Editor’s note • This article discusses suicide. If you or people you know are at risk of self-harm, call or text 988 to reach the Suicide & Crisis Lifeline for 24-hour support.
You do not have to be part of our community to understand that, since 2020, it has been a dark time for the LGBTQ+ people in America. Twenty-two states have banned gender-affirming care outright for anyone under 18, and four of those states have passed a law but have temporary injunctions blocking them.
As a Utahn, a teacher and a transgender woman, this bill seriously concerns me, and I’d like to explain why.
I’m not going to attempt to explain homophobia or transphobia — bigotry has a million different sources. What I’d rather address are people who say, “I am supportive of gay and trans people, but that sort of thing doesn’t belong in children’s environments.”
The person who repeats this adage like a broken record ignores an important detail: Queerness was already in our children’s lives well before this debate began.
I have heard children of all ages talk about their identities. Nobody is pressuring 8-year-olds to say they are nonbinary. There seem to be more trans kids because more kids now realize they can speak out about their experiences. They have the words and tools — and, until recently, the supportive social climate — to process and explore this part of themselves, more than prior generations could.
The point is: Kids are already part of the LGBTQ+ community, in spite of everything we do to try and deny or erase that fact. Think about it: If they weren’t already LGBTQ+, if that was something they chose, shouldn’t we be able to stamp that out of society with good old-fashioned iron fist methods?
Almost half the country has outlawed gender transition for minors. It’s basically illegal for trans kids to exist or make that “choice,” and yet these kids don’t just choose to stop being trans. What child, after all, would choose to be treated like a criminal?
People like Rep. Stenquist know this and would rather not admit it. So instead, they double down and conflate queerness with inappropriateness.
Language is such an important part of why anti-LGBTQ+ movements have gained so much traction. Leaders in these movements phrase everything in such a way that makes it seem like trans people, such as myself, are perverted, spy-like villains who are secretly manipulating the children of America with our libertine ways and forcing children to be something they’re not.
Let’s be adults here and cut through the bull: A pride flag will not turn a student gay. It will let students know that the environment they’re in is safe for everyone and that they will not be judged.
People know exactly what they’re doing when they say that pro-LGBTQ sentiments do not belong in schools: They are erasing any and all signs of hope and support.
A kid who has unsupportive and abusive parents needs to know that there is someone in this world who accepts them. They will look for signs of that support — such as pride flags — and when they do not see that support anywhere in their world, they will assume there is no hope for them.
I do not say this to be dramatic, I state it as a fact, just like two and two make four and water is wet: LGBTQ+ children consider suicide, attempt suicide and die by suicide because they do not see signs of support or love around them.
When did we decide that children should live without knowing love or the feeling of acceptance?
When did we decide that we should deprive children of the necessities of the soul, simply to preserve our moral comforts?
Your kids were trans before they ever met me. They know who they are better than you or I do. All I am doing as an educator is listening to them when they tell me.
That is why I advocate for allowing pride flags in schools. Not because I want to turn children gay, stick it to conservatives or ignite a spark in the culture war nonsense that has poisoned American politics.
I do not want any child to kill themselves. I do not want any child to needlessly suffer. I am not religious, but I do embrace what I have heard from so many others about Jesus’s teachings on the universal love and kindness which knows no identity. Not to get preachy, but nobody loves each other the way they should.
To wit, our governor’s “Disagree Better” initiative encapsulates what we have largely lost: the ability to respect those who are different in ways and views. Nobody ever said you needed to campaign for trans rights, but if I can tolerate living in a world with people who want me dead for being trans, I think they can manage a world with me in it.
That is why I advocate for allowing pride flags in schools. A rainbow is not a secret sexual message. It is a symbol of love, the purest part of the human heart.
Kiley M. Campbell was born and raised in Salt Lake City, where she teaches middle school language arts.
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