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  • Victoria A. Brownworth

The GOP Threat to the LGBTQ Body

June 22, 2022 Philadelphia Gay News

In the past six months I have written over 100 articles, essays, investigative series and columns. At least a third of those stories have been about orchestrated legislative attacks on LGBTQ people by the GOP. A significant number of those legislative salvos have focused on healthcare — particularly for queer and trans youth.

Denying bodily autonomy to women and girls has always been a focus (some would call it an obsession) of the Republican party. It’s not much of a leap for the same people who want to control female bodies to want to control queer and trans bodies as well.

Those of us who were AIDS activists remember all too well how the refusal of Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush to acknowledge HIV/AIDS and how the virus imperilled gay bodies and led to the deaths of thousands. Silence = Death was our mantra as we marched in the streets. I participated in die-ins in several U.S. cities, including Philadelphia, New York City, Boston, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

The gay male body was perceived as a threat. Until just last year, all gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with other men (MSM), were banned from donating blood.

Now monkeypox has been deemed a threat. It has, outside of Africa where it is endemic, thus far mostly impacted that same population of gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with other men (MSM), as I have reported over the past few weeks for PGN.

The stigmatizing of the queer body is real. In the AIDS pandemic I lost many friends. Two of my closest friends, the writers Asssotto Saint and Darrell Yates Rist, died more than 25 years ago, yet their fight to save the lives of other gay men remains a vivid and poignant aspect of my memory of them.

Unlike the gay male body, the lesbian and queer female body has been largely ignored — to our peril. Two of my former partners died before they were 50 from cancer in the unstudied and unaddressed epidemic of cancer among lesbians. Their cancer mestastisized because they were poor and gender nonconforming and were unable and to a degree, unwilling, to subject themselves to homophobic medical care.

My wife of 22 years is currently battling a rare and aggressive cancer, as are two close lesbian friends. Throughout my wife’s and my friends’ struggle, they have all also had to come out repeatedly to healthcare workers and hope that they were not subjected to homophobic responses that threatened their very lives.

My Lambda Award-winning book, “Coming Out of Cancer: Writings from the Lesbian Cancer Epidemic,” includes the stories of lesbians and queer women whose cancer battles were ignored and discusses in-depth how hard it is for many lesbians and queer women to afford and/or access the healthcare they need due to embedded homophobia and misogyny as well as financial limitations.

The GOP has, in the not-so-distant past, ignored queer bodies to death. Now they want to erase queer and trans bodies with legislation. Just as Republicans presume banning abortions will end abortion, they think curtailing access to gender-affirming healthcare. queer-friendly healthcare and promoting conversion therapy will eradicate queer and trans people.

As a survivor of conversion therapy, I can assert this legislation will do immeasurable harm. Parents will — as mine did when I was 16 — put their queer and trans kids into treatments that claim to change sexual orientation and gender dysphoria. But these are discredited and dangerous practices intended to erase queer orientation and trans identity. As a recent report from the UN Human Rights Council states, “Conversion therapy is built on the false premise that it can alter the sexual orientation of gender diverse people, and many more countries around the world need to recognize its dehumanizing and deeply corrosive impact.”

The current spate of GOP policies and pending legislation are indeed dehumanizing; and that is their intent. The latest platform of the Texas GOP states unequivocally that homosexuality is “an abnormal lifestyle choice” and that “we oppose all efforts to validate transgender identity.”

It’s impossible to quantify the impact of all of these attacks on the average queer person, but a few months ago I reported on a study that showed the mental health of LGBTQ youth was negatively impacted by the mere fact of all the anti-trans and anti-gay bills being pushed in state legislatures.

And while we care for our vulnerable LGBTQ population, older LGBTQ people are under different threats from these policies. The issue of restricting healthcare access for LGBTQ people has been an ongoing one since the beginning of the Trump administration in 2017. One of the most egregious Trump-era restrictions was enacted in the throes of the pandemic. On June 12, 2020 — ironically, the fourth anniversary of the Pulse nightclub mass shooting that killed 49 LGBTQ people and wounded 53 others — President Trump’s Health and Human Services (HHS) department vitiated an Obama-era expansion of Section 1557 of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

President Obama had expanded Section 1557 to protect LGBTQ people’s access to healthcare. Trump, who aggressively promoted religious freedom laws and policies, ended that expansion.

In addition to all of this, there is the ongoing assault on lesbian and trans bodies through violence. Corrective rape of lesbians and assaults on and murders of trans women are endemic now. And while this is one aspect of the attack on the queer and trans body that can’t be tied directly to the GOP, the ongoing anti-LGBTQ rhetoric and politicking from the right has its own trickle down effect, so that even in middle schools and high schools, LGBTQ kids report extremes of bullying that have a political tone.

According to GLAAD’s Accelerating Acceptance study, out

June 22, 70% of LGBTQ Americans surveyed said discrimination toward the community has increased within the last two years — in the workplace, on social media, in public accommodations and even within the family. The annual study measures “Americans’ attitudes and comfortability towards LGBTQ Americans.”

According to the study, seven in 10 LGBTQ Americans reported personally experiencing discrimination, which marks an 11% increase from last year and a 24% jump from 2020. Anti-LGBTQ legislation and rhetoric create an “unsafe” culture for LGBTQ people.

We are living that unsafe reality, with our bodies on the line yet again, as they were during Stonewall, as they were during the AIDS pandemic, as they have been during the protests over police violence. The GOP agenda has our queer and trans bodies in its crosshairs. The GOP is threatening our very lives and we cannot, and must not, be complacent.

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