20 U.S. states could soon be designated as safe havens for trans kids fleeing discriminatory laws

“If you’re going to come for our kids, you’re gonna have to come through us first”

LGBTQ2S+ lawmakers across the U.S. are introducing legislation to make their states into sanctuaries for trans youth fleeing places that restrict gender-affirming health care. 

Thus far, lawmakers in 20 states have introduced “sanctuary state” bills in their legislatures as part of an effort spearheaded by the Victory Institute, an organization devoted to electing LGBTQ2S+ lawmakers. The proposals follow the example of California, which introduced legislation to restrict the prosecution of trans families who help their trans kids access gender-affirming medical care. 

If passed, the bills would limit law enforcement agencies from using out-of-state warrants to arrest parents or guardians for helping their child obtain treatments like  hormone replacement therapy (HRT) and puberty blockers in designated sanctuary states. The legislation would also restrict other states from subpoenaing the medical records of families who sought gender-affirming care outside of their home states. 

California, New York and Minnesota have already introduced “sanctuary state” bills, according to the Victory Institute. Seventeen other states, including Colorado and Michigan, have promised to table similar legislation in the future.

California state Sen. Scott Wiener, who introduced California’s Senate Bill 107, says the ultimate goal is to fight for the repeal of anti-trans laws enacted in states like Arkansas, South Dakota, Texas and West Virginia so that families don’t have to go through the “traumatic” experience of fleeing their home state. Earlier this week, the nation’s first felony healthcare ban went into effect in Alabama. 

“For any family to pick up and move to another state, that’s a big deal,” Wiener tells Xtra. “You’re uprooting your social connections. It’s traumatic for kids. A lot of people don’t have the economic means to do that, or it would be a real struggle, economically. The best outcome is to get rid of these laws. But if that doesn’t happen, and if you have families that feel unsafe and believe that they can no longer stay in their state, we want to make clear to them that they do have options.”

California state Sen. Scott Wiener addresses the state Senate at the Capitol in Sacramento in 2019.

Credit: Rich Pedroncelli/AP Photo

Wiener also emphasized the importance of out lawmakers speaking up to protect LGBTQ2+ kids, particularly those who may lack support elsewhere in their lives. 

“Many LGBTQ kids around the country are not in supportive homes, and now even the ones that are in supportive homes are feeling vulnerable,” he says, citing recent findings that rates of suicidality and self-harm among queer youth are rising as a result of legislative attacks. “We, as LGBTQ elected officials, have an obligation to send the opposite message: that you’re being attacked by powerful people, but powerful people also have your back. That’s what we’re trying to do.”

 

Victory Institute president and CEO Annise Parker seconded the need for proactive solutions to the attacks on trans youth. In a statement, the former Houston mayor said that “playing defence doesn’t cut it.” 

“We are using the collective power of LGBTQ state legislators all across the nation to launch a counteroffensive that aims to protect trans kids and parents while also demonstrating that there is a positive agenda for trans people that lawmakers can support,” Parker said.

Wiener’s bill mirrors efforts by pro-choice lawmakers in California to make the state an “abortion sanctuary state,” in the face of restrictive bans passed in states like Texas and Mississippi, as well as the looming threat of Roe v. Wade’s repeal. Last week, a leaked draft opinion released by Politico revealed that the court intends to overturn a half century of precedent and strike down the landmark abortion ruling when it rules in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization this summer.

“We are using the collective power of LGBTQ state legislators all across the nation to launch a counteroffensive that aims to protect trans kids and parents.”

While some of the lawmakers who have signed on to the effort hail from states that are highly unlikely to pass the legislation, lawmakers noted that the coalition still sends a vital message of support to LGBTQ2S+ youth who may feel trapped and alone. Florida, for instance, enacted its notorious “Don’t Say Gay” bill in March, which heavily restricts discussion of queer and trans identities in K-3 classrooms.

State Rep. Michele Rayner, the first openly queer Black woman elected to the Florida Legislature, was one of two Florida lawmakers to sign on to the effort. In a statement, she said the backlash against LGBTQ2S+ youth signals that more discriminatory bills are on the horizon. 

“Our trans community, in particular, has experienced violence and backlash at a shocking level over the years, and will suffer more due to the growing hateful anti-LGBTQ+ sentiments and harmful policies enacted,” she said. “I have committed to making Florida a sanctuary state for trans people because I am committed to advancing equity, justice and the freedom to exist and live with dignity.”

But as more discriminatory bills continue to target the community’s most vulnerable, LGBTQ2S+ lawmakers affirm that supporting trans youth is more important than ever. 

“We just want LGBTQ kids and their families to understand that there are states that support them and that we’ll do our best to protect them,” Wiener adds. “We’ve got a strong coalition, and we’re gonna send a very powerful message that if you’re going to come for our kids, you’re gonna have to come through us first.”

Clarification: June 29, 2022 11:28 amIn response to a reader query, the 20 states with existing or planned safe haven bills, as per a Victory Institute spokesperson, are: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and West Virginia.

Oliver Haug

Contributing editor Oliver Haug (they/them) is a freelance writer based in the Bay Area, California. Their work focuses on LGBTQ2S+ issues and sexual politics, and has appeared in Bitch, them, Ms and elsewhere.

Read More About:
Politics, Power, News, Trans, Youth, United States

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