Do you know why safe spaces were created? It started with building or businesses such as fire stations or restaurants that scared abused kids could go into and tell an adult what was wrong. Kids walking home from school or walking in an area that were approached by gangs, drug dealers, or the threat of harm / abuse could rush to these places. The idea worked so well it was expanded into schools and other places. In this case the complaining parents claimed it discriminated against non-LGBTQ+ kids. Straight white kids wouldn’t have a safe space those parents shouted. But really all kids know that a teacher will protect a straight white kid, it is the black kids when in the minority and the gay / trans kids that need to know they are safe. The straight black kids and white straight kids can just assume that the staff would protect them but that assumption is not something that gay / trans / non-binary kids have. They don’t assume an authority figure will support them because so many authority figures actively speak badly of them. So they need a sign to tell them if harassed, threatened, abused come here for help or safety. Some parents cannot stand that LGBTQ+ kids are not allowed to be bullied, harassed, picked on, and harmed especially if their kids are disciplined for being the ones doing it. Yes bigoted parents can produce bigoted kids and parents of these kids hate rules protecting the kids their kids like to beat up. As I have reported one of the co-authors / sponsors of the Florida don’t say gay bill admitted that he was angry that gay kids coming out were accepted and not too frightened of harm to come out at all. He was upset these gay kids were not targets for abuse and harm. That is the mind set of people that want to get rid of safe spaces. Notice that the attack on these safe space stickers are driven by the right wing hate machine that calls them indoctrination. The idea of tolerance, kindness, and not harming others is somehow thought to be a harmful ideology by the right. Their own ideology says attack anyone who is different until everyone is just like us. Do we want that taught to kids who grow up and teach it to their kids? And again letting kids know that gay people exist is indoctrination by these people, well I guess telling kids about any reality is indoctrination then. Seriously is there a harm that kids know there are gay people? Is there a harm that kids know there are left handed people or red haired people also? Kids know that there are gay people, it doesn’t make them gay just as kids knowing that there are straight people doesn’t make all kids straight. Hugs
A middle school in New Jersey has removed rainbow-themed “safe zone” signs from its campus. Superintendent Peter Turnamian announced the change at a January 3 board of education meeting.
The LGBTQ+-affirming signage at Long Valley Middle School, in place since 2019, was the result of a student-led effort at inclusiveness. Recent complaints by parents led Turnamian, superintendent for the Washington Township School District, to consult with district lawyers.
“Ultimately, the advice of legal counsel was to have them come down,” Turnamian said of the signs. Lawyers characterized parents’ concern over favoritism as “appropriate criticism.”
The superintendent unveiled plans for a “Profile of a Panther” initiative to replace the safe zone signs, using the school’s mascot to “encourage kindness” among the school’s sixth- to eighth-grade students. Plans for the initiative would be developed with feedback from the community, said Turnamian.
The change marks a victory for parents who lobbied for the signs’ removal. A months-long campaign at school board meetings in the rural township in southern New Jersey brought out residents on both sides of the issue.
“School should be a safe space for all kids, not just some kids,” newly elected school board member John Holly said at the meeting in early January. “Is this just a convenient way to push ideology on kids?” he asked, speaking of the rainbow-themed signage.
One meeting attendee recalled for board members that students were responsible for establishing the safe zone signs.
“There aren’t any kids that are talking about how this is harmful to them,” she said.
A self-identified lesbian and genderqueer student at Long Valley was applauded at a December board meeting: “I can say the LGBTQ+ community is constantly bullied and belittled in our school system. The safe zone rainbow stickers let kids like me know that they are not alone despite their differences. The signs are not hurting anybody, and they are not imprinting on your children. They only promote love and accepting yourself for the way you are.”
“The removal of LGBTQ+ affirming materials from schools is downright shameful. LGBTQ+ students across the country are already facing relentless attacks from legislators, and they deserve — at minimum — to feel safe in the classroom,” said GLSEN Executive Director Melanie Willingham-Jaggers. “We’re so thankful for our educators who create inclusive, affirming environments for their students despite hateful opposition from those who seek to erase and silence LGBTQ+ people. There is no place for discrimination in the classroom, and we will continue to fight for representation and visibility of LGBTQ+ communities in all schools across the country.”
Rainbow flags, stickers, and other LGBTQ+-affirming materials have been under attack at schools across the country recently. Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law has had a chilling effect on students’ and teachers’ speech, with rainbow imagery removed from classrooms by school administrators, or preemptively taken down by teachers in fear of losing their jobs.
In September, Proud Boys showed up at a school board meeting in Missouri to protest the display of a small rainbow flag by a seventh-grade teacher after an alderman demanded in a Facebook post that the district “stop indoctrinating and grooming our kids!” In the same month, Bucks County in Pennsylvania banned all rainbow imagery and other “advocacy materials” in classrooms.
Teachers in Manatee County, Florida, are being told to make their classroom libraries — and any other “unvetted” book — inaccessible to students, or risk felony prosecution. The new policy is part of an effort to comply with new laws and regulations championed by Governor Ron DeSantis (R). It is based on the premise, promoted by right-wing advocacy groups, that teachers and librarians are using books to “groom” students or indoctrinate them with leftist ideologies.
Kevin Chapman, the Chief of Staff for the Manatee County School District, told Popular Information that the policy was communicated to principals in a meeting last Wednesday. Individual schools are now in the process of informing teachers and other staff.
Teachers in Manatee County lamented the news on social media. “My heart is broken for Florida students today as I am forced to pack up my classroom library,” one Manatee teacher wrote on Facebook.
Another Manatee teacher called the directive “a travesty to education” that interfered with efforts to “connect with books and develop [a] love of lifelong learning.”
In an interview with Popular Information, Chapman said that the policy was put into place last week in response to HB 1467, which was signed into law by DeSantis last March. That law established that teachers could not be trusted to select books appropriate for their students. Instead, the law requires:
Each book made available to students through a school district library media center or included in a recommended or assigned school or grade-level reading list must be selected by a school district employee who holds a valid educational media specialist certificate, regardless of whether the book is purchased, donated, or otherwise made available to students.
In Florida, school librarians are called “media specialists” and hold media specialist certificates. A rule passed by the Florida Department of Education last week states that a “library media center” includes any books made available to students, including in classrooms. This means that classroom libraries that are curated by teachers, not librarians, are now illegal.
The law requires that all library books selected be:
1. Free of pornography and material prohibited under s. 847.012.
2. Suited to student needs and their ability to comprehend the material presented.
3. Appropriate for the grade level and age group for which the materials are used or made available
Chapman says that school principals in Manatee County were told Wednesday that any staff member violating these rules by providing materials “harmful to minors” could be prosecuted for “a felony of the third degree.” Therefore, teachers must make their classroom libraries inaccessible to students until they can establish that each book has been approved by a librarian.
In response to the policy, some teachers packed up their classroom libraries. Others covered up the books students are no longer allowed to read with construction paper.
Restoring student access to classroom libraries is a complex process. First, someone must cross-check each book in their classroom library with the district library catalog. If the book is available in the district libraries, that means it was approved by a media specialist and can be made available to students again. But any book not currently held in the district libraries must be individually evaluated and approved by a librarian.
And that’s just the beginning. Materials prepared for an upcoming Manatee County School Board meeting include a 21-point list of procedures to ensure that classroom libraries comply with the new rules.
As a result, one Manatee teacher reported being forced to take Sneezy the Snowman and Dragons Love Tacos off the shelves pending review. Other teachers, fearing criminal liability, are telling students not to bring in “unvetted” books from home:
Chapman said he was not aware of teachers being told specifically to prohibit students from bringing books from home but, as a policy, “all materials we use in a classroom are all state approved.”
One high school teacher in Manatee County told Popular Information that they would not comply with the new policy. The teacher has spent the year carefully curating books donated by parents or sourced from their personal collection. “I’m not taking any books out of my room,” the teacher said. “I absolutely refuse.” The teacher spoke on the condition of anonymity, fearing that speaking out about the policy could put their job at risk.
Librarians in Manatee County are now expected to review thousands of books in classroom libraries to ensure compliance with the new law. Manatee County has 64 public schools and 3,000 teachers, many of whom maintain classroom libraries. Chapman said that every school in Manatee County has a media specialist but that the process could take a while because it is “one person” and “they are human.” Any book approved for K-5 students must also be included on a publicly available list.
Similar policies will be implemented in schools across Florida. Some Florida schools do not have a media specialist, making the process even more cumbersome.
That review must also be consistent with a complex training, which was heavily influenced by right-wing groups like Moms For Liberty and approved by the Florida Department of Education just last week. Any mistake by a librarian or others could result in criminal prosecution. This process must be repeated for any book brought into the school on an ongoing basis. But librarians and teachers are not being provided with any additional compensation for the extra work.
Stephana Ferrell, a co-founder of the Florida Freedom to Read Project, said the new policy followed “a pattern of fear-based decisions that prioritize staying in good favor with the Governor over doing the right thing for our students.” Ferrell said she blamed “the Florida Board of Education that passed this rule change last Wednesday without an ounce of consideration for its impact.” Now, “thousands of students are without classroom access to fun and engaging literature.”
Ironically, Manatee County is making thousands of books inaccessible to students just in time to celebrate “Literacy Week” in Florida, which runs from January 23 to 27. Only about 50% of students in Manatee County are reading at grade level.
“Err on the side of caution”
Popular Information asked Chapman if Manatee County librarians and teachers were expected to remove books that violated the Parental Rights In Education Act, known by critics as “Don’t Say Gay” or the Stop WOKE Act, which limits classroom discussion of racial issues. Chapman did not answer the question directly, saying only that librarians are expected to apply the “specialized training for media center specialists” approved last week by the Florida Department of Education. That training, Chapman says, includes “new definitions of inappropriate material.”
The Parental Rights In Education Act prohibits all instruction on “sexual orientation or gender identity” in K-3 classrooms and instruction in other grades that is “not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate.” But the law applies only to “[c]lassroom instruction by school personnel or third parties” — not library books. Similarly, the Stop WOKE Act is limited to classroom instruction.
The teacher training approved by the Florida Department of Education, however, does not inform librarians that the Parental Rights in Education Act and Stop WOKE ACT do not apply to library books. Rather, librarians are told: “There is some overlap between the selection criteria for instructional and library materials.” One slide says that library books and instructional materials cannot include “unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination.”
A subsequent slide provides a list of “unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination,” which includes information about “sexual orientation or gender identity.” It also includes a variety of topics related to race, including “Critical Race Theory” and material that might make someone feel “guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress” as a result of their race. The training instructs librarians to “err on the side of caution.”
As Popular Information reported earlier this month, Manatee County schools have already removed several books from school libraries because they contain LGBTQ characters or themes.
This interpretation of the law runs directly counter to the arguments the DeSantis administration is making in court. In federal court filings, lawyers representing DeSantis insist that the Parental Rights in Education Act does not apply to library books. Nevertheless, the DeSantis administration, through its media specialist training, is encouraging a much more expansive interpretation of the law.
You should go to the actual tweet and read the comments. Hugs
Why do kids need guns made for them? They seem to do well with adult guns at shooting people. But seriously everyone understands that kids emotional control and reasoning ability are limited. Some adults never grow out of those limitations. Again the comments are all over the map. Hugs
I just started to follow this guy above on YouTube. He has a veery reasonable take on things and is easy to understand. Hugs
The story below is amazing because it took kids to figure out something the adults should have seem a long time ago. Grand kids. Hugs
Why? My dogs that love gravy why would an adult want kids bullied and hurt? Damn why are republicans and the right so hateful? This is to respect and protect students making the classroom a place they can learn without fear. Their push to have a homogenous society where everyone is just the same as them and fit into the mold they insist everyone must be with no diversity or difference from them? They see no beauty in others if they are not clones of themselves. These people are so spiteful they would see kids harmed rather than allow them to be protected. There is a video at the linked site that my security / cookie settings won’t show. Hugs
An Idaho school board meeting devolved into chaos on Monday night while a Republican state senator was virulently speaking out against a proposed policy to protect LGBTQ+ students in the district.
The proposed Caldwell School Board policy seeks to prevent discrimination against LGBTQ+ students by, among other things, allowing them to use the locker rooms and bathrooms that align with their lived gender, requiring teachers and other staff to use their preferred names and pronouns, and allowing same-sex couples to attend dances and other activities.
The room was reportedly filled to capacity that night, with several others standing up to speak about the policy before state Sen. Chris Trakel (R) took the podium.
According to KTVB, most speakers were there to advocate against implementing the policy, but three students spoke out in favor of it.
Before Trakel got up to speak, the meeting was almost recessed and adjourned several times as people continued to get rowdy during the public comment period.
Trakel’s speech is immediately hostile. Video of the meeting shows him lambasting the board for allegedly violating Idaho state law based on other proposed curriculum policies and for violating the meeting attendees’ First Amendment rights by not allowing them to criticize school district employees.
“Now, to get on to the exciting part,” he said before attacking the proposed LGBTQ+ anti-discrimination policy and saying he was there under his official position as a state senator.
“You, under Idaho law, are required to maintain the morals and health of all the students… You are going to put all of their moral health and safety at risk, and like I told you before you will face litigation. You call that a threat, I’m telling you that is what will happen. It has already happened in several states and there’s already been rulings on it.”
“Before you waste taxpayer money, before you put a kid in harm’s way, you better throw this policy out and not even consider it.”
At that point, the board chair, Marisela Pesina, turned to a fellow board member and whispered something. Trakel snapped, “I’ve got the floor. Ms. Pesina will you please listen to me.”
“Sir,” Pesina responded tersely. And that is when the chaos began.
Trakel started yelling, “You claim you want people to follow the rules, but you break the rules left and right.”
As his rant continued, Pesina called a recess, at which point more meeting attendees began yelling along with Trakel. The board then voted to adjourn the meeting early, which only caused more anger in the audience.
People began screaming “cowards” and “unethical.” Many could be heard threatening to recall board members.
“Boo on all of you! This is absurd!” one person shouts.
“It was disappointing that some attending refused to follow the rules, which prevented others from sharing their thoughts with the Board,” Caldwell School District communications director Jessica Watts told Idaho EdNews. “Caldwell School District welcomes and encourages feedback on its work. What we do not welcome are those who refuse to follow the steps necessary for a civil, courteous, and respectful environment for that feedback to occur.”There is a video at the link.
Miss Majesty Divine, a drag performer, collects tips and dances among the crowd at Phat Sammy’s tiki bar in Huntsville, Ala.Credit…D’Angelo Lovell Williams for The New York Times
It was an unusually chilly Thursday night in December, and a drag queen named Miss Majesty Divine was putting the final touches on her show makeup. She was about to go onstage for her regular gig at a basement tiki bar, one of the last performances before Christmas.
Up at street level, two unwelcome guests had arrived. They were not fans. They were men with bushy beards, one holding a bullhorn, the other a placard that depicted a drag queen holding a screaming baby and the hashtag #stopdragqueenstoryhour.
“Repent, you filthy dog! You are going to burn in hell!” the one with the bullhorn shouted. “God sent AIDS to deal with people like you!”
Madge, as she is known to her friends and adoring fans, was unfazed.
“I teach math to middle schoolers,” Madge deadpanned. “You think I haven’t been called some things?”
By the end of the next workday, Madge, who in the classroom was known as Mr. James Miller, would call himself something new: retired. In the middle of the school year, the teacher, 52 years old, abruptly put in his papers. His career was over.
“It’s funny — all these people who complain about cancel culture, and now they are trying to cancel my whole existence,” Madge told me.
Miller’s troubles began on Oct. 12, when the conservative social media account known as Libs of TikTok, which specializes in finding and spreading videos, often out of context, of supposedly outrageous liberal behavior, posted an edited video of him performing in drag as Madge at charity events, some of which had children in attendance.
The video went viral, landing Miller on The Daily Mail’s website and many conservative news sites, falsely portraying his tame performances as lewd and overtly sexual. An avalanche of hate came down on Miller. Amid the maelstrom he realized that he could not continue teaching in Alabama. He had already been thinking of retiring soon, and this cataclysm prompted him to accelerate his plans.
I traveled to Alabama last month to try to understand the state of queer America today, to try to understand this unsettling whiplash I’ve been feeling lately as a queer person. The world watched a gay congressman lead the vote to codify national recognition of same-sex and interracial marriage, and the grandees of the L.G.B.T.Q. community gathered at the White House to watch President Biden sign that bill into law and to listen to Cyndi Lauper croon “True Colors.”
At the same time, queer people are being hounded by vigilantes and targeted by bigoted laws. On TV I watch queer people as protagonists but also hear them vilified as groomers and child molesters by right-wing news organizations and lawmakers. A web designer would rather go all the way to the Supreme Court than make a wedding website for a theoretical queer couple. Queer spaces, from clinics serving transgender youth to nightclubs, are under attack. These past few years have been a time of head-spinning backlash.
I chose to come here not because Alabama has one of the strongest records of homophobic legislation in the country or because it is one of the few states where less than half of the population supports federal protections for gay marriage. I came here because the last time I was in Alabama, in 2017, I had one of the best nights of my life, at a gay bar with a bunch of queer people I had just met.
At the time, I was the editor of HuffPost, and I was in town with a group of colleagues as part of a cross-country bus tour we did, interviewing people about the state of America along the way. We met and interviewed a man named Michael Meadows who had just been named Mr. Leather Birmingham. He invited us back to the local leather bar, Spike’s. It is hard to explain how good it feels to walk into a queer space when you are a queer person in a strange place — the warm embrace and recognition of a shared experience, no matter how different our lives might be. A night of karaoke, dancing in faux cages and rounds of shots ensued. My memories are hazy, but the pictures and videos on our phones don’t lie: We had a blast.
When I went to Birmingham in 2017, we were less than a year into the Trump administration. It was long before the phrase “don’t say gay” entered the popular vernacular and before the word “groomer” came roaring back into circulation as a slur hurled at queer people. It was before the tsunami of book bans and, Lord help us, long before Libs of TikTok.
It was a time when major TV shows featuring transgender actors were started. “RuPaul’s Drag Race” had become a cultural phenomenon, and drag performances drew wider audiences. Gay bars had become prime destinations for straight bachelorette parties, much to the chagrin of many gay patrons.
And it wasn’t just media and society. Supreme Court decisions affirming the right to same-sex marriage seemed to have paved the way to mainstream acceptance of gays and lesbians. Polling showed consistent majority support for same-sex marriage. Some of the hottest debates within the queer community every June were over whether Pride had become too mainstream and corporate.
That year Alabama, a blood-red state, stunned the nation by electing a Democrat to the Senate, choosing Doug Jones, a former prosecutor who had brought two of the Klan bombers of the 16th Street Baptist Church to justice, over the right-wing Republican Roy Moore. Jones spoke proudly of having a gay son.
The late 2010s were a pivotal time in James Miller’s life, too. He was interviewing for a teaching job at Mountain Gap Middle School in Huntsville.
“When I was interviewing, I said to myself: I don’t want to spend another 20 years in the closet,” Miller told me as he got ready for the drag show. So when he got the job offer, he pointedly told the hiring committee that he would need to discuss it with his husband and son. It was a test, and the school passed, welcoming him with open arms.
“I thought, ‘I found where I want to be,’” Miller said.
At that point, Miller had also been performing as a drag queen for roughly two decades, though like any good teacher, he kept a strict divide between his classroom and his life outside of school. He said he got his start in drag performing at a charity event to raise money for an AIDS hospice.
“A friend of mine said, ‘Why don’t you do drag? You’ve got a big mouth and a bad attitude,’” Miller said.
Over time, he built a loyal following, performing at local nightclubs and at charitable events. As drag grew more popular with broader audiences, he started performing at story hours for kids. He said he took care to tailor his performance to the audience, keeping it PG whenever children were around, though like any kids’ entertainer, he said he liked to slip in double entendres that would fly over children’s heads but give the grown-ups a chuckle. It was a fun side hustle.
Until now. After Libs of TikTok released the video of him performing, he was placed on paid leave from his job. His email inbox filled with hateful messages.
“People said things like, ‘Why are they letting this thing breathe?’” he told me. Other messages called for him to be prosecuted for child abuse.
But he also got warm and supportive messages from parents and students.
“I heard today about the stupid issue happening, and I just wanted to say as a parent that has had three of their own children in your classroom, we fully support you,” said one such message Miller showed me.
The crowd at the tiki bar that December night whooped when Majesty Divine finally pranced onstage, lip-syncing along to Lizzo.
“It’s bad bitch o’clock. Yeah, it’s thick-thirty,” she sang, thrusting out an ample hip and tossing a bewigged shrug. “I’ve been through a lot, but I’m still flirty.”
Then Madge shared some news.
“Y’all keep up with the news? Well, don’t. It’s too depressing,” she said. “Tomorrow at 3:15 is the end of 30 years of teaching for me. I’m retiring.”
The crowd let out a cacophony of supportive boos and cheers.
“I love you all so much,” Madge purred. She brought down the house with a Tina Turner mash-up that ended in a barn-burning rendition of “Proud Mary.”
Amber Portwood, the manager of the bar, said it was a huge loss for the children of Huntsville.
“Madge is such a wonderful teacher and community person,” she said. “Her students were the first to come to her defense. It is absolutely shameful what happened.”
Asked about Miller, Huntsville City Schools sent this statement: “The district addressed a personnel matter several months ago following viral posts on social media involving a teacher. While we are limited in what we can share for privacy reasons, this was not a school-related event, it did not take place on school property, it did not occur during school hours, and it has no connection to any instruction that occurs in our classrooms.”
How did we get here? Looking back, I cannot help wondering now whether what looked in the 2010s like an unstoppable march toward mainstream acceptance of gay and lesbian people was perhaps more of a wobble. Perhaps the wanton cruelty of the Trump era uncorked something that was there all along. Right-wing, nativist parties espousing what they describe as traditional values have made electoral gains across many continents, and almost all of them have found queer people an easy target to use to whip up support for their agenda.
What looked in American polls like widespread acceptance of gay and lesbian people came in large part from a highly effective campaign to show that gay people are just like everyone else, save one small difference that likely was genetic and immutable, and that we wanted the same things: the American dream of marriage, conventional career success, military service.
But like all liberation movements, the fight for queer liberation contained multitudes of different people with different beliefs, including those who wanted revolution — to overthrow the entire heteronormative patriarchal system built around monogamy and the nuclear family within capitalism. They saw that system as the root of oppression not just of queer people but also of women and all kinds of marginalized people.
But the vanguard’s demand for revolution inevitably runs up against the majority’s urgent need for safety and basic rights. Much of the L.G.B.T.Q. rights movement’s efforts moved toward reforming rather than remaking. And so we have decriminalized gay sex, legalized gay marriage and allowed gay people to serve openly in the military. And a lot of us slipped into a kind of complacency. We once chanted, “Silence equals death.” Now we cooed, “Love is love.”
As many more queer people have come out into the light, parts of the community that were more hidden from the mainstream are demanding their visibility, too, especially transgender and nonbinary people, among them many children and teenagers who in previous generations would not have dreamed of coming out. And that has made a lot of people of many different political stripes very uncomfortable.
“A lot of the improvements in L.G.B.T.Q. life that the pollsters point to and on which we base our conclusion that there has been significant progress — they don’t really tell us much about what people are privately feeling,” said Martin Duberman, a leading historian of the gay rights movement who, at 92, has some long-term perspective on this issue. “And I think what we are seeing now is those private feelings coming out again.”
For much of modern history in the United States, queerness had to be carefully hidden to avoid police harassment and violence. Eventually queerness came to be tolerated if it emulated heterosexual norms — gender appropriate, couple-focused, monogamous. Now the insistence on recognition from queer people who don’t conform to expectations about gender seems to have been a bridge too far.
We’ve been here before. Urvashi Vaid, the lionhearted activist who tragically died at the age of 63 last year, wrote about this in her prescient book, “Virtual Equality,” which was published in 1995. As a candidate, Bill Clinton had courted the gay vote, but he ultimately triangulated his way to the Defense of Marriage Act and the abominable “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy in the military.
In a 1994 speech Vaid warned us, “By aspiring to join the mainstream rather than continuing to figure out the ways we need to change it, we risk losing our gay and lesbian souls in order to gain the world.”
Years of effective activism culminated with the dismantling of the Defense of Marriage Act by the Supreme Court. But as supporters of voting and abortion rights will tell you, a Supreme Court decision turns out to be a flimsy scaffold on which to build your freedom. The court has gutted the Voting Rights Act and overturned Roe. The battles for the ballot and bodily autonomy have moved mostly to the state and local levels. It is clear that queer people will receive a frosty reception from the emboldened majority of the highest court in the land.
So what now? I posed this question to the organizer and writer Dean Spade, who has worked relentlessly as an advocate for queer and trans people.
“The only social movements that have ever won any liberation or even reduced the conditions of harm were made up of millions of ordinary people, gumming up the works, throwing wrenches into the machines of oppression and then helping each other survive the systems along the way so that they could keep organizing,” he told me.
Queer people have never sat around and waited for rights and dignity to be handed to them — from the first stirrings of gay resistance in the early 20th century to the Stonewall uprising to the horrors of the AIDS epidemic, we have built our own systems of mutual aid and care. In Alabama, that spirit and the people who carry it refuse to give in to the backlash.
I saw that spirit at the Magic City Acceptance Center, an organization that provides a safe space and supportive programming for queer youth in Birmingham. There I met a 31-year-old queer Black woman named Lauren Jacobs, who was born and raised in Birmingham. When she was trying to decide where to go to college, she could have done what generations of young queer people have done: Get a one-way ticket out of Alabama, head for one of the meccas on the coasts and never look back.
But she didn’t. After checking to make sure it had an L.G.B.T.Q. student organization, she chose to attend the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa and joined the vibrant queer community there.
“We have a long, long track record of activism here,” Jacobs told me.
After graduation she decided to move back home to Birmingham, roll up her sleeves and fight for queer people in her home state.
“It felt like there was so much work to do in Alabama,” she said. “There is so much I like about how we organize in Alabama.”
The center now serves hundreds of queer youth in Birmingham and across the state. It offers space for them to hang out, play video games and be with their peers. Every year, the center holds a prom for queer kids; they can dress as they like and bring a date of whatever gender they prefer. Jacobs was among a couple of dozen attendees at the first one in 2014. Around 200 kids attended the most recent one.
The work of the center could not be more urgent. According to the Trevor Project, a mental health and suicide prevention organization focused on L.G.B.T.Q. youth, 47 percent of Alabama’s queer kids seriously considered suicide in the past year, and 20 percent of transgender kids attempted suicide.
“For young people who feel that Alabama doesn’t have spaces like this, for them to be able to walk into a place like this and feel they deserve it — that is always a joy,” Jacobs said.
I found another answer at the TAKE Resource Center, an organization in Birmingham’s East Lake neighborhood supporting transgender people of color. It was started by a transgender woman, Daroneshia Duncan-Boyd, who felt that too many trans people were suffering from poverty, homelessness and violence. She built TAKE in the mold of queer mutual aid organizations throughout history, with the knowledge that a hostile society would do little to save them.
“We started TAKE with sex-work dollars and unemployment checks,” Duncan-Boyd told me with a chuckle. Now the organization operates an emergency shelter, life-skills classes, legal clinics and a drop-in center.
“Other organizations provide surface-level services, but we get down into the nitty-gritty,” said Logan Boyd, a transgender man who works at the center. He moved to Alabama in 2017, and the following year he and Duncan-Boyd married. They are now trying to have a baby, a head-spinning but enticing prospect for Boyd.
“We’re trying to change the image of what the American dream can be,” he said. “I’ll have to wrap my head around being a pregnant man, I guess.”
Reimagining what life could be for transgender people in the South is central to TAKE’s mission. But first, it must attend to the most basic, urgent needs. I met one of TAKE’s clients, a 41-year-old trans woman named Marcy Allen. In November she had found herself penniless and homeless on the streets of southern Alabama after a string of bad luck.
“It was getting colder, so I needed somewhere indoors to sleep,” Allen told me. “I was doing things I didn’t want to do to pay for hotel rooms.”
News of her plight made its way to Duncan-Boyd, who leaped into action.
“The next thing I know, I am on a bus headed here,” Allen said. She told me she had been living in the group’s emergency shelter and was looking for a job. She had already made an appointment at the local gender clinic to begin her long-sought medical transition.
“March 4,” she said. “I have been on bootleg hormones, and now I can finally get the real thing.”
She attended a legal workshop to begin the process of changing her name. She said Marcy was a temporary name, a place holder. Now she is known as Elizabeth Danielle Marceille Allen.
“It suits me, don’t you think?” she asked, with a flick of her blond hair.
On my last night in Birmingham, I was invited to a party by the Magic City Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence. They are a charitable organization that raises money for mostly queer causes. The Sisters have their roots in a raucous and raunchy group of queer activists in San Francisco who dressed in nuns’ habits and behaved outrageously.
Birmingham’s Sisters throw elaborate parties every year, and this one, the Fire and Ice Red Dress Party, was to raise money for the Gender Health Clinic in Birmingham, which provides care for transgender and nonbinary people. They also give out awards to people who have done great service to the queer community.
“The Sisters promulgate universal joy and expiate stigmatic guilt,” the group’s leader, or abbess, Robert King Dodge, told me, decked out in a dazzling red frock and a bejeweled top hat.
It was held at an Arts and Crafts mansion in a fancy part of Birmingham, and all the grandees of the local gay community turned out in force. I thought about that carefree Birmingham night in 2017 and how different things felt now. Everyone I talked to was worried — about the terrible laws that would oppress queer people and the hateful message that sends to queer kids. They all thanked me for coming to Alabama to write about what’s happening.
As the award ceremony wound down, I was surprised to hear my name over the loudspeaker. King Dodge beckoned me up, a wrapped gift in his hand.
“Open it,” he urged.
It was a framed certificate naming me an honorary Sister of Perpetual Indulgence in the house of the Magic City Sisters of Birmingham.
I didn’t quite know what to say. My eyes filled with tears as I looked around the room, filled with people who were proud of all our community has accomplished but terrified of the gathering threats.
“Thank you,” I said. “It’s an honor to be your sister.”
I am so fortunate to have lived in a time and place that permitted me to live my whole adult life out and to be proud of being a lesbian. Increased visibility was supposed to make queer people more recognizable and accepted, and there is no question that it did. But I now wonder if, for some, the sheer volume and range of people coming out have had the opposite effect: making it seem that queer people are omnipresent and a threat.
I get it. When people who are alien to you tell you that deep down, they are just like you, it saves you from having to confront how you might actually be like them. How you might envy their freedom, the strength of their communities. As any decent psychoanalyst will tell you: The flip side of fear is desire.
As I left Birmingham the next morning, I thought about the extraordinary people I had met and the fights they were waging for the lives of queer people in their communities. I knew that this era’s slogan, that wan tautology “Love is love,” was no match for resurgent bigots reclaiming hateful chants about AIDS ridding the world of the homosexual scourge. We need to reach into our past as well and remember the time we chanted, “Silence equals death.” And an old favorite, a mantra for all time: “We’re here. We’re queer. Get used to it.”
And the erasing of gays from society continues in Florida. The don’t say gay law is working just the way the republican’s hoped it would. It is a fact that some kids have two dads or two moms, yet the republicans inred states want to outlaw anyone knowing about them. They are demanding those families are not real families, that those kids are dirty somehow. They want them ostracized and targeted for bullying. They want the fact that being gay is normal and shared widely in the animal kingdom. Kids will be forced into a heterosexual mode of acting only. Hugs
In the wake of Florida’s Don’t Say Gay law, schools in the state are banning books with LGBTQ+ themes, including And Tango Makes Three, a book about a baby penguin named Tango who has two dads.
The Don’t Say Gay law, also known as the Parental Rights in Education Act, was signed into law last year by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and bans discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K through 3 and restricts such discussions in older grades.
Conservatives said the bill was necessary to stop sexual discussions in schools as well as instruction about sex and that the law wasn’t anti-LGBTQ+. The DeSantis administration called opponents of the bill “groomers,” another word for child sex abusers.
But it turns out that the bill is doing what opponents said it would do: making LGBTQ+ people a taboo topic in schools.
Popular Information reports that Lake County’s school district banned three books in grades K-3: A Day in the Life of Marlon Bundo (about a gay bunny who likes hula hooping), And Tango Makes Three, and In our Mothers’ House (about three kids with two moms).
A statement says that the books were “administratively removed due to content regarding sexual orientation/gender identification prohibited in HB 1557.” H.B. 1557 is the Don’t Say Gay law.
Seminole County Public Schools banned three books citing the Don’t Say Gay law. The books were 10,000 Dresses (about a boy with a dream of making dresses), I am Jazz (about the experiences of trans activist Jazz Jennings), and Jacob’s New Dress (about a boy who wants to wear a dress to school).
None of the books contain sexual content, but the district said they, “pursuant to the aforementioned statute [the Don’t Say Gay law], would be deemed as not being age appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in kindergarten through grade 3.” They were removed from district libraries and “will only be available for check-out to a student in grade 4 or 5 when the parent has provided written consent and picks up the book from the principal or designee at the school.”
The DeSantis administration said in response to one of the legal challenges against the Don’t Say Gay law that it only applies to classroom instruction and not library books, but the Florida Department of Education is telling school librarians that “there is some overlap between the selection criteria for instructional and library materials” in its training materials for the Don’t Say Gay law and they should be “avoiding unsolicited theories that may lead to student indoctrination.” The materials tell librarians to “err on the side of caution.”
Opponents of the Don’t Say Gay law cited high suicide rates among LGBTQ+ youth and argued that erasing LGBTQ+ identities from school will make them feel more alone and isolated.
“42% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide last year,” Chasten Buttigieg said of the bill last year. “Now they can’t talk to their teachers?”