If you have children or grandchildren, you likely think about them all the time. You imagine them smiling and laughing while running outside or playing on a swing set, or indoors, mastering the latest video game.
One place we never imagine them? Cold and hungry on the street. Alone. Unsafe. Terrified.
Yet 1.6 million children, teens and young adults across the country end up on the streets each year, according to the True Colors Fund. And 40 percent of them — 640,000 — identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender or queer.
Our society has made admirable progress when it comes to the LGBTQ community. It’s been nearly 50 years since the American Psychiatric Association removed homosexuality from its list of mental illnesses. In many places across the U.S., it’s illegal to discriminate based on sexual orientation or gender identity. And marriage equality has been the law of the land since 2015.
All of that might give us the impression that homophobia is a shame of the past. But tragically, it’s very much alive today. And it especially affects the transgender community, where someone is four times more likely to be the victim of rape, sexual assault — or really, any assault — than their cisgender counterpart, according to a UCLA School of Law study conducted not decades ago, but just last year.
And with what appears to be a solid conservative majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, a number of states are passing laws their legislators hope will not just walk back many of the measures that have opened the door to equality over the past decade, but run them back at full speed.
One prime example is Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis. If you haven’t heard of the legislation, it might be because few actually refer to it by its name. Instead, it’s deridingly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
It’s a super-vague bill that would prohibit schools from teaching kids from kindergarten through third grade about sexual orientation or gender identity that is “not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate . . . in accordance with state standards.”
What is appropriate? What are the standards? They aren’t defined, which means they mean whatever whoever in power wants them to mean.
DeSantis, who is expected to sign the bill into law, has defended it, saying that children at that age are too young to learn about sex. As if being LGBTQ is only about that. Sexuality and gender identity are about so many more aspects of life than sexual relations.
Seeing something as abnormal is a learned behavior, not an inherent one. And there is a chance that many children will sit in classrooms with fellow students who have LGBTQ parents, if not go home to LGBTQ parents themselves. A 2019 U.S. Census study found that 292,000 children in this country have a parent living with a same-sex partner or spouse.
But for DeSantis — and Republicans like him — the fear is that diversity somehow leads to moral corruption. And Florida isn’t alone, by the way. CNN’s Giselle Rhoden has found more than 150 anti-LGBT bills floating around the legislatures of more than 30 states.
No similar proposals have found their way to Albany, but that doesn't mean we shouldn’t fight this cruelty everywhere else.
Not everyone is born meeting the high societal standards set for us, like being heterosexual and identifying with the gender assigned at birth. But we should celebrate diversity, not fear it.
There are some great services — especially close to home — that can help those working through sexuality and gender identity issues. One that comes to mind immediately is Pride for Youth from the Long Island Crisis Center. From social activities for pre-teens with Camp PFY to Friday coffeehouse gatherings for older kids, and help services through its TransAction group in Bellmore, there's something for everyone.
And they provide 24/7 support, too, for those in crisis or feeling suicidal, at (516) 679-1111.
And we must not let DeSantis and others like him march us back to the societal Dark Ages.