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Offer sympathy, not superiority

An illustration of the St. Louis Arch in the transgender flag's colors.

By Raena Doty

Editorial Staff

Bill 2885, introduced to the Missouri House of Representatives Feb. 29, would require any school teacher or counselor who “commits the offense of contributing to social transition” to register as a sex offender.

According to the Riverfront Times, a local St. Louis news source, teachers and counselors would be required to register as a Tier 1 sex offender, which, despite being the least severe charge, places trans allies among those in possession of child pornography or those who attempt sexual acts on children.

I’m from Missouri. I grew up in St. Louis, and even though I came to school in Massachusetts and want to explore the world, Missouri is what’s in my head when I think of “home.”

And as someone who wants to be an educator?

This bill has me seething.

I could talk about so much - I could talk about the terrible history of the sex offender registry and how it’s been weaponized to scaremonger about queer people. I could talk about how important it is for schools to intervene when parents aren’t supportive of their kids. I could talk about how much I love and support trans kids, because I know they need it.

But I know what response I’ll face writing an opinion piece like this in Massachusetts.

“I can see why you moved away from Missouri.”

“What do you expect from a red state?”

“Honestly, we just need to get rid of the whole state - there’s no saving that.”

And every time I imagine these words - these words I’ve heard before, though never at a time in such poor taste - I get angrier.

The first pride parade and festival I went to was in Missouri. I’ve attended rallies with hundreds, even thousands of people fighting for such noble causes in Missouri. My oldest friend, a person I’ve known since the first day of kindergarten, is a trans person studying to be an educator in Missouri.

And I care more about protecting the people I love, the people who stand by me, than I care about giving up on a situation the people around me have deemed hopeless from a thousand miles away.

I’m not asking you to rally for teachers and trans children in Missouri - this isn’t your home turf and there are so many great causes right on your front doorstep to fight for.

But when I’m taking time to research the Missouri sex offender registry for fear of what could happen if this bill passes and I decide to go back home and teach in my hometown, I ask that you don’t sit on your high horse just because you come from a blue state.

I don’t mean to imply everyone in Massachusetts reacts this way when I talk about the issues in my home state, but I’ve heard it enough to grow weary.

Missouri is such a wonderful place to be. So many people there find home in niche subcultures and thriving communities built on the contributions of those with marginalized identities - people of color, queer people, women, people from minority religions, disabled people, and many, many more.

It is the presence of these people, not the absence, that causes bills like 2885 to reach the House floor.

Erasure of minorities aids those who want to erase minorities, and activism should be founded in love and solidarity for those around you, not hatred for the enemy.

To be clear - Rep. Jamie Gragg, who presented the bill, has no co-sponsors as of March 7.

Erin Reed, a journalist who specializes in reporting on laws that pertain to the LGBTQ+ population, said on Twitter, “I honestly don't believe something like this could pass, even in Missouri.”

But it is not the only proposed bill that forces teachers to act in accordance with conservative agendas, and it is not the only bill that strips away the rights of transgender youth.

Massachusetts is not so different from Missouri that this could never happen here. In my time living in both states, I have seen people just as cruel and bigoted in each - and I’ve seen an astounding amount of love and support from most of the residents of both states.

People are people. Missouri, Massachusetts - doesn’t matter. Queer people will continue to exist in both, and are all under threat of illogical, unfair treatment by bigots. I am glad Massachusetts has more protections in place for queer people than Missouri does, but it’s by and large not because of any moral superiority of the residents.

If your first instinct when tragedy strikes is criticism instead of kindness, support, and sympathy, ask yourself whether you’re thinking about the right people.

Ask yourself whether you’re judging based on the oppressors instead of those who need help from oppression.


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