Nationally, there are now some 400 bills in state legislatures aimed at opposing or controlling LGBTQ citizens and transgender people in particular. Here in Maine, Equality Maine is tracking some 40 bills in the state legislature.
The good news is that Equality Maine supports the majority of these bills, chief among them LD 489, an act which would add sexual orientation and gender identity to classes protected from discrimination by educational institutions. LD 489 should have been enacted back in 2016, but then-Gov. Paul LePage blocked the Department of Education and Maine Human Rights Commission from issuing rules that would have afforded transgender students equal access to education.
Did I mention that virtually all of the anti-LGBTQ bills nationally and statewide have been submitted by Republicans?
Just a few of the Maine Republican bills attacking LGBTQ citizens are LD 618, an act that would bar so-called critical race theory, social and emotional learning, and equity, diversity and inclusion initiatives from school curriculums; LD 123, an act that could be used to define gender identity and sexual orientation as obscene for educational purposes; LD 515, an act to prevent school superintendents from issuing policies to protect LGBTQ students without school board approval; LD 1008, an act to create a rating system for books in school libraries; LD 1410, an act to hold school employees civilly liable if they fail to notify parents of perceived student medical issues (such as gender nonconformity or dysphoria); and LD 1809, an act to prohibit providing health care to students without parental permission.
Beyond being bigoted, why are Republicans on the warpath against LGBTQ people? Some in the LGBTQ community believe it’s in part because marriage equality passed in 2012 and the courts upheld gay marriage nationally in 2015.
“The national conversation never really progressed beyond marriage,” says Gia Drew, executive director of Equality Maine.
Drew fears that the LGBTQ community dropped the ball on educating the public about LGBTQ issues at the same time that conservative groups, having lost the marriage equality battle, went looking for new issues to fire up their bases and raise money. Abortion and LGBTQ issues became Republicans’ go-to moneymakers.
In general, Maine tends to be an LBGTQ-friendly state. We were the first to pass marriage equality by popular vote and we have had an openly gay House Majority Leader (Matt Moonen, Gia Drew’s predecessor at Equality Maine) and Speaker of the House (Ryan Fecteau).
The Movement Advancement Project, which tracks state policies on LGBTQ issues, rates Maine high — 39.5 of a possible 42.5 — compared, say, to Florida with a low 3.25 rating. Could be worse however. Bible Belt states such as Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina actually have negative overall policy indexes, because they not only fail to have civil rights protections in place, they have laws that target LGBTQ people.
The majority of the anti-LGBTQ bills in the Maine legislature are likely doomed to failure. But is it just a political strategy and fundraising ploy, or do Republicans really hate and fear LGBTQ people?
Gia Drew, who was one of the first transgender public school teachers in Maine and the first trans high school coach in the country, told me that when she came out to her very Catholic parents, they sought counsel with their priest, her father fearing that the devil might be at work.
“The only question you need to answer,” the priest told Drew’s parents, “is ‘Do you love your child?’”
And that really is what it all comes down to, isn’t it? Why can’t Republicans love America’s children?
Edgar Allen Beem has been writing The Universal Notebook weekly since 2003, first for The Forecaster and now for the Phoenix. He also writes the Art Seen review column.