Commentary

Susan J. Demas: How many LGBTQ+ kids’ lives are worth Republicans winning the 2022 election?

April 4, 2022 3:21 am
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Michigan Pride, June 15, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

On June 26, 2015, my family watched the U.S. Supreme Court hand down the Obergefell v. Hodges decision legalizing same-sex marriage, and I may have cried.

Neither of my kids were out at the time and didn’t think it was a particularly big deal — why wouldn’t you be allowed to marry who you love? Whereas I grew up in a traditional household during the crass, casual homophobia of the ’80s, leaving me terrified to come out as bisexual in my teens, they both got to come of age during a time when LGBTQ+ people were slowly being recognized as full citizens after decades of painful fights for basic human rights.

Today, 70% of Americans support same-sex marriage, including a solid 55% majority of Republicans. It doesn’t really surprise me that more than 20% of Gen Z adults now identify as LGBTQ+ — more than any generation — because it is a more accepting time.

“Just by virtue of Gov. [Gretchen] Whitmer putting a pride flag out in June, outside the Romney Building, I can’t even tell you the significance of just acknowledging this community, what it meant to so many people in this state,” Democratic Attorney General Dana Nessel noted last week. “Not even any word, just putting that flag out. There were kids that didn’t slit their wrists, and didn’t jump off a bridge that day, because they had a governor that acknowledged that they exist and that they should be proud of who they are.”

Of course, the journey for equality isn’t complete — truthfully, when is it ever? In states like Michigan, it’s still legal to be fired for being gay and Republican leaders have repeatedly quashed bipartisan legislation backed by most business groups to change that. (It’s not really a great selling point in the global race for talent, but that’s something Republicans ignore when they complain the Mitten State is falling behind).

There's profound loneliness, anxiety and isolation for too many, especially trans kids who may not know anyone else like them. I wonder how many people who are still vehemently against LGBTQ+ rights really understand this. Because if they did, why would they want to inflict any more pain on vulnerable children?

– Susan J. Demas

And millions of kids still struggle with their sexual orientation and gender identity, especially if they don’t have support from their families or communities. Nearly one-third of LGBTQ+ youth have attempted suicide.

There’s profound loneliness, anxiety and isolation for too many, especially trans kids who may not know anyone else like them. I wonder how many people who are still vehemently against LGBTQ+ rights really understand this. Because if they did, why would they want to inflict any more pain on vulnerable children?

But with an emboldened, far-right Supreme Court and the midterm elections approaching, we’re seeing a full-throttle attack on civil rights from Republicans.

While many stuffy legal scholars and political analysts sniffed that liberals were ridiculous to suggest that Obergefell would be overturned after former President Trump reshaped the court, it’s now almost a foregone conclusion. After all, the court has signaled its eagerness to wipe away 50 years of precedent on abortion rights with Roe v. Wade. And many Republicans, including all three Michigan attorney general candidates, are comfortable dumping the landmark Griswold v. Connecticut decision legalizing birth control.

But Republicans aren’t waiting for the Supreme Court to commence the great rollback on LGBTQ+ rights. One of their key 2022 election themes is using gay and trans kids as punching bags.

That includes Republicans like Michigan GOP Co-Chair Meshawn Maddock spreading bizarre memes falsely claiming schools are offering litter boxes to kids who “identify as cats.” That isn’t a thing, despite what your cranky uncle posted on Facebook, but it is a great way to stigmatize trans students.

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LGBTQ kids assembled at Michigan Pride, June 15, 2019 | Susan J. Demas

There’s also plenty of action on the policy side, like cut-and-paste legislation popping up in at least 20 states, including Michigan, banning trans athletes from school sports. The idea that Republicans essentially want to give schools the power to check your kids’ genitals before lacing up for soccer seems, uh, pretty sketchy (and easy for Democrats to run against, if they decide to stop playing defense all the time).

But see, Republicans don’t let little things like awful poll numbers stop them from running on draconian measures to rile up their base. So that’s how you get the “Don’t Say Gay” law GOP Florida Gov. Rick DeSantis signed allowing parents to sue school districts if their child learns about sexual orientation or gender identity in a way deemed not to be “age-appropriate.” This resurrects one of the most odious anti-gay tropes from decades past that LGBTQ+ people are trying to “groom” young people.

Not surprisingly, a Trump-endorsed Michigan Republican quickly vowed to introduce similar legislation if he’s elected to the state House.

And Texas GOP Gov. Greg Abbott decided to take transphobia to a new level by issuing an order in February calling on citizens to report parents of trans kids for abuse, which already has been used to try and tear families apart.

We live in a time when many don’t even bat an eye about nearly 1 million Americans dying in the pandemic, even though highly effective, free vaccines have been widely available for a year. So maybe that’s why the horror of state-sanctioned targeting of LGBTQ+ kids and their families hasn’t fully registered.

Can you imagine the outcry — both from Republicans and pundits — if a Democratic governor signed an order declaring that people should turn in their neighbors to Child Protective Services if they refuse to have their kids wear masks because they could spread a deadly virus?

– Susan J. Demas

It’s almost as though the far-right is trying to redefine what it means to be a bad parent. You might think someone doing everything they can to ensure their children (and others) contract COVID makes them a poor candidate for being Mom of the Year. But Republicans are countering that really, the worst thing a parent can do is just have an LGBTQ+ kid.

Republicans talk about kids’ mental health a lot these days, but only in certain contexts. They’ve decided that rising rates of depression can solely be attributed to schools closing for COVID or the “trauma” (eye-roll) of wearing masks (not, say, actual trauma, like the pandemic leaving over 5 million orphaned). The other time Republicans talk about mental health is when there’s a school shooting, because we musn’t ever talk about how easy it is to get guns.

But GOP leaders certainly aren’t concerned about the mental health of all children, which is why they’re proudly pushing legislation that will cause tremendous harm to gay and trans kids.

So the question is: Just how many LGBTQ+ kids’ lives are worth Republicans winning the 2022 election? We’re about to find out.

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Susan J. Demas

Susan J. Demas is a 22-year journalism veteran and one of the state’s foremost experts on Michigan politics, appearing on MSNBC, CNN, NPR and WKAR-TV’s “Off the Record.” In addition to serving as Editor-in-Chief, she is the Advance’s chief columnist, writing on women, LGBTQ+ people, the state budget, the economy and more. She previously served as Vice President of Farough & Associates, Michigan’s premier political communications firm. For almost five years, Susan was the Editor and Publisher of Inside Michigan Politics, the most-cited political newsletter in the state. Susan’s award-winning political analysis has run in more than 90 national, international and regional media outlets, including the Guardian U.K., NBC News, the New York Times, the Detroit News and MLive. She is the only Michigan journalist to be named to the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Reporters,” the Huffington Post’s list of “Best Political Tweeters” and the Washington Post’s list of “Best Political Bloggers.” Susan was the recipient of a prestigious Knight Foundation fellowship in nonprofits and politics. She served as Deputy Editor for MIRS News and helped launch the Michigan Truth Squad, the Center for Michigan’s fact-checking project. She started her journalism career reporting on the Iowa caucuses for The (Cedar Rapids) Gazette. Susan has hiked over 5,000 solo miles across four continents and climbed more than 80 mountains. She also enjoys dragging her husband and two kids along, even if no one else wants to sleep in a tent anymore.

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