As the country becomes more hostile toward transgender people, they have started to consider where they and their families will be safest. Illinois is one of those places.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, 461 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced across the United States in 2023; many of which were anti-trans bills. Illinois has remained comparatively safe compared to surrounding states.
In Missouri alone, 40 bills have been introduced. The bills introduced would provide guidelines for gender-affirming care, education on gender and sexuality within schools and sports among other things.
One such law is SB 49, also known as the SAFE Act, which would prevent medical professionals from performing transitional surgery on minors and prohibit other gender-affirming care used to treat dysphoric minors.
Illinois, on the other hand, has only proposed four bills. State Representative Katie Stuart (D-Edwardsville), explained how these bills will not be taken seriously.
“It would be very rare for these bills to see anything. I think these are the types of bills that get filed for people to rile up their base, and I think none of them will see any debate or discussion,” Stuart said.
As many states surrounding Illinois move to pass bills similar to SB 49, Illinois has yet to pass or entertain any bills that would prevent care for transgender people. Stuart said that this has made Illinois a safe state, though this can change at any time.
“I think right now, [Illinois] can be considered a safe place,” Stuart said. “I think that’s something that we always have to protect and be vigilant about because, as we see, depending on your administration and who is in your elected assemblies, those things can change.”
With several states passing laws regarding transgender people, those who identify differently with the sex they were assigned at birth are having to think of safety and mental health when deciding where they want to live and work.
Mariah Mack, a gender non-conforming graduate student studying biology, had to deal with this problem after getting a job interview in Missouri.
“I was just afraid of introducing myself and my pronouns.” Mack said. “But it was so much a part of me that it’s like, ‘Maybe I’ll wait for someone else to start that conversation.’ And also, if I get this job, do I want to live in Missouri? Will that be good for me and my mental health in the long term? Will I be able to be me, or am I going to have to live a little pseudo-life for a while?”
Mack is among many who are facing these problems in the U.S. as this legislation is being introduced. Those who live in states with proposed anti-trans legislation are now wondering if they need to leave their homes in order to be safe once again.
Liz Stygar, a sociology instructor, said a similar problem for families who have transgender children.
“It's hard for me to be totally intellectual about this topic, because I am so emotional about it,” Stygar said. ”I have a friend who has a trans 11-year-old boy, and they're considering moving to Illinois. Puberty is quickly approaching, and how does that child get the resources that they need? And so, Illinois is turning into a beacon of healthcare in the Midwest.”
While Illinois currently remains relatively safe — for trans people as well as other means of health care such as abortion — this can be subject to change at any moment.
Tristan Sites, a junior online student studying organizational leadership, is an openly transgender man who has had trouble imagining Illinois become like other states in the Midwest.
“It’s really painful to think about,” Sites said. “So just imagining how the people in those states must feel — I’m lucky that I live in Illinois and not somewhere else. I can’t imagine anything like that passing because we have Chicago, but I’m sure a lot of the people dealing with it right now thought the same thing.”
Stygar also discussed why they think some of these bills are starting to pop up. She believes social media is the root cause because misinformation runs rampant. This is primarily because of sensationalism and anonymity users are afforded across the internet.
“I think social media on behalf of people showing who they really are and then social media’s spread of misinformation has created a big firestorm,” Stygar said. “If I had to blame one thing, I’d blame social media, and I know that’s reducing a complex problem, but I think people feel anonymous, and they can be really nasty when they feel anonymous.”
Laurie Rice, a political science professor, said she believes the recent surge in anti-trans legislation is due to the rapid gain of rights within the LGBTQ community over the last 20 years. She also cited the shifting opinions of the U.S. Supreme Court.
“We've seen a pretty significant social change and change in public opinion in a relatively short period of public opinion. And now we see a movement that is reactionary,” Rice said.
Sites said that seeing this movement sprout up has been disappointing due to his belief that progress was being made.
“It’s taken a huge toll on my mental health,” Sites said. “It seemed like we were going forward, you know? Everything seemed like it was getting better, it was being talked about more and seemed like something everyone at least knew about. Having the sudden backslide is incredibly disheartening.”
Elizabeth Kamper, a gender-nonconforming information literacy librarian and assistant professor within the Honors department said they believe this recent trend towards anti-transgender rhetoric is happening because transgender people threaten conservative society.
“Just the existence of trans individuals de-legitimizes the foundations of heteronormativity and white supremacy," Kamper said. "The hatred has always existed but it’s blatant now because xenophobic voices have been amplified since 2016. They were always there; they were quiet before, but now they’re loud.”
As these bills continue to be introduced and passed, Rice said she believes we will not only see a shift of coalitions within current political parties, but a change in who votes as well.
“On one hand, there's a group of Republicans that are social conservatives pushing for some of these changes,” Rice said. “But there's also been a long history of well-organized LGBTQ Republicans. They’ve had a safe place with the Republicans until recently, but with these policies they are no longer safe.”
Rice said this alienation may change the current political landscape in the future.
“We may see some shifting in party affiliation as a result [of the new policies],” Rice said.“The biggest impact will be seen in Gen Z voters as well as younger millennials who tend to be big supporters of LGBTQ rights and say that it’s an important issue; the sort of issue that might bring people to the polls who don’t usually participate.”
Although the impact of these bills have yet to be seen, some places are working to ensure safe spaces remain. Stygar and Kamper believe that SIUE has remained a relatively safe space for transgender people.
“I think most people on campus want inclusivity and want this campus to be a safe place,” Stygar said. “My impression is that most people are on board and there's just a few people who are resisting.”
Sites said he agrees with the general acceptance of LGBTQ community, and he’s had positive interactions with all of his teachers and fellow students.
“I definitely feel that the staff are more aware and conscious of differences and are willing to learn from them, rather than being put off by them,” Sites said.
The Queer Faculty and Staff Association has worked with The Mensi Project to place menstruation products in all of the bathrooms in accordance with Illinois law. They also serve as a safe space for students.
Kamper, who is the Vice President of the QFSA, says that in the future they would like to have a specific space with “a closed door” for queer students who just need a moment or a place to be themselves.
As these bills continue to be introduced and passed, the people affected by them are continuing to live their lives, but have to remain vigilant. Sites says now more than ever it is paramount for cisgender people to support trans people in any way they can.
“If you have trans friends, stand by them, go to the bathroom with them if that's necessary,” Sites said. “Be supportive. Be their rock and understand that there are things that they have experienced; fears and anxieties that they experience on a daily basis that you might not understand, but you need to be there to support them.”
You explicitly state that other states are preventing minors from receiving permanent, life altering surgery. How do you consider that hostile?
It is not only surgical procedures (though, as a note, very few people expect physicians to perform gender affirming surgery on minors), but the gender affirming care that is under fire. That includes things like hormone blockers and hormone replacement therapy, yes, but it also includes things like counseling, consultations, etc. These bills are openly hostile, and the politicians who are bringing them to the table are making no attempt to hide their disgust and hatred for members of the Transgender community of all ages.
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