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Out of the closet and into the Capitol | Opinion

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Out of the closet and into the Capitol | Opinion

May 10, 2022 | 7:25 am ET
By Anne Ogier
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Out of the closet and into the Capitol | Opinion
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Legislation banning transgender students from participating on sports teams that match their gender identity have been debated numerous times this year (Jason Hancock/Missouri Independent).

Every year, dozens of bills are filed in the Missouri General Assembly that target the LGBTQ+ community in one way or another, forcing queer legislative staff to sit quietly while our humanity is debated. 

I am a gender non-conforming lesbian and a very visible member of this community. There are days I worry if it is safe to use the restroom in the Capitol. I am constantly misgendered and can see the visible confusion and occasional contempt on people’s faces when they see me for the first time after talking with me on the phone. 

And my experience in this building is not unique. 

LGBTQ+ staffers and interns work tirelessly for this state while the state actively works against them. We tend to leave far more quickly than our straight, cisgender colleagues in order to escape this toxic workplace.  I have worked here since 2018, and in that time the majority of queer staff I’ve known have left. And I understand why.

The attacks on trans youth this session have been especially cruel. 

Good bills dealing with uncontroversial topics such as school transportation have been hijacked to add unrelated transphobic language. Attempts at adding protections for LGBTQ+ teachers have been voted down. Bills to make it illegal to deny housing or fire someone solely because of their sexual orientation or gender identity were not given hearings. 

And LGBTQ+ staff bear witness to it all. 

We are told the cruelty is to protect girls and the refusal to grant us any protections is because the language has not been vetted. We are told forbidding teachers from being fired for their sexual orientation will make it impossible to fire pedophiles. 

It is not the first time our community has been compared to sexual offenders and groomers. 

Being polite to us in the hallway does not make up for the hateful rhetoric and votes cast on the floor. Inviting us to play softball does not change the fact that you do not believe we deserve the most basic protections.

The claims that their bigotry is all an attempt to protect vulnerable children would be more believable if we were not here to see the uproar caused by the mere acknowledgement of our history when a display on LGBTQ+ rights was briefly in the State Museum in the Capitol. In doing so, certain legislators and the governor himself have told us our story, evidence of our very existence, is inappropriate to have in our workplace. 

If Republican staffers and representatives think a display about LGBTQ+ rights is too scandalous to be seen by school children, then what do they think of our very presence? 

I don’t actually need to ask. I already know the answer. 

The attempts to hide the true motives ultimately fail. They still claim their objections to LGBTQ+ rights and basic dignity is to protect other groups, but occasionally they say the true reason. I heard that reason when a representative, who has since moved to the Senate, said on the House floor: “There is a distinction between homosexuality and just being a human being.” 

We are viewed as less than, as not deserving of basic rights and we must listen to it all and continue our work as normal. 

I know what it is like to stay up at night, wondering if it would be better to end your life than continue living in a world that insists you are wrong for something you never chose. Years of my life were lost in a debilitating depression. Thankfully, I came to realize it was the world that was wrong, not me. 

That doesn’t make the pain disappear. I am now forced to listen to people fight desperately to attack innocent kids. People who are convinced 12 year olds are the problem, not the adults bullying them. People who make it their priority to pass legislation that will have more trans and non-binary youth up at night, wondering if there is a place for them and if any of this is worth it. 

While the very politicians who attempt to pass bills that will lead to increased suicides go on to pass legislation promoting suicide prevention, proudly stating they want to help protect children. 

It is very clear that LGBTQ+ children are not who they want to protect. 

I was that LGBTQ+ child. Viewed as less than and unworthy. The very ideas used to make me hate myself are regularly stated on the House floor.

And despite what we were taught as children, words do hurt. 

To be clear, I choose to be here. I consider it an honor to work in the Missouri Capitol. If I did not think I was helping to fight some of these battles, I would leave. My role here is incredibly small, but I like to think it matters.

But this building can be soul-crushing, and I am tired. And I am tired of being silent. 

Being polite to us in the hallway does not make up for the hateful rhetoric and votes cast on the floor. Inviting us to play softball does not change the fact that you do not believe we deserve the most basic protections. 

But mostly I am sorry. I am so sorry to every trans kid who has to listen to the people in power question their very right to exist. You are incredibly loved and are exactly who you are supposed to be. I am honored to fight beside you. 

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