State Legislatures Move Ahead with Anti-Trans Bills in the Shadow of a Trans Teen’s Murder

Brianna Ghey was murdered in Cheshire, England on Feb. 11. Photo: Family of Brianna Ghey

I just read an article about the murder of Brianna Ghey, a transgender teenager found stabbed to death in a park in England. As NBC reports, Ghey had “visible stab wounds” and, just in case you didn’t think this story could get any worse, “Police said they have arrested two teenagers, both 15 years old, on suspicion of the murder.”

My god. These are children. All of them. Perhaps many in the U.S. have become numb to stories about kids killing kids (our legislators certainly have), but this is truly horrific.

I don’t have any further details about the suspects. I don’t know if they did it and I don’t know why they did it if they are, indeed, guilty.

I do know that scrolling through my newsfeed just about every article related to transgender people was “Texas Governor backs transgender ban for college sports” and “South Dakota governor signs bill prohibiting gender-affirming treatment for transgender minors” and “Ban on health care for transgender youth passed by Utah Legislature” and “Arizona Rep. proposes anti-transgender ‘women’s bill of rights.’”

It goes on and on. State legislatures across the country are fixated on harming transgender people. Every single one of these measures, as well as the anti-trans rhetoric fueling debate on the issue, serves to spread the message that transgender people are, at best, “icky” and, at worst, subhuman and dangerous.

Reading about Brianna Ghey’s murder surrounded by these stories really crystalizes the reality that every politician who introduces anti-trans bills, every religious leader who portrays trans people as evil, every school board member who demands books about transgender people be yanked from school libraries, every media talking head who uses their platform to dehumanize trans people — they all contribute to a culture of violence where transgender people are unsafe.

Which is, of course, the point. What was it that Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said about “self-deportation”? That if we make the lives of immigrants horrible enough they’ll just leave on their own?

That’s what is being advocated for trans people: self-erasure. And anti-trans bigots don’t care if that erasure manifests itself as staying in the closet or ends in death by suicide or murder.

And as Gillian Branstetter, a communications strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union, points out on Twitter, in places that lack self-ID laws — meaning transgender people cannot legally change their IDs, including their names — transgender people are further marginalized when newspapers print their “real” names and use the wrong pronouns. Families can essentially do the same if they did not accept or support their dead relative’s identity.

“Trans people like Brianna are fighting to tell the truth when the whole world wants us to tell a lie,” Branstetter posted to Twitter. “We are routinely censored and penalized for that truth. And too often our death is seen as an opportunity — by police, the media, and even our own families — to erase that truth.”

Look, maybe even you, dear reader, are someone who doesn’t “get” trans people. Maybe your gender identity is so entrenched that you can’t fathom being trans or non-binary. Fine. But the thing is, you don’t have to understand someone to treat them humanely and allow them to live in dignity. You know what being human feels like and, if you’re a member of the LGB community, you know what it feels like to be dehumanized for who you are. So do trans folks.

You’d think that even cisgender heterosexual people would get that most basic principle: treat others how you would like to be treated. Very basic stuff.

But instead, it seems like people are allowing themselves to believe that public schools are somehow gender transition factories with teachers intent on creating a fully trans student body so that… I don’t know what the end goal is in this wild theory, actually. To destroy the very idea of gender, maybe? There’s no logic to follow, so that’s my best guess.

In an op-ed in USA Today, Vanessa and Michael Anspach, parents of a transgender child in Arizona, write about the pending anti-trans legislation in Arizona, “It’s another bill that, on its face, is aimed at harming our trans kids by instilling fear in others that schools are somehow ‘transitioning’ their kids behind their backs. It also aims to ‘protect’ adults in schools who care more about their politics than about treating others with dignity and basic human decency.”

Yep. And this is true for all of this pending legislation. It’s all bullshit. It’s the result of unserious people being elected to do a serious job for which they are unqualified and in which they are uninterested. They just want to use their power to hurt the people they don’t like. And transgender kids are getting hit hardest of all.

D'Anne Witkowski is a poet, writer and comedian living life with her wife and son. She has been writing about LGBT politics for over a decade. Follow her on Twitter.