Ron DeSantis may not yet be a name familiar to everyone in Scotland, but that’s likely to change, as the Florida Governor is expected to announce a run for the Republican presidential nomination. Last week he met with the UK’s Equalities Minister, Kemi Badenoch, and afterwards claimed that she supported his ‘anti-woke’ agenda, in a speech which has created alarm in the LGBTQ+ community.
In just a few months, DeSantis has enacted a series of laws in Florida which have hit LGBTQ+ people hard and caused some to flee the state. These include what is popularly known as the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ law, equivalent to the UK’s notorious Clause 28/Section 2A, which forbids schools from mentioning the existence of minority sexual orientations or gender diversity. A required review of every piece of literature used in schools by a specially appointed panel has seen hundreds of books withdrawn from libraries, including Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, which is set in a dystopia where escalating attacks on LGBTQ+ rights were followed by a fascistic curtailment of women’s freedom.
Trans people face loss of healthcare
Along with Montana, Idaho, Arizona, Georgia, Mississippi, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Iowa and Indiana, Florida has outlawed the provision of gender-affirming care to minors. The Montana bill hit headlines around the world recently as elected trans representative Zooey Zephyr was banned from speaking for a week in order to facilitate its passing, leaving her unable to represent her constituents. In Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas, there are efforts to introduce similar legislation which would affect people up to the age of 26, with its supporters arguing that people under that age are not fully mature because their brains are continuing to develop.
Gender-affirming care, which is supported by the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association, rarely begins before the age of 15. It includes the provision of puberty blockers which allow young people time to mature mentally before making decisions about their future. Going through a puberty at odds with their identity is associated with intense psychological trauma and can leave trans people feeling permanently disfigured or having to undergo lengthy and expensive procedures which would otherwise be unnecessary.
In a letter on behalf of the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), Dr. Marci L Bowers described these pieces of legislation as “unprecedented attacks” motivated by an attempt to secure political advantage and out of step with the scientific consensus. “Many of the arguments used here in the US to ban transgender care have been cherry picked,” she said. “The scientific and biological arguments can be won and should continue to be argued.”
Florida has also banned health insurers from covering trans-related healthcare, leaving many people unable to afford ongoing treatment. Stopping hormonal medication suddenly can have a severe impact on mental health, as many women who have used contraceptive pills will know from personal experience. Nurse practitioners have been banned from providing gender-affirming care to trans patients of any age, something which is particularly problematic for trans men who, like anybody taking therapeutic testosterone, should receive ongoing monitoring to reduce the risk of complications.
Families fear losing their children
In perhaps its most distressing move, Florida has made it possible for children to be removed from their parents purely on the basis that they are receiving gender-affirming care. In this case, that need not be medical at all and can be as simple as the name they use or the clothes they wear. This can now also be used against parents in custody cases, whilst trans parents also fear having their children taken away.
States passing legislation to restrict LGBTQ+ people’s rights are also likely to have a negative approach towards the rights of women and people of colour. Under DeSantis, Florida has banned abortion after six weeks, despite the fact that it can be difficult to detect a pregnancy before that point. This ban is extended to 15 weeks in cases of rape, incest or human trafficking, but only if adequate proof can be provided.
Florida has forbidden the teaching of Critical Race Theory – the idea that people of colour are disadvantaged at a systemic level within society – for all but the oldest schoolchildren, and has required what is taught to be subject to review. Bills attacking CRT have been introduced in every state except Delaware, with 16 of them achieving similar, or more extreme, results.
Whilst some states, including Colorado, Michigan, Massachusetts, California and Oregon, have taken proactive steps to protect LGBTQ+ people, they are already feeling the strain of trying to provide medical support to those in exile. Bomb threats against hospitals treating trans children and death threats made against individual healthcare professionals, a number of whom say that they have been targeted by people calling them paedophiles, have added to this difficulty. Doctors say that they are reminded of the campaign of violence against abortion providers in the 1980s.
As political debates in the UK become increasingly bitter in the run-up to a general election within the next two years, LGBTQ+ people are increasingly concerned about what is happening in the US happening here as well, and about political posturing spilling over into violence, such as the arson attack last month on a London home inhabited by two trans people and a gay man. Badenoch has yet to comment on DeSantis’ remarks, but with Rishi Sunak still keen to review equality law, the fear in the community is very real.
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