Sam Hill: I’m a gay high school student in Utah, and I don’t feel safe here

I am proud of who I am, but I am also afraid for my safety and future.

(Francisco Kjolseth | The Salt Lake Tribune) The Utah State Capitol is pictured on Tuesday, May 23, 2023, as a pride flag flaps in the wind.

I discovered I was gay when I was 10 years old. That was seven years ago, and I have never felt more afraid to leave my home.

Tragedy is a time of discovery and, for me, that’s what the death of my grandfather became. Shortly after his passing, I discovered why I never felt an attraction to girls. It had nothing to do with indoctrination, as some suggest to explain away biology. I had no idea what “LGBTQ+” meant.

Since then, I’ve done a lot of self-reflection, and can say I am proud of who I am, but I am also afraid for my safety and future. I’m not afraid of a foreign attack by Russia or China or the threat of a deadly pandemic making a return. I’m afraid of my very own government.

Both federal and local governments seem to be redefining freedom — and they’re doing it at the expense of minority groups. Black citizens? Shot dead by corrupt police. Women? Bodies controlled by men. Bodily autonomy? Revoked. Now it’s time for the transgender community to be targeted, as well as the entire LGBTQ+ community.

The LGBTQ+ community has been under constant scrutiny. In the 1980s, it was believed that only gay men could contract AIDS. The label “pedophile” has been used against us for decades. Republican elected officials, on local and federal levels, have begun using the term to describe drag queens and trans people.

Some politicians are very vocal about their dislike of trans people in America, but more concerning are those who have put their words into action. Most notably, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed SB254 into law. The law could separate trans children from parents who aid their children in receiving gender affirming care, which in some cases could be life-saving. Florida has been the pioneer in anti-trans and anti-drag bills, such as another recent bill which has criminalized trans people using the bathroom corresponding with the gender they identify as, as well as the infamous “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

These bills have been proposed and passed with very little opposition. All of these bills have made Florida one of the most dangerous places for, not only trans people, but for anyone under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. As a result of the legislation, some LGBTQ+ residents of Florida have begun to flee the state, a development that has been celebrated by extremist Republican voters and lawmakers who seem to have forgotten that the Bill of Rights was designed to protect Americans regardless of minority or majority status.

Utah isn’t safe from this type of legislation. Our lawmakers are proposing and passing bills that are surprisingly reminiscent of other bills that several states across the country have already passed.

Some believe that Utah will never stoop to the level of Florida, but I worry that’s not true. Sen. Mike Lee has shown support of anti-trans legislation on a federal level. In 2021, Sen. Lee voiced his support to “protect women’s sports” by banning all trans women from participating in sports correlating with their gender. Gov. Spencer Cox vetoed a local bill, but the Utah Legislature voted to override that veto and signed the bill into law on March 25, 2022.

Cox explained that, “I always try to err on the side of kindness, mercy and compassion.”

Cox may have shown resilience in that fight, but he would later sign SB16 into law, which bans gender-affirming care to minors, a move which research shows could lead to an increase in suicide rates among trans teens.

And in 2022, Mike Lee voted against the Respect for Marriage Act despite the LDS Church being in favor of it. Lee went against the church’s stance on same sex marriage, a decision that will get him more Republican votes in a red state, and Lee raised no objections to SB16, yet another decision that would get him the Republican votes.

It would appear that both Cox and Lee care more about getting re-elected than about the people who live here.

We should be very alarmed. People will die because of these decisions.

What’s more important, Utah, the life of a human, or re-election?

(Sam Hill)

Sam Hill is a high school senior focusing on theater and social justice. He is proud of who he is and is determined to make others feel safe to be who they are.