Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

A free and responsible press serving the UMass community since 1890

Massachusetts Daily Collegian

Anti-transgender bills leave many UMass students and staff ‘enraged’ and ‘heartbroken’

Gender affirming healthcare, inclusion in youth sports, performing in drag — a few aspects of transgender life these bills target
Daily Collegian archives (2021)

Since the start of the year, over 400 anti-transgender (anti-trans) bills from 44 states were introduced into state legislatures. In 2021 and 2022 combined, more than 300 anti-trans bills were introduced or passed that target various aspects of transgender lives, including access to gender affirming healthcare, inclusion in youth sports and public displays of drag performances.

Anti-transgender legislation refers to any legal documents that attack facets of transgender lives. Currently, most bills target transgender youth and are commonly introduced into state legislatures by Republican representatives. Seeing the sudden increase over the past few years, many University of Massachusetts students and staff expressed concern of what is to come.

“As a trans person, it’s scary. I’m watching people like me have their rights being taken away,

being forced into situations that will hurt them,” said Morgan Robertson, senior biochemistry and molecular biology major.

“I suspect [that] I will see [transgender people] arrested and assaulted, [and] I’m watching politicians vilify my existence and the existence of my friends and I’m watching them condemn trans children to a life that could have killed me.”

Jace Etterman, a junior biology and environmental science double major, added, “I’m terrified about how many of our trans youth are going to end up being the next eulogy in the paper or buried under the wrong name. I know that in their place, I would feel hopeless and not know where to go or what to do.”

“I have never been more angry in my life. If it comes down to it, I will fight tooth and nail for these kids,” Etterman said.

According to Genny Beemyn, director of the Stonewall Center, six percent of incoming UMass undergraduate students identified as trans or nonbinary and 22 percent identified as LGBTQ+ on the admissions forms. This number is a large undercount (students may not be openly queer, are completing surveys with family they aren’t comfortable around, etc.), but it provides some statistics on the queer population at UMass.

Beemyn, a non-binary trans person, felt “enraged” and “heart broken.”

“These laws prevent trans youth from receiving gender-affirming — really, life-affirming — health care and support,” they said. “The result is that trans youth will be unable to live as their authentic selves, which will lead many to experience depression and suicidality.”

In collaboration with the Center for Counseling and Psychological Health, the Stonewall Center offers two support groups for students, one for LGBTQ+ students and one specifically for trans students. They also have a support group for LGBTQ+ graduate students.

“While the situation is dire now, it is only a matter of time before trans people gain equal rights nationwide because of demographics,” Beemyn said. “The younger someone is, the more they are supportive of trans rights, so the people who tend to be the most hostile are dying off.”

They noted that trans people are currently seen as a “convenient target” but said, “Trans rights will ultimately be enshrined into U.S. law because of the attitudes and activism of members of Gen Z and Gen Alpha.”

Politics vs. Trans Lives: Who’s playing the game and why?

Why the sudden upsurge? Jesse Rhodes, professor of political science, believes there’s two simultaneous explanations behind these bills: “Anytime there’s a big change in society, the more conservative Americans feel a sense of anxiety or dislocation as the advocacy of these issues come to the forefront and in this case, it’s transgender lives.”

In addition, conservative parties (such as Republicans) use these issues as a political strategy to mobilize certain groups by “stoking their social anxieties,” but this deflects from other aspects where the party may be lacking, he explained.

With the 2024 presidential election coming up, Rhodes believes that this could be an election strategy, similar to Bush’s in 2004 with same-sex marriage. Discussing how youth are targeted specifically, Rhodes explained that it could be because they’re still minors and can be regulated in the behavior of their parents, as they lack autonomy and decision-making power since they’re under 18.

He also mentioned that these parents have “conspiracy theories” that transgender people are indoctrinating and grooming youth; their lack of exposure, along with their pre-existing social anxieties, have rendered trans youth to be the target of a political game.

“These bills are not to protect children, they are an attempt to legislate trans people out of existence and legalize discrimination…and they will continue, expand and harm other queer people, unless they are blocked and the politicians pushing them are removed from power,” Robertson said.

“The idea that children are rushing into [gender-affirming surgery] or following a trend is absurd. Trans healthcare is beneficial to trans kids’ lives, which credible associations like the American Academy of Pediatrics agree with. Likewise, drag shows do not harm children.”

What could this mean for students, staff and faculty at UMass?

Rhodes noted that Massachusetts is a progressive state, and the chances of any of these bills being passed into law here are quite slim.

Regardless, protections are still in place for members of the UMass community, according to Beemyn. “Massachusetts bans discrimination based on gender identity, which includes in K-12 schools and colleges and in medical care and UMass has its own trans-inclusive nondiscrimination policy.”

According to Beemyn, hormone replacement and/or gender affirming surgeries will still be covered by student health insurance and trans athletes will be included into sports teams, depending on the regulations of those federations.

Transgender people also have the right to use gendered bathrooms by both Massachusetts and UMass policies. “Anyone who tries to be the bathroom gender police is in the wrong,” Beemyn said.

Etterman and Robertson, however, expect more from UMass. “The fact that I have not seen anything on campus about how UMass supports its trans students is very telling,” Etterman said. “Just because those laws aren’t being enacted in [Massachusetts] doesn’t mean it can’t affect the students that go here.”

Robertson noted that UMass should cut its ties with individuals or companies that support the politicians making these bills and should further promote the gender-affirming care offered by University Health Services. “I know several students who chose UMass, at least partially, because they could access transition care here,” he said.

As anti-trans legislation rapidly increases across the country, some states, like Arkansas, Idaho and Utah, have already passed them into law.

“If you aren’t angry about this, get angry,” Etterman said. “Kids will die directly because of these laws and if you stand by and do nothing, their blood is on your hands.”

Mahidhar Sai Lakkavaram can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @Mahidhar_sl.

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