OPINION | Anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in Tennessee is extremist and sets a dangerous precedent for queer acceptance in the U.S. 

Last week, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed two anti-LGBTQ+ bills — one that will restrict drag in public and in front of children, and one that will ban gender-affirming healthcare for minors living in the state. 

At first, reading about these bills being passed in a predominantly right-wing state like Tennessee came as no surprise to me. However, the more I considered the social consequences of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation of this nature, the angrier I became.  

Not only is queerness being limited and hidden from younger audiences, but it is being vilified to the extent that children are taught to fear it for being “perverted” and “predatory,” with Lee citing drag as sexually repulsive and obscene according to an article from the Tennessean.  

When minors are barred from witnessing queer joy in the form of drag, or from accessing gender-affirming healthcare (which can be lifesaving in many cases), they are taught that being queer and identifying with the LGBTQ+ community is inherently wrong and shameful. 

According to a report from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Texas has introduced 33 anti-LGBTQ+ bills — including a drag ban. While the legislation passed in Tennessee last week felt random and out of the blue, anti-LGBTQ + bills just like them are being proposed left and right in states across the country. 

Last year, the queer community and allies watched in horror as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill in Florida was passed by Ron DeSantis, banning the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade classrooms.  

Public outcry against the “Don’t Say Gay” bill was muted as soon as it was passed in March 2022 (which is problematic in itself), but here in Colorado, a similar bill was introduced just weeks later. It has since been denied, but received very little attention from the Colorado public, which worries me greatly as someone who considers Colorado to be an increasingly queer-populated and friendly state. 

The domino effect of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is growing. In moderate states, the pendulum is swinging more and more toward banning gender-affirming healthcare for minors, and it’s disheartening to see.  

The ACLU report continues that in 2023, at least 385 anti-LGBTQ+ laws have been proposed across the country. Last year, the number was 162. Not only is queer hate and bigotry still rampant, but it is targeting transgender and nonbinary people at astronomically high rates. 

The truth of the matter is that queer existence continues to be an object of controversy and debate, despite growing awareness of the LGBTQ+ community nationwide. This is not only dehumanizing, but also discouraging to those of us who have very little drive left to continue advocating for the acceptance of our own community.  

When you see anti-LGBTQ+ legislation like the drag ban and “Don’t Say Gay” bill, I urge you to do what you can to make sure the queer individuals in your life feel seen and supported by you.  

My community is entering dangerous times, and the recent attack on Club Q has shown me that now more than ever I need to be using my voice to condemn bigotry and promote queer acceptance — but it can be tiring, and sometimes I need to see something good in order to keep going. 

Here in Colorado Springs, an organization I admire is Inside Out Youth Services (IOYS). Last week, after District 11 proposed banning teachers from asking students their preferred pronouns, IOYS held a protest outside of the District 11 building in support of transgender and nonbinary students. 

According to an article from PBS, “nearly 70 community members marched around the building with … rainbow flags and signs that read ‘asking pronouns saves lives.’” This kind of consistent advocacy for the inclusion and acceptance of queer children in Colorado Springs is something that gives me hope in light of all of the anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in the U.S. this year. 

Please, join me in making Colorado — and the country at large — a better place for queer youth. As someone who grew into their queer identity during high school, I wholeheartedly believe that queer children deserve to be listened to, embraced and given the opportunity to engage with and witness LGBTQ+ culture without shame.

Photo from hrc.org.