My 16-year-old daughter and I were on vacation when I realized we should probably tour the local college. "We should start taking tours of colleges every place we travel to," I said, having been through the process with my oldest three children.
But then I stopped myself. We were in Ohio. I'd forgotten that my youngest daughter's hunt for the perfect college would be very different. I added, "Well, I mean, when we're visiting states where you're allowed to exist."
My youngest daughter is a straight-A student, a cheerleader. Math is a challenge, but she's in honors English and History. She's smart, funny and grounded. She also happens to be transgender.
And so the United States of America, for her, is the Eighteen States of America, along with Washington, D.C.— the places where she is sufficiently protected by law and likely to remain so throughout her education. (Maine and New Hampshire, for example, do include transgender individuals in their anti-discrimination laws, but have Republican governors who can't be counted on for unwavering support.)
If she attended college in Florida, for example, she'd face laws recently signed by Governor DeSantis. As of July 1, anyone over the age of 18 on a public college campus who uses a bathroom that doesn't match the gender marker on their original birth certificate risks arrest. I can't imagine how humiliating and potentially dangerous this would be.
In 20 states, trans minors have lost access to medical experts in trans health; state court injunctions are in place for continuation of care in only four of those states, for the moment. And these laws are now expanding to adults.
And so the United States of America, for her, is the Eighteen States of America, along with Washington, D.C.— the places where she is sufficiently protected by law and likely to remain so throughout her education.
As of late February, the Washington Post reported that five states have introduced legislation that takes away access to trans healthcare for adults. In Oklahoma, one bill prohibits trans care in facilities accepting public funding and another targets doctors who care for trans patients up to age 21; Kansas and Mississippi bills ban gender-affirming healthcare up to age 21. South Carolina and Florida bills take trans care away from those on Medicaid. In Florida, colleges and universities can't spend state funds on gender-affirming care for students. The state attorney general of Missouri announced in March that their restrictions on trans healthcare for minors would extend to people of all ages.
In states like Arkansas, Idaho, Iowa, Alabama, Oklahoma and Tennessee, new laws prohibit trans people from using bathrooms that match their gender in public schools, although some are being challenged in court. If my daughter were an education major, she wouldn't be able to do her student teaching hours in public schools without facing restrictive bathroom laws. And in Florida, she would have no right to be called Miss instead of Mr. in the classroom. The law states that schools must adopt the policy that "a person's sex is an immutable biological trait" and "it is false" to use a pronoun other than the sex on one's original birth certificate.
With over 500 anti-trans bills introduced this year alone, we are watching a wildfire take over this country. My daughter's America has become apocalyptic — safe states scattered wide and broken up by vast stretches of lands that are openly hostile to her existence.
We want our daughter to attend a university in a state where she is fully protected in housing, employment, health care and health insurance; where she feels safe to use the bathroom and where she's respected by people who have the common decency to use the right pronouns.
But we're also holding our breath.
My daughter's America has become apocalyptic — safe states scattered wide and broken up by vast stretches of lands that are openly hostile to her existence.
In the fall of 2024, she'll be applying to colleges at the exact same time that America is electing our next president. If that president is a far-right Republican, the trans community would likely be targeted at the federal level as well. Donald Trump, for example, has pledged to push multiple policies aimed at dismantling trans rights, including, as The Hill reports, "enacting a federal law that recognizes only two genders." Legal precedent has built up in favor of trans rights for decades, but with Roe v. Wade, we saw a Supreme Court that was willing to take away the right to bodily autonomy and justices who are willing to upend decades of legal precedent. Under a Republican president, trans people would be poised to have even more of their basic fundamental civil rights taken away. And so my daughter will not only be applying to colleges within the Eighteen States of America, but also to colleges in Canada, where she could possibly start the process of citizenship if she needs to.
For undergraduate and graduate degrees, my older three children had the entire country to choose from. It belonged to them. This land is my land, this land is your land. Their sister's country would go from those scattered safe havens to a land she had to give up, a country that was her birthright. What a blow to the American Dream, and all because of unbridled bigotry.
For now, she studies for her final exams, pays special attention to her French test, while trying to imagine her future — in our broken America.
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