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ESCHLEMAN: We must fight back against anti-LGBTQ+ legislation

Column: Shower Thoughts

The fight for LGBTQ+ equality is never over — we must continue resisting harmful legislation. – Photo by Christian Lue / Unsplash

Recently, there has been an onslaught of anti-LGBTQ+ proposed legislation within state legislatures. Most recently, Gov. Greg Abbott (R-Texas) ordered licensed professionals who work with minors in both the medical and educational fields as well as the general public to report any cases of parents providing their children with gender-affirming medical care.

This can include hormone therapy, puberty blockers, counseling for transgender medical resources and gender-affirming surgery. 

Abbott wants to define these cases as child abuse which means parents could face criminal charges for bringing their child to receive gender-affirming medical care. Though, Abbott is not the only government leader proposing legislation like this.

Last Thursday, the Florida House passed legislation that bans teaching about sexual orientation or gender identity in public schools from kindergarten to third grade and later grades if deemed not age-appropriate.

The bill also requires public school districts to share any information about a student’s mental, emotional or physical health, including any information about their gender identity with parents. If the bill is passed, parents could sue their child’s school if they felt any provision of the bill was violated.

Even though Gov. Ron DeSantis (R-Fla.) says he needs to take a closer look at the legislation in its entirety, he has voiced that he encourages the idea of parents having the most input when it comes to what their children learn about gender identity in school.

On top of this, more states are following suit with similar legislation, including West Virginia, Iowa, South Carolina and Tennessee. This accumulation of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is a major setback for Generation Z and for the U.S. as a whole.

If the U.S. is supposed to represent freedom, we should not shame, condemn or suppress exploration, but instead provide support. We should increase transgender medical services and LGBTQ+ education so that individuals have more knowledge and more resources to better know themselves and make informed decisions based off of that.

If the First Amendment is so prized, political leaders should not censor topics that make them uncomfortable, especially in the classroom.

Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation supports the idea of parental sovereignty in the classroom, to which I disagree. It is no secret that many children adopt their first beliefs from their guardians, regardless of what they are and whether they will actually align with what the child will grow to believe in.

School is typically the first platform where children are exposed to new perspectives and resources, transforming them into independent thinkers who actively update what they believe in based on what reliable evidence arises.

There is no guarantee that parents will provide objective and comprehensive resources or commentary when it comes to complex and controversial issues like gender and sexuality. 

Schools can be a safe haven for LGBTQ+ students who do not feel supported in their homes and should remain that way by encouraging healthy exploration and questioning of societal pressures to conform to traditional gender roles.

These bills highlight that certain political leaders are still focusing on the wrong issues. Governors like Abbott and DeSantis have constantly downplayed the danger of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) even though there have been more than 978,000 deaths in the U.S. thus far.

It seems as if they are more alarmed by children and adolescents exploring their gender identity or sexual orientation in order to feel more comfortable in their own bodies than a public health crisis. These bills reveal that certain political leaders are currently perpetuating shame, fear and ignorance which contradicts Generation Z’s potential to break the cycle.

Generation Z has the potential to promote different values, such as empathy and transparency when it comes to education and actively oppose censorship.

The First Amendment should not limit what teachers, medical professionals and parents can do for the younger generation unless it is blatantly harmful, discriminatory or racist. Providing a safe space for questions about sexual orientation or gender identity or researching medical resources for your teenage adolescent are none of those things.

These bills should cause people to question how legislation represents the country, its needs and its values. Even if New Jersey supports LGBTQ+ youth, Rutgers students and the wider New Jersey population should be concerned. The fact that these harmful ideas are manifesting themselves in legislation is a poor reflection of the U.S. as a whole.

If these bills are to infiltrate our education systems and daily life, I imagine a series of disturbing scenarios.

I imagine a world in which children are solely exposed to media that shows straight couples which is not an accurate portrayal of real life. I imagine a world in which significant LGBTQ+ historical figures are ignored because their identity is deemed harmful.

I imagine a world in which parents are prosecuted for trying to help their child navigate gender with medical expertise during a confusing time of their lives. I imagine a world in which medical professionals and teachers are arrested for doing their jobs.

Generation Z has the potential to be different. We can be the generation that encourages empathy and exploration. Do not hold us back.

Sara Eschleman is a Rutgers Business School first-year majoring in marketing and minoring in English. Her column, "Shower Thoughts," runs on alternate Thursdays.


*Columns, cartoons and letters do not necessarily reflect the views of the Targum Publishing Company or its staff.

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