Imagine an America where you are not permitted to exercise your First Amendment right to freedom of speech and expression, where efforts to define and be yourself are policed by or prohibited by a government that is watching your every move — an America defined by undemocratic government mandate. In a growing number of states, trans youth are faced with this harrowing scenario simply for being who they are. Florida has taken these efforts to restrict freedom of speech and expression to new extremes, with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) leading the charge.
Through administrative changes by DeSantis, the state of Florida recently issued a direct attack on transgender youth with the publication of dangerous new “guidance” designed to restrict the ability of children to define and express themselves. This “guidance,” which stands in direct opposition to best-practice child development principles, has been issued in the wake of a vague “Don’t Say Gay” law that will result in trans kids being outed in schools, perhaps their one safe space. This is the latest attack by conservatives against marginalized people, and they are laser-focused not only on restricting access to life-saving gender-affirming medical care, but also on controlling how trans and gender-diverse people exist in the world.
Meanwhile, DeSantis prepares his own likely presidential run and is showing the nation what his campaign may look like.
Make no mistake: DeSantis’ unilateral decree, issued without substantial input from Florida’s legislature or residents, is an attack on freedom and liberty. He is attempting to prevent American citizens from being able to use their own names, express their own inner selves and exercise their fundamental right to freedom of speech. While this guidance and the law are cloaked in the language of restricting “social transition” or “speaking about gender identity,” they are very much an attempt to bar children from expressing themselves.
Social transition is a process where transgender and gender-diverse individuals adopt the name, pronouns and gender expression of their identified gender. This process is not clinical in nature but a choice that someone makes in a community with others. When this transition begins, it allows individuals to begin to express themselves publicly and be embraced for who they are by those around them. This can be lifesaving for many trans kids, as it allows them to express their inner self better and grow and develop as the person they know themselves to be.
Conservatives claim that social transition is part of some liberal agenda or fad, when in reality it is simply part of the process of normal human growth and development — something the GOP is in clear opposition to.
As a health care provider, I have seen many kids grow up healthy and happy after society got their names, pronouns and clothes right. They knew, while others had to catch up. I recall one little transgender girl who just had to go to Disneyland as a “princess” — after this, she went to school as the girl she always was and flourished. I remember a little transgender boy who knew he was a boy since age 4 — and after being accepted for who he was, he lived a life that would have been expected of any other boy his age.
Preventing social transition interferes with the healthy process of trans and gender-diverse kids growing up as their whole authentic selves. It is not a fad. Social transition has positive outcomes for kids, families and communities — meanwhile denying children this opportunity is not only cruel, harmful and discriminatory, but it directly contradicts the position of every major medical, nursing or health care society in the United States.
A driving force behind the anti-trans legislation, policies and guidance being proposed by social conservatives is the misguided belief that there are “too many” LGBTQ+ kids. Instead of accepting that the world has changed and ideas around gender have expanded as more people have felt comfortable coming out and identifying as LGBTQ, social conservatives have responded by championing a dangerous agenda that censors ideas, cracks down on social expression and puts vulnerable children in the crosshairs of grotesque political attacks.
What’s happening in Florida is an example of government overreach at its most dangerous, as it exploits its authority in an unscientific and malicious way to dictate what is considered appropriate medical care and — even further, what is an appropriate way for individuals to speak, dress, act and express themselves.
These recent moves by the state of Florida and DeSantis should be concerning to all Americans who believe in freedom of speech and expression. DeSantis will likely be a presidential contender, and this unilateral executive action clearly shows what type of future he and his campaign appear to want for America: one that is destructive to individual liberty and freedom of expression and one which harms those at the margins.
We must speak up and fight back.