This is a season of celebration for the LGBTQ+ community. June was national LGBTQ+ Pride Month, and in San Diego, Pride festivities continue until mid-July.
A joyous spirit is in the air, with fun and empowering events including San Diego’s largest annual civic event, the Pride Parade. Pride flags of many colorful varieties drape the city, Pride merchandise can be found even in grocery stores, and television stations feature LGBTQ+ programming. Indeed, we have made great strides, both here in California and nationally, with public opinion polls showing that 70 percent of Americans now support marriage equality, double from what it was 20 years ago.
Yet there are dark storm clouds on the horizon. Across the country, LGBTQ+ rights are under well-coordinated attacks by extremist groups. In fact, the Human Rights Campaign has declared a national state of emergency for LGBTQ+ people in the United States. More than 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in state legislatures, and over 70 of those have already been signed into law, primarily in conservative states. Half of the bills specifically target the transgender community, especially youth seeking gender affirming care and participation on sports teams. In some states, books with positive LGBTQ+ themes are being banned from libraries; discussion of LGBTQ+ topics and use of pronouns that don’t conform to a student’s assigned sex at birth are prohibited in schools; and drag shows are not allowed in public spaces.
The vitriolic rhetoric has resulted in an increase in hate crimes and violence directed toward the LGBTQ+ community, and it has taken a toll on the mental health of LGBTQ+ youth. According to a 2023 report by Trevor Project, 14 percent of LGBTQ+ youth attempted suicide last year, including nearly 20 percent of those who identify as transgender or nonbinary. These alarmingly high rates are due to rejection by their families and societal mistreatment and stigmatization.
Some have suggested that we should respond by boycotting states that limit LGBTQ+ rights. In fact, since 2017, California has had a law prohibiting state-funded travel to such states with the intent of discouraging other states from passing discriminatory laws.
When this law was enacted, there were four states on the list, now there are 23, and no states have been removed. Unfortunately, this strategy is no longer effective and it has caused some unintended consequences, such as preventing state employees from attending LGBTQ+ related conferences, forcing public universities to use private funds to send their student athletes to compete, and even limiting California’s ability to help people from out of state receive abortion care.
It’s time for a new approach, which is why I introduced SB 447, the BRIDGE Project – Building and Reinforcing Inclusive, Diverse, Gender-supportive Equality.
This bill would replace the travel ban with a targeted marketing campaign to increase inclusivity and compassion throughout America. The project would create a donation driven, non-partisan and inclusive messaging campaign that uplifts LGBTQ+ people, championing empathy and compassion to places where it is most needed. The goal is to reverse the winds of intolerance by changing hearts and opening minds — which I believe is how we are going to succeed in making this nation more inclusive for all.
I grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Appalachia, and even though I was fortunate to have understanding and accepting parents when I came out as a lesbian, I know what it is like to live in areas where LGBTQ+ people are less accepted and feel isolated.
Ignorance is fueling the rise of transphobia. People tend to fear what they don’t understand, making it easy for the hate-mongers to spread misinformation. Folks today are generally more accepting of gay, lesbian and bisexual people because most people have friends, family members, colleagues, and others they know and respect who have come out and live openly as their authentic selves. But most Americans don’t have such relationships with transgender and nonbinary individuals, so they are more likely to be misled by the falsehoods spread by bigoted commentators.
Innovative initiatives such as the BRIDGE Project will share compelling personal stories and spread truth and love … the true antidote to ignorance and hate and the foundation of the bridge we need to build to a more understanding, and less divisive, future.
– Toni G. Atkins is California’s State Senate President pro Tempore and a resident of San Diego. For more information about this bill, visit sd39.senate.ca.gov/sb447. To communicate your support of Senator Atkins and/or SB447, visit sd39.senate.ca.gov/contact.