Anti-trans Bills Harm Freedom and Liberty for All | Opinion

Revealingly, 2022 is shaping up to be an even more challenging year than 2021. Within just the first week, we have already seen at least seven states propose bills that target transgender people, freedom of expression and freedom of speech. It is time to stop politicians legislating the nation's bathrooms—and for institutions to step up their defense of freedom.

The motive is clear. Republicans have used gender identity as a scare tactic, using lies and myths to attempt to stoke votes out of fear. Recent campaigns in states such as Virginia have used transgender rights as a flashpoint in the state. South Dakota Republicans kicked off 2022 with a bill that would allow parents to sue a school if transgender children used the bathroom. As a result, Republican legislatures across the country are directly attacking life, liberty and our First Amendment rights.

It's time to act to save our right to self-determination. Everyone has a deep relationship to gender, not just the transgender population. Gender expression involves freely expressing an aspect of one's identity, be they straight, gay, cisgender, transgender, or anywhere in between. This freedom of expression is written into our Constitution. So it is unsurprising that two-thirds of Americans and majorities within every political ideology and age group oppose these laws.

Republicans do not just want to police how Americans express gender but also how we speak about gender. Laws in Arkansas and New Hampshire have limited the very ability of providers or teachers to discuss gender in the first place. Some of these laws directly intervene in one's personal decisions and would seem unlikely to survive a constitutional challenge. Even Asa Hutchinson, the Republican governor of Arkansas, has called these laws a "step way too far." Attacking the very ability to discuss concepts in schools and clinics infringes on our freedom of speech.

We must take a step further and acknowledge that when we fight for these rights—the ability to be ourselves—we are fighting for all rights. By fighting for our freedom of expression—to be our most authentic self—we fight against the government's interfering with such fundamental rights.

The more that we depend only on politicians to discuss the importance of trans rights, the more we risk political polarization around one minority identity. Instead, it is critical to depoliticize gender—to get politicians out of our bathrooms—and to emphasize how self-determination is fundamental to our basic rights—to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

A gender neutral sign is posted
A gender neutral sign is posted outside a bathroom. Sara D. Davis/Getty Images

We need our community institutions to be at the center of affirming gender and defending the right for individuals to express their identities. That includes our health care organizations, our religious and spiritual groups, educational institutions and community centers.

Each of these has a duty to start with education, opening a pathway to discussing the impact of psychologically harmful socialization, how one's gender affects their health care access, or how gendered perceptions can even cause conditions such as a heart attack to be ignored.

Being able to discuss gender freely means creating a space for Americans to decide their own future and be seen for who they truly are. It means creating a pathway where people can determine the life they feel they are meant to live.

Some may say that speaking about gender is liberal ideology. The fact is that nothing in nature is binary, and gender expression and identity relate to deeply held personal beliefs. The suppression of speech and expression are harmful to democracy, whether or not someone believes they are part of any ideology.

When we speak about gender, rather than just one identity, we illustrate what unites us rather than our differences. Laws that limit such freedom of expression are dangerous and prey on minorities for the sole purpose of gaining power. The Republican attacks on free expression contradict our fundamental principles of freedom and liberty and are inherently un-American. It is time for a larger conversation, to begin to shift the narrative to the fundamental nature of gender identity—and to the Republican opposition to such freedom.

Dallas Ducar NP is the founding CEO of Transhealth Northampton.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.