A few weeks ago, I volunteered at a dance for LGBTQ+ teens. About a half hour before the event started, I gathered all of the adult volunteers to have “the talk.” I wasn’t worried about this large group of teenagers misbehaving, vaping in the bathroom, or wandering into unauthorized areas of the building. That’s not what we needed to talk about.
Instead, I pointed to our possible escape routes. I showed them the exits and reminded them to always try to flee first. If you can’t flee, find a place to hide. I walked them to each closet, and showed them which doors were unlocked. I placed tables and garbage cans in front of the locked doors, hoping folks would instinctively avoid these instead of running into a dead end. We talked about how to barricade the doors, and what to grab if they had to fight.
This year, we tripled the number of adult chaperones, not because I expected more kids to attend or the kids needed more supervision. This year was different because we are less safe than ever before. The Montana Legislature has made it that way.
Anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric embraced by the Republican supermajority is resulting in real violence against us. Recently, a Great Falls woman was intentionally struck and pinned against a building. The motive for this attempted murder? Her gender identity. With this violence in mind, we had adults at every door, every exit, every elevator, in the hopes that if someone came to hurt us, we’d stop them before they got to the children.
In the days after the dance, friends casually asked, “How did prom go?” And my response?
“The kids had fun and no one tried to kill us.”
No one tried to kill us this time. No one tried to kill us today. But to be clear, they are trying to kill us. They’re doing so by inciting violence against us – with their words and with their laws.
I’ve worked on LGBTQ+ teen suicide prevention efforts for the past several years. That’s mostly done by hosting social events for these kids. We eat pizza and play Mario Kart. If one of the kids is having a problem, we talk about solutions.
These can be things like, “Johnny is getting bullied at lunch. Who else has this lunch period? Let’s make sure Johnny has some friends to sit with.”
The alarmingly simple truth is that queer kids need what straight kids need, too, – support from their peers and the adults in their lives. In fact, one supportive adult can make a life-or-death difference for an LGBTQ+ teen.
Sometimes the support they need is in the form of medical care. Gender affirming care can look like many things. For minors, it is often in the form of puberty blockers. The safety of puberty blockers has been well documented, and need not be re-hashed here. Gender affirming care itself has a regret rate of around 1%, which is astoundingly low. A patient is more likely to regret a knee replacement than they are gender affirming care. There is no medical reason to restrict this type of care, and contrary claims made by the Montana GOP are not backed by medical science in any way. Medical decisions should be made by the child, parent, and medical professionals involved. The Montana legislature has no place in making those decisions.
Every 45 seconds, an LBGTQ+ child attempts suicide. Without support, both familial, social, and medical, many LGBTQ+ kids don’t live to adulthood. Luckily, we know how to make these numbers go down. Combine that one supportive adult with appropriate medical care and more kids will live. Research shows that providing gender affirming care significantly reduces rates of suicide and depression. Take away that care, and you’ll have a state full of tiny coffins from kids who died begging for our help.
I’ve spent my fair share of nights sitting in the emergency room with scared parents and kids who don’t see a future where they can just be themselves. So, when I read that House Speaker Matt Reiger claims that Rep. Zooey Zephyr was using “violent rhetoric,” I’m not sure if I should laugh or cry.
As the entire country now knows, Rep. Zephyr was speaking against a law that would deny gender affirming care to minors, when she told lawmakers they would have “blood on their hands.” This turn of phrase is both wholly accurate and in no way a threat. Republicans, who are actively making me less safe, are now pretending to be victims and hiding under the guise of “decorum.” Yet, Reiger issued no such condemnation of poor decorum to the Montana Freedom Caucus when they intentionally and repeatedly misgendered Zephyr. (As did Great Falls’ own Senator Jeremy Trebas). Apparently rules only apply when you’ve made a Republican feel a shred of accountability for the harm they’re causing.
As Republicans spew vitriol against Queer people, kids are listening. Already, Montana’s anti-LGBTQ+agenda has resulted in queer kids trying to kill themselves. When SB 99 is signed into law, more LGBTQ+ children are going to die. People like Matt Reiger and Great Falls’ own Steven Galloway are denying them life-saving medical care, and inciting violence against the LGBTQ+ community. Montana Republicans have made themselves clear – they’d prefer a dead queer child to a living one.
Imagine having the gall to pass these devastating, discriminatory laws and then acting like a victim when someone calls you to account for it. This rings particularly hollow when I’ve just shown a group of adults where to hide the children should some bigot come try to shoot us. Be it inciting their constituents to violence or denying children medical care, Republicans will have us bleeding out in a closet.
When Rep. Zephyr says that the Montana GOP will have blood on their hands, she’s telling the truth.