."
🏳️🌈 From In These Times: “Queer Louisianans Are Fighting Book Bans—And Winning.”
🏳️🌈 From The Buckeye Flame: “A hairstylist in the small Ohio city of Chillicothe is working on building a more inclusive environment for the transgender community by offering gender-affirming products.”
Thank you for being here, and thank you for your diligent, informed, and independent news consumption. Remember to hold each other. I’ll see you in two weeks.
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