NASHVILLE — Last year, two families in Wilson County, Tennessee, became plaintiffs in a federal civil rights lawsuit challenging Tennessee legislation that bars transgender students from using bathrooms. consistent with their gender identity. But as WPLN News reported last week, both families have since left the state, believing their children would not be safe here long enough to complete the trial. Now that the plaintiffs have moved, a district judge dismissed the lawsuit.
In many ways, this development tells us more about the state of human rights in red states than the lawsuit or law it challenges. When people are so committed to justice that they sue the state they live in and then have to leave anyway, it’s a stark reminder that fighting institutional bias always comes at a cost.
When Tennessee’s so-called toilet bill went into effect last year, middle schooler Amy Allen’s son responded by skipping liquids and avoiding the school bathroom altogether. As the bill progressed through the legislative process, Ms. Allen, a former teacher who has done extensive research on transgender issues, tried to educate state lawmakers about the harm the law would do to already vulnerable children. She also tried to speak with someone in the governor’s office. All his efforts were rebuffed.
Without recourse, she enrolled her child in a private school. When this school did not work, the family moved to Massachusetts.
The boy is happy in his new school. His mother is happy too. “Moving here, for me personally, has been just a sigh of relief,” Ms Allen told WPLN’s Marianna Baccallao. “Like, I can just be human again and not the militant mother, you know?”
News stories from red states currently tend to focus on the legislative fallout from the Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade, and understandably: the news is nothing short of horrific. Doctors are afraid to treat life-threatening conditions in their pregnant patients because the language of the laws is too vague. Women forced to carry babies who will not survive outside the womb. Abortion is prohibited without exception for rape or incest, even when the victim is a young child.
But the red state’s scramble to outdo neighboring states isn’t the only human rights crime lawmakers are committing against their own citizens. In Tennessee, new laws went into effect on July 1 that perfectly illustrate this point. A measure criminalizes homelessness by making it a crime – a crime! — to camp on the public domain. Another prohibits transgender athletes from participating in school sports. Yet another requires public schools to block online resources “deemed harmful to minors.”
It should be noted that the far right deems many things harmful to minors, including educational materials related to sex and gender. In practice, it’s a book ban law affecting the only database that most public schools in the state have access to.
“When people ask me if I miss Tennessee, I say I miss my friends,” Ms. Allen told WPLN. “But Tennessee broke my heart. It’s a wonderful place filled with so many wonderful people who, if they paid attention to what the legislature is doing, would be horrified.
Ms. Allen is right. Tennessee is a wonderful place, and it’s filled with really wonderful people, most of whom pay absolutely no attention to what the Republican caucus in the Tennessee General Assembly is doing. According to a survey by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute, nearly 79% of Americans — including 65% of Republicans — support laws that protect LGBTQ people from discrimination. “In states where anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is pending, about two-thirds of people support expanding, not restricting, LGBTQ+ rights,” a Human Rights Campaign statement noted in March. At the end of the day, most Americans today can be trusted to know which things are really harmful to minors and which are just whistles for far-right fanatics.
When states are run by fanatics, many of the people who live there are governed by laws they vehemently oppose. And without the help of the Supreme Court of the United States for the foreseeable future, we now have a country in which citizens of red states do not have the same civil rights and liberties as citizens of blue states.
All of this presents a conundrum for people who pay attention to what is happening in their state legislatures, especially those with children whose happiness and safety are made even more precarious by legislation that targets already vulnerable students. .
I often think these days of Ruby Bridges, the freshman who entered New Orleans public schools in 1960. Tiny Ruby had to be escorted to her new school, William Frantz Elementary, by federal marshals to protect her from the gathering crowd of whites. every morning on his way. With marshals posted right outside the door, Ruby spent all day that year in a classroom in which she was the only student.
Five other black children were also chosen to enroll in William Frantz Elementary School in 1960, but only Ruby’s parents stayed the course. And even with the protection of the federal government, they surely considered changing their minds countless times during that dangerous first year of integration.
This has always been the far-right’s strategy for spreading hate: silencing voices for acceptance and change, and leading the oppressed to discouraged abandonment. This is the strategy they are currently using against their most vulnerable citizens.
“The South, home to a third of LGBTQ Americans, is poised to become the epicenter of the next wave of targeted attacks on our legal rights,” said the Campaign for Equality South, an advocacy group nonprofit, in a statement. the week. Today, it would be illegal to exclude transgender children from public schools, but lawmakers in red states have made it nearly impossible for them to stay. Impossible, at least, for families who can afford to leave. Many, many don’t.
Last year, in an irony they didn’t acknowledge, the Williamson County, Tennessee chapter of Moms for Liberty challenged a children’s book version of Ruby’s experience as a pioneer. school integration. They claimed the book violated a new Tennessee law prohibiting any teaching that individuals “should experience discomfort, guilt, anguish, or other psychological distress solely because of race or nationality.” sex of the individual”.
Ruby Bridges has grown to be a powerful voice to end racism, but our children shouldn’t have the responsibility to challenge the unjust status quo. Nevertheless, a powerful minority of southern white conservatives today do not want their children to know what southern white conservatives have done in the past. Presumably, the white Southern conservatives of the future will also not want their children to know what the white Southern conservatives are doing today.
But justice is justice, whatever they believe otherwise. Those pressured to limit the rights of LGBTQ citizens are in the minority even here, though being in the minority hasn’t stopped them from hurting young people. The only thing that will stop them is the pushback from voters who recognize injustice when they see it – and parents of vulnerable children shouldn’t be the only ones doing this.
Opinion writer Margaret Renkl is the author of Graceland, at Last: Notes on Hope and Heartache From the American South and Late Migrations: A Natural History of Love and Loss.
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