Opinion | The right is trying to eradicate queer futurity under the guise of protecting children


John Blair | Senior Staff Photographer

Attendees march Downtown during the Pittsburgh Pride Revolution March & Parade on Saturday.

By Ebonee Rice-Nguyen, Staff Columnist

For LGBTQ+ people in America, 2022 marked a year filled with fear and uncertainty as the right introduced a record number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills. In 2023, these anxieties spiked as some of these proposed bills turned into reality.

In the 2023 legislative session alone, Republican state legislators introduced more than 100 bills seeking to restrict LGTBQ+ people’s freedoms and rights. The driving force behind these bills is the discomfort and disdain for individual expression existing outside of the conventional gender norms. While the right has long attacked the LGBTQ+ community, they have now turned to children to drive their moral crusades forward, portraying themselves as saviors of the children. 

The right is controlling the future of the LGBTQ+ community in the most important place for children’s future — the classroom. In March 2022, Florida passed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. A month later, Alabama lawmakers passed a sweeping package of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation prohibiting discussions on sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms for grades K-5. Following this legislation, a wave of book bannings targeted queer children’s lit. Many of these legislative packages have been referred to as the “Parents Bill of Rights,” proving it was never about the children to begin with.

The “protecting the kids” argument has reared its ugly head as the surge of book bans spread like wildfire in the United States, ripping acclaimed works off school library shelves. The “Don’t Say Gay” bill, criticism of trans athletes and charges against gender-affirming childcare are all supported by the GOP’s affirmation that they have children’s best interests at heart. 

The most recent line of attack focuses on drag performances, a long-celebrated form of self-expression for those within the LGBTQ+ community. Tennessee was the first state to pass a bill barring “adult cabaret” performances that were “harmful to minors” with other states following. Tennessee Governor Bill Lee claimed that drag shows “sexualized entertainment in front of children.” 

In Texas, four proposed bills would place drag venues in the same explicit category as adult movie theaters and strip clubs. Florida Governor Ron Desantis even suggested he could order his state’s child protective services department to investigate parents who take their own children to drag performances. “That is not something that children should be exposed to,” said DeSantis. If the right is able to restrict or ban drag performances, other bans on queer expression will likely follow

The GOP continually attempts to lump drag performance in the same camps as pornography and strip clubs, but by doing so they ignore the fact that drag performers offer a more empathetic space to children than those legislating to “protect” them. But calling drag performance “sexualized entertainment” is part of the right’s long history of villainizing queerness to control it, all with the goal of making queerness invisible to the public. By stoking parental fears, the GOP can cast themselves as saviors of children, allowing them to dominate public spaces on the behalf of minors and prevent these gender-nonconforming spaces from forming.

By forcing trans and queer individuals out of the public eye, children who could possibly identify as a member of the LGBTQ+ community will never have the role models necessary to live their futures as themselves. A lack of representation is especially harmful to the trans community, as many already struggle with imagining a future for themselves due to lack of resources and visibility. Of course, invisibility is the goal of the GOP. As the use of different pronouns and increased visibility of non-binary people have become part of our present-day life, the GOP has focused its agenda on preventing a queer future.

But despite the vitriolic attempts by the right, the LGBTQ+ community continues to prove they aren’t going anywhere. In Woodstock, Ontario, crowds gathered in support of drag storytime, including the mayor. Supporters for transgender people spoke out at the Nebraska state capitol to voice their opposition to a bill that would ban medical help that alters gender for anyone younger than 19. With each ban the GOP proposes, communities gather to stand with the LGBTQ+ community and to remind legislatures that the future is not something for them to control. 

But resisting the right’s attempts to erase LGBTQ+ people is a heavy weight to carry alone, especially as the hateful rhetoric that supports anti-transness has spread like wildfire. In a speech given in early March, Michael Knowles told the audience, “Transgenderism must be eradicated from public life entirely — the whole preposterous ideology, at every level.” Within these lines, we see the entire intention of the GOP come to fruition. It was never about protecting children — that was just an argument to get a foot in the door. Their purpose is to “eradicate” everyone within the LGBTQ+ community. 

Pitt’s College Republicans and the Intercollegiate Studies Institute have scheduled a debate next month featuring Michael Knowles. A university — an institution whose purpose is to guide students into their futures — giving such a speaker a platform, even in a debate, is saying it is willing to hold space for the future the right wants. That future is one that refuses to include trans and queer people. 

Even if Pitt is not directly opening the door to the future the right wants, it is not shutting it, meaning that those within the LGBTQ+ community will remain excluded from their own futurity.

Ebonee Rice-Nguyen writes primarily about political, social and cultural issues. Write to her at [email protected].