By Sara Youngblood Gregory
“I came from a very rural conservative space where high schools were segregated and the town was small enough to know everybody. I didn’t learn about transness and queerness until I was about 22,” says El (he/him), a 29-year-old arts educator. He’s sitting in his family’s living room as we speak over Zoom.
El says he only survived his childhood because he didn’t know he was trans. “It meant that I was traumatized. There were a few out gay and lesbian folks that I knew, but they were not accepted unless they made themselves palatable to other cishet people,” El remembers. His hometown is majority white with many of the stereotypical trappings of conservative Southern communities: religion, racial division, and the pressure to assimilate. For El, coming from a Chicanx family, the whiteness of his hometown added another layer of isolation. It wasn’t until El left for art school in Rhode Island, that the “slow unveiling” of his identity as transmasculine and queer took root.
For Lindsey (they/he), a 25-year-old trans organizer and educator originally from Pennsylvania, it took coming to Florida to finally find their trans community.
As the child of a devout Evangelical preacher, Lindsey says, “Everything in my life was centered around the church, the church community, and the idea that one day I would get married to a man and have kids and do exactly what everyone around me did.” So they often locked horns with not only their family but also the conventions of the gender binary. In 2017, Lindsey’s parents found out they were in a queer relationship, and sent Lindsey to conversation therapy. Soon after, Lindsey was disowned.
“When I was kicked out, my friends drove up overnight from Kissimmee, Florida to Pennsylvania and picked me up on my driveway. It was the truest, most practical expression of love I could have seen by my queer and trans family members, and at the time I needed to see it,” says Lindsey. They’ve been organizing with queer and trans communities in Florida since, and they recently went viral after injecting testosterone at a Florida board meeting. They have found the love, affirmation, and community they needed as a child — and that community includes El.
Stories like El and Lindsey’s aren’t the typical stories you hear about Florida.
The state is often portrayed as a backward, high-rolling playground for the likes of Donald Trump or a “lost cause” state. But the reality is that Florida is also home to a large queer community and their lives are becoming more precarious in the state where they found themselves.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is currently tracking 10 anti-LGBTQ bills in Florida. All of them are poised to erode queer and trans people’s civil rights and freedom of speech. Some of the most important bills to know about include:
- HB 1223 : Would require that “personal titles and pronouns” match the sex assigned at birth for K-12th students.
- HB 1421: Would prohibit updates to sex on birth certificates, gender-affirming care for minors, and health insurance coverage for gender-affirming care.
- HB 254: Could be used to prosecute medical providers helping trans youth access gender-affirming care, revoke medical licenses, and enable Florida courts to interfere with child custody should guardians seek gender-affirming care for their children.
These bills represent an aggressive expansion of already-existing laws, like Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill, signed into law in March 2022 by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis. This past month in March 2023, the state’s ban on gender-affirming medical care for minors went into effect. The ban not only makes it a felony to provide these services to minors but also prohibits state funds to be used for trans adults’ healthcare.
It’s easy to shutter at these laws or to just look away. It is also just as easy to laugh at Florida, a place “rolling around in its own shit,” as Lindsey put it. But for people like Lindsey and El, and countless other trans people whose stories we will never know these laws mean that trans people’s right to an education, medical care, and employment aren’t protected It means that their humanity does not not have a home in government, according to the state’s government
“All of this happening is painting genocide as [a form of] gentrification,” El says. Legislation like this, and the transphobic culture behind it, will force people out of their homes, both physical and mental. And El thinks that this attack will ultimately conclude with displacement and death, “You don’t have to kill people to eradicate them. You can kill parts of people’s spirits.”
Both Lindsey and El feel as if they are held hostage by a rising tide of fascism, even as they fight back and organize. With Desantis at the helm, Florida is rapidly becoming a new ground zero of American-branded white nationalism.
For those who have no option but to stay here, El says many trans people will be forced to go stealth and look for underground access to hormones and healthcare which increases the potential for harm.
In no uncertain terms, Florida is in crisis, but so is the entire country. What happens in Florida is already happening elsewhere. Other states are rapidly expanding and coordinating anti-queer and trans legislation. While many in other parts of the country wring their hands thinking “It can’t happen here,” Desantis gears up for a potential 2024 presidential run. His slogan? “Make America Florida.” Florida can either be a call to action or a crystal ball of what’s to come — but either way, what happens here will ripple throughout the rest of the country.
Sara Youngblood Gregory (she/they) is a non-binary lesbian journalist and writer. She is the author of THE POLYAMORY WORKBOOK and a former staff writer for POPSUGAR. She covers sex, queerness, disability, culture, and wellness. Her work has been featured in Vice, Teen Vogue, HuffPost, Bustle, DAME, Cosmo, Jezebel, and many others.
Sara serves on the board of the lesbian literary and arts journal Sinister Wisdom. As a poet, Sara has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize, Best of the Net, and Best New Voices. She’s also attended the Kenyon Review Workshop in 2019 and 2022, as well as a Winter Tangerine poetry workshop. Her chapbook RUN. is out now.