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When Bigotry Takes Away Our Trans Relatives

Written by Jessica Engelking and graphics by Tobias-Ana Soudaly-Espinosa


Twenty-Twenty-Three saw the introduction of a record number of anti-trans legislation introduced across the country and this year is shaping up to be even worse. The laws aim to prevent our trans, Two Spirit, and non-binary relatives from seeking the medical care they need. They ban trans persons from gender-specific locations and deny them the right to be called the name they have chosen. At their core, these laws seek to deny trans people the right to exist as their true selves. 


In Iowa, there were many anti-trans laws introduced but, fortunately, many of these laws didn’t make it through the last legislative funnel. HF 2396 prevents schools from disciplinary action being taken against employees who refuse to use students’ chosen names and pronouns. Essentially, this legitimizes bullying and harassment by removing consequences for deadnaming and misgendering. HF 2458 prohibits introducing gender-neutral language in the teaching of world languages that are grammatically gendered. This is pretty pointless, languages evolve and gender-neutral language use doesn’t harm anybody. HF 2389 is an attempt to regulate the designation of a person’s sex on certain records. It explicitly attempts to define sex in terms of “biological male” and “biological female.” This is directly at odds with current science, which recognizes that biological sex is a spectrum, not a binary. This law further attempts to reduce what they consider biological sex to reproductive function, which is deeply problematic. These laws function to legally define very narrow, conservative views of sex in a way that excludes people who exist in ways that they do not approve of. They attempt to legislate away our trans relatives and the rights that they are entitled to.  


The harm that these laws cause cuts much deeper than some people might recognize. Earlier this year, we lost a young Native relative, Nex Benedict, to the hate that flourishes where trans rights are trampled. Oklahoma is one of the worst states for trans people. While the precise circumstances surrounding Nex’s death are unclear (there is a long history of Indigenous people’s murders being labeled as self-inflicted), what is certain is that one of the last experiences of his young life was that of violence because of his gender identity. This violence is a direct consequence of a government and society that allows for the dehumanization of our trans relatives. Nex’s death was not the first, nor will it be the last. Our trans relatives, especially our youth, will continue to die in a world that is structured to deny their existence. Places like Oklahoma are unsafe for trans people and if the legislators (and governor) who introduce anti-trans legislation have their way, Iowa will be unsafe as well. 


It’d be great if there were some solutions to provide to stop this. As always, it’s important to vote. Vote to keep the people who want to do harm to our trans relatives out of positions of power. But that doesn’t seem to be enough. This problem seems too deep and widespread. We can talk to our children, teach them to have love and compassion for all humans. Though it is not a complete cure, we can attempt to use love to drive out the hate. As we take in the full scope of harm that’s being done to our trans Native relatives and our trans youth, it’s almost impossible not to feel profound sadness, rage, and helplessness. We owe it to our Native relatives to sit with these feelings. We need to be sad, because what’s happening is tragic. We need to feel rage, because it’s infuriating that people are being treated this way. We need to examine our sense of helplessness, and recognize that while we might feel helpless as individuals, that doesn’t mean that we are hopeless. We need to have hope that, together, we can keep fighting to protect our trans relatives. We owe it to our young relatives like Nex who suffer the consequences of institutional bigotry. 



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