This is the first in an ongoing series of first person essays and op-eds from the frontlines of anti-LGBTQ2S+ policy battles, as told to journalist Nico Lang.
Several years ago, my family realized our dream of moving to Florida, where we hoped to experience the joys of endless summer. We relocated from my home state of Colorado—where the snow can begin in October—to a place where I could experience the calm of walking along the beach all year, which was a benefit to both my mental and physical health. In addition to experiencing seasonal depression, I was born with a heart defect, and I started suffering complications about 10 years ago. I noticed that I felt better at sea level, rather than living a mile high in the air.
Our family loved living in Florida. My husband also benefited from the subtropical climate, my son was able to create his own business after graduation and my daughter attended high school and worked three days a week at a bird sanctuary, nursing birds of prey back to health. During our eight years in the state, we saw her becoming the person she was meant to be. My daughter is a history buff, she’s an adventurous cook, she loves learning about various cultures and parts of the world and she is kind and compassionate toward other people, especially the elderly. We gave her my great-grandfather’s name as her middle name when she was born, and, three years ago, after she came out to us as trans while on a long walk with my husband, she chose my great-grandmother’s name to replace it. When my daughter is not spending time with family, she’s hanging out with her girlfriend, with whom she is very much in love.
Sadly, our dream became a nightmare this year after Florida governor Ron DeSantis ramped up his attacks on the LGBTQ2S+ community, giving us no choice but to leave behind the state we so adored. After leaving Colorado for Florida in 2015, we are back in my home state, right back to where we started. The move has been hard on my body and I find myself progressively more winded, but what I resent most is that my family was forced into making a decision that was detrimental to all of us. It’s unfair and enraging, and what we’ve been through should scare everyone, even people who live in places they think are progressive. While Florida is currently a red state, it elected former president Barack Obama twice. Democrats held the governor’s mansion almost continuously from 1971 to 1999, losing just one election during that time. Every single one of us should be worried because if this can happen somewhere, it can happen anywhere.
In May, DeSantis signed a slate of bills intensifying his well-documented attacks on Florida’s LGBTQ2S+ community, including an expansion of his 2022 “Don’t Say Gay” law. The ones that most directly impacted my daughter were a pair of laws that make it a crime to use the public bathroom that aligns with her identity and restrict gender-affirming medical care for trans youth. My daughter turned 18 in July, but unfortunately, she still isn’t safe from the state’s medical care ban: the law also makes it more difficult for adults to access transition treatment by placing burdensome restrictions on prescribing care. Many families have been forced to take regular day trips to a neighbouring state—at often enormous expense—to ensure their children can keep the HRT or puberty blockers that in many cases have been life-saving, or like our family, they have been forced to flee altogether.
These laws make it impossible for my daughter to live her life as she has known it, to keep being the joyful girl who loves to garden and to listen to Joni Mitchell and Taylor Swift. My daughter, like many other trans people, has thrived since she was able to get the healthcare that we believe saved her life. Before she was able to access treatments that affirmed her gender, she would wear long pants and long-sleeved shirts all the time, even on the hottest of Florida days, because she didn’t like her body. I don’t think I realized how uncomfortable she was until I saw how free she became presenting as her true self—a girl—instead of being held down or hindered, not as trapped as she was before. Before she tried very hard to be a boy, to emulate my husband, but it was like trying to force a square peg into a round hole. Once she came out, we watched her fall into her natural self. It was so beautiful to see, and it made all of us very happy to witness her flourish.
A part of me knew that it was time to leave after the 2022 gubernatorial election, when my family sat on the couch and watched Florida’s election returns come in even redder than expected. My daughter cried because it felt to her like a giant “fuck you” from the state, and it only got increasingly worse from there. When my family agreed to share our story in a series of interviews with CNN and Reuters to help raise awareness about what’s been happening in Florida, Texas senator Ted Cruz personally shared a clip on his Twitter account, egging on the hate we had already been receiving. People said ugly and untrue things; they said that we deserved to be in prison, that our kids should be taken away, that we’re child abusers, that we’re mentally ill and that we were forcing our daughter to be trans. In those interviews, we discussed the suicidal ideation our daughter has experienced because of society’s cruelty, and I know this is a personal issue for the congressman, too: he has spoken in the past about his children’s struggles with their mental health. For him to so hypocritically promote his agenda at the expense of my family is truly evil.
It took us over a year after the election to finally leave the state because even for families who can afford to relocate, the costs of picking up everything can be extremely prohibitive. We spent months looking for a new place in Colorado, only to find a home with a mortgage that is $1,000 more than what we were paying in Florida. While we were lucky to be able to find it, the house we recently moved into is worth $150,000 less than our previous residence—which could affect the ability of my husband and me to retire if we need to sell our home someday to increase our nest egg. The process of moving was tough on all of us: although my husband works remotely and I work online, my son—who is autistic and prefers to live with us—will have to figure out how to pivot his custom-merchandise business in a new state. We sold a lot of our belongings to be able to pay the costs of a moving truck, movers and storage, and our relocation in many ways feels like starting over from square one.
We gave up so much to get out of Florida. My daughter had to leave the volunteer job where she found hope and purpose, and we had to say goodbye to the vibrant, brave and compassionate members of the local LGBTQ2S+ community who have helped her along her journey. We wish we could afford to take all of our loved ones in Florida with us, but our family has taken some solace in making connections with others who have also been forced to flee political persecution. Even before we moved, a parent who was forced to leave Texas in support of his trans child reached out to us on Facebook because they just happened to live in our new neighbourhood. During the two months we’ve spent in our new home, we’ve become friends: their family greeted us with zucchini bread and my daughter—ever the talented chef—returned the gesture with banana bread. Our families go out to dinner together and we commiserate and we cry, and it feels nice to have people in our life who get it, who are there to validate the anxiety and trauma that we’ve experienced, and the toll it’s taken on us.
While my family and my body are still getting acclimated to our new environment, we know that we are lucky. Our friends and family are glad to have us back, and my daughter is thriving through it all: she is closer to her grandmother, which she loves, and has found a new community of people in Colorado who share her passion for birds. We also sleep more soundly knowing that we now live in one of the 22 U.S. states with a law on the books banning anti-LGBTQ2S+ discrimination in both housing and public accommodations. In April, Governor Jared Polis (who is openly gay) passed a law declaring the state a refuge for trans people seeking gender-affirming care. But despite those privileges, we know that we cannot be complacent: all it takes is one bad election for Colorado to become the new Florida—or for the entire country—to make it virtually impossible for trans people to exist. That’s why, as the U.S. elects its next president in 2024, we plan to keep speaking out and fighting to ensure that politicians don’t have the ability to strip away my child’s right to live free from discrimination.
The other day I realized that I haven’t experienced joy in a long time. I felt it in moments when we were in Florida—floating in the pool, petting my dogs, seeing something beautiful in nature—but sustained happiness felt impossible to grasp with so much hate targeting our family. What brings me the most joy now is seeing my kids safe and content, rather than being burdened with all the world’s problems at far too young an age. I loved our house in Florida and I loved our lives there, but ultimately, I love my daughter more. I hope that Colorado is good for her, that she can see a future where she can be herself. She just wants to work with her birds, enjoy time with family and be a normal person. Despite the hateful rhetoric and destructive prejudice that forced us out of our homes, that’s all she is: a normal person.