Alabama resumes its cruel war on transgender youth

April 24, 2023 6:59 am
A group of young people holding a large flag representing the transgender community with the words "Hands Off Trans Youth" written on it.

Protestors hold a flag in New Orleans on March 31, 2023 as part of the International Transgender Day of Visibility. (Greg LaRose/Louisiana Illuminator)

You can’t call what’s happening to transgender youth in Alabama a moral panic. It has elements of that, but it’s more like a crusade.

A bunch of zealots, seeking purity, are going places they don’t understand to create havoc and suffering that solves nothing and leaves everyone worse off.  

We’ve seen it before in Alabama. Gov. George Wallace pushed a crime package in 1977 that included a “habitual offender” law that enhanced punishments for prior convictions. And what heinous crime warranted the first life sentence under this law? The theft of a tool box. That man spent 29 years in prison before getting paroled. 

The Legislature in 2011 passed HB 56, a needless anti-immigrant law targeting Alabama’s small foreign-born communities. It drove people out of the state. The gauzy visions of native-born Alabamians walking the fields and harvesting the corn never came to pass. Farmers ended up hiring refugees who moved into the state to do those jobs.

Now transgender Alabamians, a community even smaller than the state’s foreign-born population, face the battle cries of our sanctimonious lawmakers. The rhetoric ranges from condescending to vicious, but it all goes to the same place: These people are a problem, and we must hurt them.

We must cut off their medical care. Never mind that access to that care improvesand can even save — the lives of transgender youth. What’s really important is our creepy obsession with teenagers’ fertility.

We must keep them out of high school sports. Never mind that the Alabama High School Athletic Association couldn’t find any examples of transgender youth playing high school sports in the state. A transgender athlete once succeeded somewhere else at swimming, so we must ensure no such athlete ever competes again.

The latest thrust in this offensive is a bill from Rep. Susan DuBose, R-Hoover, that would extend Alabama’s high school transgender sports ban to two- and four-year colleges and universities by requiring people to play in the sport of their biological sex at birth. The bill passed the House 83-5 on Tuesday.

DuBose, like other supporters, says it’s a way to “protect” women’s sports from an apparent Lollapalooza of young people storming Alabama’s beleaguered health care facilities, demanding to start the intense process of transitioning in order to play women’s squash.

This is, of course, nonsense. There are maybe 32 transgender athletes among the 480,000 men and women playing college sports, according to the NCAA. The NCAA already has policies in place to document testosterone levels among transgender athletes. And transitioning isn’t as easy as picking up a dose of a hormone: as physicians have testified in federal court, there’s a lengthy process of counseling before medical intervention is even considered. That sparks a new process of counseling and evaluation.

These are points that transgender young people, their families and physicians have stressed over and over again in endless travel to endless legislative hearings over the last two years. 

They ask legislators for the barest amount of respect. Legislators ignore them.

Because this is not a good-faith effort. This isn’t even a solution seeking a problem; it’s legislators creating one.

Women’s sports are not threatened by transgender people. They’re threatened by funding disparities that give women’s sports as little as one-third of the funding of men’s programs. They’re threatened by far too many athletic departments turning a blind eye to sexual assault.   

You want to do something about that? Make it clear we will not tolerate sexual misconduct. Use what I hear is a record education budget to boost women’s programs at our universities. Or increase college and university funding on the condition that they freeze or lower their tuition rates. That will get women on campus who can try out for teams.

Banning transgender athletes is simple cruelty. But in Alabama politics, cruelty works. 

Wallace, a man obsessed with winning elections, thought cruelty to prisoners would play well with voters, and he was right. The backers of HB 56 expected cruelty to immigrants to play well with their voters, and they were correct.

And because of those calculations, a man stayed in prison for 29 years. Families fled their Alabama homes in terror of law enforcement taking them from their children.

In our gerrymandered state, where the primaries are the only elections that really matter, I’m sure some Republican voters love seeing young people pushed around. You’ll probably see a mailer in a few years from a representative praising their get-tough attitude toward teenagers and twentysomethings who just want to live their lives. 

So a group of people who neither asked for nor deserve these attacks will be further marginalized and discriminated against because someone needs to win a primary. And Alabama government will continue doing real damage to these young people, in line with Alabama’s worst traditions, and all because of a made-up threat.

Crusades don’t purify the land. They lead to disaster. This one will, too.

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Brian Lyman
Brian Lyman

Brian Lyman is the editor of Alabama Reflector. He has covered Alabama politics since 2006, and worked at the Montgomery Advertiser, the Press-Register and The Anniston Star. His work has won awards from the Associated Press Managing Editors, the Alabama Press Association and Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights. He lives in Auburn with his wife, Julie, and their three children.