In Connecticut, we think of ourselves as a safe and welcoming place for LGBTQ people — with some good reason. In 1991, we became the fourth state to ban anti-gay discrimination.
In October 2008, joyous photos of Connecticut same-sex couples made national news as we won marriage equality. Our state has a rich and vibrant network of LGBTQ institutions — community centers, health clinics, youth groups and more. By and large, our elected officials have been supportive and, in many cases, outspoken advocates.
As we kick off Pride Month, however, we must acknowledge that this is a dark time nationally for LGBTQ people.
According to the ACLU, more than 400 anti-LGBTQ bills were introduced in legislatures across the country this year — up from dozens in 2019. Legislation targets everything from gay curricula to transgender medical care to drag performances. Some of it might look silly from here — drag performances? Really? But even in Connecticut we cannot underestimate the seriousness of these attacks, and their relevance to our lives.
For one thing, the spread of anti-LGBTQ legislation is no organic grassroots uprising. It is a nationally organized and funded campaign. Alliance Defending Freedom, the Heritage Foundation, Focus on the Family, and other players on the far right have coordinated to attack our community in nearly every state in the country — including blue states, and including Connecticut. And while Connecticut bills failed (and did not even produce the headlines the far right craves) too many passed in too many states.
While Connecticut escaped damage this year, the right is not engaged in a one-year plan. They will be back next year. Possibly more worrying, we know that the anti-LGBTQ fever produced by these bills nationally crosses state lines and has a serious impact on the mental health of LGBTQ people — particularly young people.
According to the Trevor Project’s 2023 national survey, “41% of LGBT young people seriously considered suicide in the past year — and young people who are transgender, nonbinary and/or people of color reported higher rates than their peers.” There is no doubt that the relentless, public drubbing of LGBTQ people via legislation and punditry contributes to this dire state of affairs.
In addition to legislation, local efforts to ban books in schools and public libraries have also come to our state, in communities such as Westport, Brookfield, Darien, and Fairfield. The Connecticut Library Association knows of 35 active book challenges, a number they say is double that of 2022. The two most challenged books involve sexuality and sexual identity — “Gender Queer” and “Let’s Talk About It.” Again, this is a coordinated national campaign, which has a terrible impact on young queer people whose very humanity is put up to debate and vote at local school board meetings.
Most concerningly, the willingness of some political leaders to prioritize the LGBTQ community’s health, safety, and rights, appears to be softening. Recently we saw Gov. Ned Lamont nominate to high judicial positions people who, as legislators in 2011, voted against the state’s anti-discrimination law. A commitment to protecting queer people is clearly not a litmus test for a nomination — and it should be.
There are also increasing reports of bullying in schools accompanied by lax enforcement of state anti-bullying laws. West Hartford, for example, is being sued by the family of an 8-year-old student who suffered suicidal ideation after a full year of being hit, punched, pushed, and called names — with no school action. Advocates have voiced concerns that when schools are slow to act, the state has also been slow to intervene, as required by law.
As all of this is happening, a presidential campaign is starting in which the anti-LGBTQ rhetoric will only escalate. Connecticut cannot afford to be complacent. We are inspired by parents organizing locally to protect speech, books and our LGBTQ students. We are heartened by the strength, resilience, and diversity of our LGBTQ community. We are emboldened by the commitment of our legislative allies. And we stand prepared to forge new and collaborative partnerships with Connecticut’s rich network of organizations working to advance equality and justice for our state’s most disenfranchised communities.
Their fight is our fight. Together we must be fierce advocates who demand that those with the power to change policy and make decisions prioritize the needs of and assign the resources to Connecticut’s most vulnerable populations during this dangerous time.
Matt Blinstrubas is the Executive Director of Equality Connecticut.