Calling out hypocrisy

By Amy Moran, Ph.D. and Kate Okeson

In 2023, more than 500 anti-LGBTQIA+ measures were introduced in state legislatures, and over 80 have passed already. They’re largely found in “red states” that purportedly prioritize ideas about American freedom in policy initiatives yet seek to restrict freedoms for queer people. We’re calling out some of the hypocrisies.  

Being up in arms about gender-affirming health care for youth is a favorite refrain, even making a disparaging appearance at December’s fourth GOP debate. However, as Lydia Polgreen observed on Dec. 1 in the New York Times, young people, ages 13-19, had irreversible body-modifying surgeries in 2020, such as breast augmentation (3,200 female minors) and breast tissue reduction (2,800 male minors), presumably to support their gender identity. These are associated with bodily autonomy and personal freedom in cisgender teens, with no legislative prohibitions.  

Yet families of transgender minors seeking gender-affirming medical intervention by health-care professionals—which often mitigate dangerous mental health symptoms associated with gender dysphoria—are met by anti-freedom bigots working to legislate against it. For them, irreversible gender-affirming medical intervention is fine, as long as they’re affirming cisgender identities.  

We’re already well-versed in other not-so-golden oldies too, such as book bans—Florida’s attorney general has said school libraries are actually government speech—public restroom restrictions, and preferred name and personal pronoun usage being restricted, but only for transgender and nonbinary folks. 

Local school boards and districts also negatively impact queer students and allied community members through neglect, inaction and omission. For example, in Virginia, student members of a high school GSA applied for a grant through “It Gets Better,” an organization that works nationally to prevent LGBTQIA+ teen suicide. They were awarded $10,000 for furnishing a safe space that would support GSA participants and other members of the student body. But the school board voted 7-2 to reject the money because it came from a queer-affirming organization.  

New Jersey isn’t exempt from this hypocrisy. A diverse community in Bergen County saw the glaring omission of October’s LGBTQIA+ History Month from the district website, although it had been included in previous years. Throughout September, October and November, this district emblazoned the district website and digital school marquees with supportive messages for Hispanic Heritage Month, Breast Cancer Awareness, and Native American Heritage Month, yet LGBTQIA+ History Month wasn’t approved for inclusion by new district leadership. Breast cancer awareness is important, but we all have room to support more than one important cause at a time, especially when the issue impacts so many of our students and school community members.  

How many? 

A 2021 Gallup Poll found that more people are self-identifying as LGBTQIA+ with each successive generation: 

  • 2.6% – Boomers 
  • 4.2% – Gen X  
  • 10.5% – Millennials 
  • 20.8% – Gen Z 

We can deduce that Generation Alpha, born 2010-2023, includes LGBTQIA+ people at a rate of at least 20%. This means more than 1 in 5 students everywhere identify as queer. What decent reason could a school district have to reverse course and decline to publicly support such a significant portion of its student body while supporting others? 

It is important for educators to see and name hypocrisies like these that impact marginalized communities. Moreover, we must engage our youth in the real-time practice of critical awareness around current events, especially those that seek to reduce their civil rights and omit their identities from the public square. 

New Jersey has the most well-defined right to public education in the country, garnered through successive and persistent court rulings and policies, which provide our youth a “thorough and efficient” education—one that is grounded in equity and equal opportunity. We can’t continue that worthwhile work without constant vigilance and calling out these challenges to progress.