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Malherbe ’26: We must do more to defend trans rights

Fans of RuPaul’s Drag Race around the world watched as drag legend and proud trans woman Sasha Colby won the crown for the show’s fifteenth season last Friday. This was a symbolic moment for many — especially considering the show’s implied past policy against casting trans women who have undergone gender-affirming surgery and still extremely limited representation of openly trans and female contestants. Sasha’s first words upon being crowned took the symbolism to a new level: “This goes to  every trans person past, present and future, because we are not going anywhere!”

Her words stood powerfully against the recent onslaught of anti-trans laws and bills which seem to threaten the very existence of trans people in this country. “Drag Race” contestants and judges have also explicitly criticized recent drag bans that have been introduced seemingly in tandem with anti-trans legislation. A country-wide effort has sought  to make it harder for trans people to exist. The past few years have seen laws that block access to life-saving gender-affirming health care, force trans kids to be outed to their parents, restrict trans people’s access to bathrooms, ban any drag performances occurring in public or the presence of children and ban teachers from talking about gender identity and sexuality. The aim of these bills — to quote a speaker at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference — is for “transgenderism (to) be eradicated from public life entirely.” It is vital that we actively oppose these growing threats.

It is astonishing that attacks of this magnitude on trans people aren’t spoken about more by students at Brown, with its distinctly queer reputation. Some might respond that these laws are being enacted in conservative states far away from Rhode Island and the liberal utopia of Brown. But as allies, whether the trans people being attacked are your neighbors or halfway across the country shouldn’t determine if you see them as worthy of defending. We are part of a nationally recognized hub of liberal activism with access to powerful alums and connections across the country to provide support. If the Brown community speaks up about these attacks, even if not in organized protests, it will reach power players across the nation who can work to fight back, through organized action, lobbying or donations to vital funds like the American Civil Liberties Union Drag Defense Fund

And there’s work to do at home, too: Rhode Island isn’t the haven for trans folks that we might expect it to be. There are currently two bills proposed in Rhode Island that directly target trans rights, according to the ACLU, and even more that could have negative impacts, according to the GLBTQ Legal Advocates and Defenders. If this is new and surprising information to you, know that that is no coincidence. There has not been extensive reporting, media attention or activism on this issue, reflecting the complacency of the liberal state we’re in.

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We all have it in our heads that Rhode Island is safe for queer people, that the state will always vote blue, creating a strong tendency towards political apathy amongst us Brunonians — almost 50% of eligible Brown undergraduates didn’t vote in the 2022 midterm elections. This is the exact climate that allows bills like these to go unnoticed, giving the small but dedicated political minorities pushing this kind of legislation very little opposition. The liberal politicians that dominate Rhode Island’s government will likely ensure that these bills are not actually enacted, but the fact that they are being given airtime in hearings already indicates a frightening openness to the anti-LGBTQ+ ideas behind them, even in what we think of as deep-blue states.

That such laws are even being considered reflects a shift in political culture across the country. Some critics and lawmakers have pointed out that Florida’s horrifying “Don’t Say Gay” bill seems to have directly inspired a bill here in Rhode Island. Even if you feel that you can’t do much about the laws happening in other states, which is not the case, it is clear that the huge influence of this reactionary, anti-trans movement reaches us here in Rhode Island, and at Brown too. 

With the privilege of living in a LGBTQ+-friendly state and attending a liberal institution, we have become complacent in our duty to defend trans rights — both here and across the country. These laws do not reflect the majority of Americans, who support legislation protecting the rights of trans people, even if many still don’t believe trans identities are valid. It is completely feasible for the queer community and our allies to defeat this reactionary wave by protesting, raising awareness, donating and supporting the correct politicians. But we cannot continue to ignore our responsibility to take action simply because our rights here at Brown might not be threatened directly.

In 2016, Donald Trump became president despite losing the popular vote. This was a direct result of voter apathy from Democrats in key states. Now we live in a world where Roe v. Wade has been overturned by a conservative Supreme Court majority, three justices of which Trump appointed. Clearly, our inaction has consequences. If we, as young, influential LGBTQ+ activists and allies, are too apathetic to start to do more about this anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, we could see similarly unpopular decisions set the country back by decades. If you are an ally, or believe that no human being should have their rights restricted or denied, it is incumbent upon you to make sure that does not happen.

Paulie Malherbe ’26 can be reached at paulie_malherbe@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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