Elting Library Hosts Queer Struggle Panel

Elting Library hosted a panel on struggles the LGBTQ+ community face in light of over 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills the ACLU is currently tracking
Elting Library hosted a panel on struggles the LGBTQ+ community face in light of over 500 anti-LGBTQ+ bills the ACLU is currently tracking

On March 13, the Elting Memorial Library’s Steinberg Room swelled with chatter and excitement. As 5 p.m. drew near, a host of people packed into the reading room that had seen plenty of lectures before. Today’s would be focused on the struggles that LGBTQ+ people currently face, as politicians on both federal and state levels have increasingly introduced legislation that has been labeled by activists as anti-LGBTQ+.

“If we think about LGBTQ+ people in the U.S., we are living in a period of intense backlash,” said Karl Bryant, kicking off the discussion.

“The ACLU is currently tracking 500 pieces of legislation across various jurisdictions that are attacks on LGBTQ+ people,” he said.

Bryant, a sociology professor and chair of Women’s, Gender and Sexuality studies at SUNY New Paltz, described barriers to ID access that matches gender identity, barriers to public accommodations like bathrooms, denying youth gender-affirming healthcare, curriculum censorship, sports participation and free expression bans as the main elements of these bills.

“If you think about the various kinds of legislation being proposed, like always, it affects the most vulnerable within the community disproportionately,” Bryant said in reference to the trans community, and said that they are “over-focused on in these attacks.”

“There are far-reaching consequences from some of these attacks, like legally defining what sex means in ways that do not cohere with current science of sex and sexuality,” he said.

These consequences can be seen with the death of Oklahoma high school student Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old trans child who died a day after being beaten by three girls in the women’s bathroom. Nex, who according to his partner was trans and forced to use the women’s bathroom because of a bill passed in 2022 that legally requires students to use the bathroom that matches their assigned sex at birth.

The panel’s next speaker was SUNY New Paltz alum and co-owner of local business Manny’s Art Supplies Zack DelFavero, who is a trans man.

“A lot of people commonly ask trans people ‘When did you realize you were trans?’ and that’s a little hard to answer. I always knew who I was not,” DelFavero said.

“There’s a lot of things that most people don’t have to think about at all. An ID that doesn’t match your name or gender might not seem like a huge deal, but everything from ordering a drink, traveling, buying a car, opening a bank account, seeing a doctor, applying for a job. There’s so many reasons why you might have to show your ID and it feels awful if it doesn’t match your identity,” he said.

“Going to a doctor, I have been the first trans patient that many of my doctors have had. Even here where there’s a lot of trans people, and having to teach your doctor how to treat you is not a comfortable place to be in.”

DelFavero wrapped up by circling back to Bryant’s earlier mention of the number of anti-queer legislation and its implications.

“From 2021 to 2023, there were about 900 anti-trans bills that were proposed, with over 100 of them being passed. I’m not going to say names, but there’s a governor in North Carolina who would like trans people to go find a corner outside somewhere to use the bathroom. I think I’ve found my corner and that’s on the lawn of every lawmaker who feels like a bathroom is more important than the lives of other people.”

The third panelist was Willie Morris, president of the Hudson Valley LGBTQ+ Community Center. Morris grew up in Chicago, where he served predominantly Black LGBTQ+ communities through volunteer activities on Chicago’s west side. He also served rural LGBTQ+ communities in central Illinois at the University of Illinois for the United Church of Christ before coming to the Hudson Valley in 2017.

“I think regionally what’s happening around us and how issues overlap. As somebody who came here from Chicago, the thing that really jumps out to me is ‘where the heck are people going to live?’ The gentrification of the Hudson Valley is going super fast, the cost of living up here is very high, and for people who are disenfranchised in many ways, you start to think about the math, and it don’t math,” Morris said.

“I don’t think any of this is in isolation. I think the best thing that we do is see what ways we can connect and know that this wave is coming, because it’s already here in a lot of ways. What can we do in our various positions of power and authority? Because we all have some power and some authority. We can do something.”

The panel’s moderator, Elting Board President Richard Heyl de Ortiz, built off Morris’ idea of the “wave” and said, “we don’t know where this wave is going. Like how we don’t know what the direction of our country is overall at this moment, but the fact of the matter is even if this wave stopped right now, the damage has already been done.”

Heyl de Ortiz referenced an executive order signed by Long Island’s Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman that banned transgender women from playing sports on properties operated by the Nassau County Parks, Recreations and Museums Department, showing how trans people have been targeted in New York.

When asked what motivated Heyl de Ortiz to moderate this panel he said, “This is very personal to me, I realize my good fortune of being raised here in New Paltz. This is also the place where I and my husband encounter the most dramatic form of bias.”

“These [conversations] need to happen in Greensboro, Mississippi. Pensacola, Florida. Rome, Georgia. Rome, New York. When we have transgender individuals fleeing to New York, they’re not fleeing all over upstate New York; they’re fleeing to specific areas within upstate New York. They need to happen in small towns where all this bias is happening, where the narrative is different,” said Heyl de Ortiz.

“When you are able to have these conversations and see people as human beings, it’s so much harder to demonize them — having this type of conversation is really important.”

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