This opinion piece originally ran in the Cap Times on May 17. Here's the link to that piece.
On International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia, we’re taking a look at how the escalating attacks on the trans community have impacted Wisconsin. Now more than ever, we must all step up and take action to support LGBTQ Wisconsinites.
Right now, trans rights are being attacked on many levels — from our schools and health care system to the growing number of laws restricting what trans people have the freedom to do. As anti-trans hate spreads, the very lives of LGBTQ Americans are put under threat.
Anti-trans violence in Wisconsin
We’ve witnessed the consequences of anti-trans rhetoric here in Wisconsin. Nationally, at least 38 trans people were tragically killed in 2022. Brazil Johnson, Mya Allen and Cashay Henderson — three Black trans women — have been killed in Milwaukee since last June.
Three boys allegedly harassed a trans student at a Kiel school. When the school took action to discipline the students, the boy’s parents, along with the Wisconsin Institute for Law and Liberty (WILL) stirred up anti-trans sentiments around the state and country, leading to far-right extremists calling in bomb threats against the school and the Kiel community. The parents and WILL later acknowledged that their story was an incomplete narrative.
When Wisconsin and national lawmakers and activists portray trans people as a threat to the country and their way of life, all they are doing is slowly cultivating an environment in which this ugly history can happen again.
Attacks from the Legislature
Last session, Wisconsin lawmakers tried to pass three bills: one banning gender-affirming care in the state for trans youth and two banning trans people from participating in K-12 sports and college sports. These types of bills still vilify and stigmatize trans people across the state and create an environment that is more conducive to harm towards them.
Wisconsin lawmakers, like Rep. Scott Allen, argued that the purpose of a bill that could criminalize gender-affirming care is to “protect children from the irreversible effects of harmful interventions.” This is a gross misrepresentation of the lifesaving gender-affirming care necessary for one of Wisconsin’s most marginalized communities.
Rep. Janel Brandtjen defended the discriminatory sports bill against trans women as “a science bill,” even though an in-depth review of all scientific literature published between 2011 and 2021 says differently. The review concluded, “There is not one discrete biomarker that allows easy comparison of athletes’ bodies to each other in terms of performance.”
Most of the more heinous bills that have been proposed in the last two legislative sessions haven’t become law due to the governor's veto. Neither the discriminatory sports bill or the banning of gender-affirming care were signed into law, but these are the types of bills that would become law if an anti-trans governor assumes office.
And it’s far from over. This year a bill was introduced to censor “harmful” material in schools and public libraries, likely targeting queer content, and the ban on conversion therapy was lifted by Republican lawmakers. Furthermore on May 5 Assembly Speaker Robin Vos stated, “I hope we pass it” in reference to an anti-trans sports bill that legislators are planning to introduce this year.
In February 2020, several parents anonymously sued the Madison Metropolitan School District. The parents claimed that the school district’s guidance that seeks to provide support for transgender, non-binary, and gender-expansive students violates parental rights and religious freedom by allowing students to use names and pronouns at school different from those they were assigned at birth, without providing parental notification absent a student’s consent. The ACLU and ACLU of Wisconsin, with pro bono assistance from Quarles & Brady, intervened in the case on behalf of LGBTQ student groups at schools in the district to help defend the district’s guidance.
On November 23, 2022, the Dane County Circuit Court dismissed the lawsuit in a victory for transgender students. However, the plaintiff (all but one parent dropped out of the case) appealed. Now we await the appeals court and Wisconsin Supreme Court decisions, which could determine whether local schools across Wisconsin will be able to adopt policies to protect their transgender students.
With anti-LGBTQ hate on the rise, we must band together and counter the growing bigotry with a unified message of solidarity grounded in love and acceptance for all Wisconsinites.
Trans people belong in sports. They belong in schools. They belong everywhere.
Jon McCray Jones is a policy analyst with ACLU of Wisconsin.