In 2015, joyful crowds hugged outside of the Supreme Court Building when the Justices inside struck down same-sex marriage bans, making it legal across the country. It was the latest restriction to LGBTQ+ rights to fall after sodomy laws were struck down in 2003 and the military allowed people to serve openly in 2011. For many, it seemed like the fight for LGBTQ+ rights was nearly won.
But since that day in 2015, things have only regressed. It began with fights over wedding cakes for same-sex couples and who uses which bathroom and has culminated in an onslaught of anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination.
In 2018, state legislatures introduced 42 anti-LGBTQ+ bills, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. In 2022, 315 so-called “anti-equality bills” were introduced throughout the U.S., though only 29 became law according to the Human Rights Campaign.
Missouri was one of several GOP-led states to pass or propose legislation restricting LGBTQ+ rights.
In the name of “protecting trans children,” Missouri passed bills this session to ban new patients under 18 from receiving gender-affirming care. Plus, school athletes at all levels, including collegiate, must play on the teams that align with their sex at birth, even if it conflicts with their gender identity. The legislation, which Governor Parson signed into law last week, also stops any gender-affirming surgical procedures for incarcerated people.
Further, Missouri lawmakers attempted to ban drag shows. Representative Ben Baker (R-Neosho) proposed legislation that would make performing drag in venues minors could access a class a misdemeanor. Another lawmaker wanted to classify drag venues as sexually oriented businesses.
If you’re a resident in Missouri who identifies as LGBTQ+, even in the three blue blips (St. Louis, Kansas City, Columbia), the state legislature is, and has consistently been, against you. This is ever more true today. In its annual assessment of legislation, the ACLU found Missouri legislators had filed more anti-LGBTQ+ bills than lawmakers in any other state.
One of these lawmakers is Senator Mike Moon (R-Ash Grove), the sponsor of a bill to bar minors from receiving gender-affirming care such as puberty blockers. He also tried to add an amendment to a crime bill to make it illegal for minors to go to drag shows after other drag show bans failed. He said it was all in the name of protecting kids.
Another lawmaker, Representative Peter Meredith (D-St. Louis), pointed out Moon’s hypocrisy after the senator voted against raising the legal age of marriage from 12 to 18.
Another anti-LGBTQ lawmaker is Senator Holly Thompson-Rehder (R-Scott City), who sponsored a bill to bar transgender women from playing on women’s sports teams in school.
Then there’s Jamie Reed, a self-described whistleblower and former staffer at the Washington University Transgender Center at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, who claimed minors at the center were hurriedly and unethically given treatment to affirm their genders. Her allegations, published in a first-person essay in the Free Press, led the attorney general to restrict gender-affirming care with an emergency order that has since been withdrawn. (Worth noting: Reed’s essay and the attorney general’s emergency order were announced on the same day.)
No one bears the weight of this discrimination more than transgender Missourians and their families. Many of these Missourians, some of whom have lived in the state for their whole lives, plan to leave Missouri as the aftermath of these bills and the culture around them play out.
Christine Hyman — a board member of TransParent, a national support group for parents of transgender kids that was founded in St. Louis, and mother to a 17-year-old boy, Corey, who is transgender — said in a recent interview with the Riverfront Times that a years-long battle to humanize her family and other families like hers has brought exhaustion and little success. What most GOP legislators in Missouri and elsewhere seem to fail to grasp, according to Hyman, is that trans youth are not threats to be vanquished.
“They’re just kids. … Corey has [just] this one piece that makes everybody scared of who he is,” Hyman said. “But not the kids, it’s never the kids [who are afraid]. It’s the adults.”
Hyman’s argument sits at the center of what other parents like her have been saying for years — they just want their kids to be themselves.
In the full scope of these attacks, it’s easy, and probably involuntary, for queer folks and their allies to feel discouraged. Positivity may also feel pointless, or even unwanted, as rage eclipses all other emotions. But rage is a powerful motivator, and even though the LGBTQ+ detractors hold most of the power, there are those fighting fiercely back.
Advocacy groups such as PROMO Missouri have consistently pushed back against anti-trans legislation. Prism and Out in STL organized a march in the Grove where Out in STL presented Icon Awards to Akasha Royale, Maxi Glamour and Jordan Elizabeth Braxton, the three activist entertainers who traveled to Jefferson City, where they successfully derailed the drag ban.
Mayors in both St. Louis and Kansas City have supported efforts to make their cities safe havens for trans Missourians. In St. Louis, Mayor Tishaura Jones recently signed an executive order to protect trans residents, making it a requirement for city-funded recreation programs to allow athletes to compete in sports that align with their gender identity.
Though it may not seem like it now, as Missouri takes steps backwards, it’s important to acknowledge how far we’ve come.
In 1864, St. Louis city adopted a cross-dressing ordinance that outlawed wearing clothes that did not match one’s sex. The ordinance remained in effect until 1986.
Back then, people also fought for basic human rights and to be out, safely, in public. Historian Steven Brawley has reported that at some rights marches it was so taboo that people wore paper bags over their heads. But in 1992, the city adopted an ordinance to protect residents from discrimination against race, sexual orientation and sex in housing, employment and public accommodations.
Those who came before marched for themselves and to make life better for those who came after. And, now, we must stand up and do the same.
Rosalind Early contributed reporting to this article.
Out in STL took over the Riverfront Times for this month’s pride issue. See more of the takeover below:
See also: A Guide to Pride in St. Louis