by Dana Aliya Levinson
I came of age during the Presidency of George W. Bush. Being a native New Yorker, I remember 8th grade, when we had to shut off the air conditioning system in the school because the dust cloud from the World Trade Center was floating above us. I remember the ghostly looks of my fellow students in the hallway. I remember not knowing if the flight my aunts were supposed to take back to North Carolina that morning was one of the planes that were hijacked. I remember not knowing whether my mom had made her way into Manhattan for work as she was supposed to or if the planes had hit before she got on the train. I remember that the cell phone towers were down and I couldn’t get in touch with anyone. I was lucky. All of my loved ones were okay in the end. That was not the case for all of my peers.
For me, 9/11, the anthrax scare, Afghanistan, Iraq; they all felt like the world was spinning out of control. They felt like a decisive turning point and a loss of innocence. I felt like we were being attacked on all sides. While all of this was going on, I was also beginning to understand my own queerness. The summer going into seventh grade, I was stating to become aware that it was boys I was getting crushes on, not girls. Ever since I was a little kid, my femininity was a target for bullying. Being called faggot was a daily occurrence from the age of seven on. As I realized my attraction to men, my first thought was ‘oh no, my bullies were right.’ The shame had been so internalized in me that the idea of being queer was the most horrifying thing because I had been taught by my peers that it wasn’t okay.
I came to terms with my sexuality and began to come out later in 8th grade. By the end of my freshmen year of high school, I was totally out as gay. Then in 2004, President Bush voiced his support for the Federal Marriage Amendment. I was fifteen. I come from a political family, so I was well aware that President Bush was using this amendment as a wedge issue to fire up his base in his reelection bid against then-Senator Kerry. I was being used as a wedge issue to fire up his base in his reelection bid against then-Senator Kerry. Imagine for a moment being fifteen years old, being bullied for who you are, and having the President of the United States validate those bullies. Imagine having the President of the United States tell you at fifteen that you are less than. Not only did it feel like our whole country was unmoored and at war with some faceless enemy, but now I felt like war was being waged on me and my body against my will.
The amendment failed. While I had come to terms with my sexuality, I was on the long road towards coming to terms with my gender identity, finally coming out as trans at twenty-four. Eventually, the right side of history won the battle and marriage equality became the law of the land. However, the religious right has once again decided to make my body and life political against my will. Their latest cause du jour is the rash of ‘religious freedom bills.’ These bills legalize discrimination against LGBTQ people in the name of religious freedom. Under these bills, a landlord could refuse to rent an apartment to someone because he is a bisexual man, an employer could refuse to hire someone because she is a lesbian, and a florist could refuse to do an arrangement for a gay wedding. However, these bills have become ubiquitously known as the ‘bathroom bills.’
Not only do these state bills allow all of these forms of discrimination against me or anyone LGBTQ, they have been sold to constituents on the fear-mongering about trans-women in the bathroom. They claim they’re keeping ‘men out of the women’s’ bathroom. I am being told that I am a predator. That I am likely a rapist. That I am likely a pedophile. Of course, none of these things are true, and if anything these bills put men in the women’s bathroom by forcing trans-men to use the women’s room. Once again, my basic humanity is a subject of debate by mostly heterosexual cisgender men who know nothing of trans identity other than their own prejudice and don’t care to learn about it or to humanize it. I don’t need to relitigate the statistics about how many trans-women have been assaulted in a bathroom (a lot) and how many cis-women have been assaulted by trans-women in the bathroom (none). What these bills are really about, is that they want us gone. They want us removed from view and from public life as if somehow if LGBTQ people are legally discriminated against and barred from existing in the same realm that heterosexual and cisgender people exist in, that heterosexual cisgender people will somehow stop having LGBTQ children and we’ll go away.
President Trump’s view on this issue is murky. While he voiced support for allowing people to use the bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity on the campaign trail, he quickly walked that back after outcry from the base. His Vice President is one of the most anti-LGBTQ politicians in the country. Meanwhile, President Trump has voiced support for the First Amendment Defense Act proposed by Utah’s Senator Mike Lee. This piece of legislation would be North Carolina’s HB2 enshrined in federal law. Not only would it allow LGBTQ discrimination in the federal government, but it would also allow discrimination against LGBTQ people in the private sector specifically when it comes to marriage and allow LGBTQ discrimination in public schools, including tacit support for conversion therapy.
The jury is not out. Gender identity and sexuality are immutable characteristics. They cannot be changed. The only ‘choice’ there is is whether or not one chooses to live authentically. This is about whether or not someone believes I am as much of a human being as someone who isn’t LGBTQ. Once again, the message from the right is loud and clear; ‘you are not a human being deserving of equal rights and respect.’ I am now a twenty-eight-year-old woman who is very secure in and proud of who she is. I am willing to dive into this fight head first. However, who I worry about is that fifteen-year-old once again being told by their government that they’re less than. I worry about that twelve-year-old who isn’t sure, thanks to bullying, whether there’s any place in this world for them and whose government tells them the answer is no. To President Trump, should the First Amendment Defense Act cross your desk, I implore you to do one thing: Before signing it, meet with LGBT children and teenagers and talk with them about their lives. Then before you pick up that pen, ask yourself if they are human beings just like you.