Live and Learn | December 15th, 2022
By Faye Seidler
I have dedicated my life to improving outcomes for LGBTQ+ youth in North Dakota. I spend my time connecting individuals to support groups, healthcare resources, and educational opportunities across this state. I also provide data-driven professional development training, lead suicide prevention efforts for queer populations, and serve as North Dakota’s subject matter expert in LGBTQ+ outcomes and community data.
Anyone is welcome to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to access these services and I will do my best to help you, provide data, or connect you to resources. As long as I’m alive I will be doing this and after I die my life insurance will pay for someone to take over. That is what my work means to me.
My work is non-partisan, collaborative, and pragmatic. The more I work in the sector of suicide prevention, the more deeply I care about North Dakota and everyone who lives here. Between our harsh winters, flooding, and droughts we’ve always survived as a community and that is something that matters to me.
This article will be covering the challenges we have before us, but I do want to preface this work with hope. When you know the data as well as I do, then it is difficult to write about anything encouraging. The first few drafts tend to be full of pain, anger, and despair. I think of the youth across our state struggling with suicidal thoughts and I have to work at finding something to center myself.
I live daily with the weight of this knowledge and I can because I know the beauty, strength, and resiliency of North Dakota. I know the nurses, social workers, and teachers who give their all every day against impossible odds to make our youth feel seen, safe, and loved. I know the parents who stand up against bullies and entire communities to protect their kid. I see a generation of queer youth, who by all accounts should be withering, finding community, creating art, having fun, and thriving in spite of their environment.
Before we talk about the storm, I want folks to know there is hope. There are people who care and organizations who want to help LGBTQ+ folks. We do need more shelter across the state, but everyday we’re working to build and improve what we have. If you want to help me in building shelters for queer youth to survive the storm then email me.
So, what is this storm? It’s the anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric, legislation, and extremism we’ve seen occurring over the last few years and it is only escalating. On November 30th, the Department of Homeland Security added LGBTQ+ to list of terrorist targets.
1 It directly cited the Colorado Springs LGBTQ+ bar shooting, which resulted in five deaths, as a primary example, but rationale for including the LGBTQ+ demographic also extends to how events like this are talked about, cheered on, and shared in extremist spaces to encourage more violence.
2 Between August and November the Boston Children’s Hospital and its staff were targeted with bomb and death threats over their treatment of transgender youth.
3,4 According to the Los Angeles Blade this hospital was originally put into the spotlight by Tucker Carlson of Tucker Carlson Tonight, Matt Walsh of the Daily Wire, and Libs of TikTok who platformed a misleading claim that the hospital was mutilating children.
5 The rhetoric that led to terrorizing the Boston Children’s Hospital is similar to the disinformation around trans medical care circulating through the nation and within state legislation such as in Texas and Alabama that seek to ban gender affirming care. Yale School of Medicine conducted a review on this disinformation, concluding that:
“The Texas AG opinion and the Alabama Law do not represent good-faith efforts with a few mistakes. The scientific errors and omissions are so extensive that the conclusion is clear: these laws are motivated by bias and crafted to achieve a preordained goal: to deny gender-affirming care to transgender youth.”
6 In September, the American Academy of Pediatricians, which represents 67,000 pediatric healthcare specialists, released a statement saying they strongly oppose any effort to discriminate and limit care for LGBTQ+ youth.
7 Similar statements have been made by major medical organizations such as the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, and the World Professional Association of Transgender Health (WPATH).
8,9 WPATH recently released the Standards of Care Version 8, an update of one of the most widely used guidelines for treating transgender populations. It is 260 pages long, with 80 pages of citations, built on decades of research, expertise, and experience.
10 Non-partisan, research-and-science-based medical opinion and consensus says that treating trans youth is medically safe, necessary, and effective. Conversely, according to the Human Rights Campaign, 50 million dollars of funding went into anti-LGBTQ+ political ad campaigns in 2022.
11 Hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ legislative bills have been introduced over the last few years.
12 These bills have shown a direct correlation with increased calls to suicide hotlines and we have seen experiences of discrimination correlate with higher suicidality.
13,14,15 The greatest harm from these legislative efforts likely stems from parents speaking with highly prejudiced and hateful language around their, possibly closeted, LGBTQ+ children.
16 Those who advocate for LGBTQ+ youth are politically targeted and labeled groomers. In some cases their lives are threatened, such as California State Senator Scott Weiner.
17 School board members have resigned en masse due to hostility and targeted community and media harassment campaigns.
18 The Anti-Defamation League has tracked extremist and white nationalist groups targeting drag shows and sparking violence at protests.
19 CNN did a story on the mass book banning occurring across the nation that often targeted books with any LGBTQ+ themes.
20 A Florida bill banned any mention of LGBTQ+ identity before third grade, prevented a valedictorian from talking about his sexuality, and left schools confused about what they could even do for LGBTQ+ youth.
21,22 When we take this all together, we see a national and organized effort to eradicate LGBTQ+ individuals, spread disinformation, and stir stochastic terrorism. While this covers the storm impacting LGBTQ+ population nationally, North Dakota has its own challenges. Recently the NDGOP released a statement condemning slurs used by the North Dakota Young Republican’s online group.
23 In 2020, leading NDGOP members and ND state governor Doug Burgum condemned anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric within their parties’ resolutions.
24 Governor Burgum also vetoed the anti-trans sports bill in our state last year and the Republican-led senate did not overturn that veto. Seven years ago our current State Treasurer Thomas Beadle, then serving as a State Representative, cosponsored an anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination bill in this state to a senate that passed it.
25 If this were all we knew of North Dakota, we’d think our state was fairly neutral on LGBTQ+ topics. However, in 2021, Safe Home ranked North Dakota the least safe state for LGBTQ+ individuals.
26 William Institute conducted a population survey and found North Dakota to have the lowest LGBTQ+ population of any state.
27 This data makes sense given the stories we’ve seen where LGBTQ+ individuals call North Dakota a Hell.
28 There has even been a recent effort to help transgender individuals in this area flee the country.
29 State data consistently shows our LGBTQ+ youth experience disproportionately greater bullying, homelessness, sexual violence, and suicidality.
30 If they’re able to survive this state, they tend to flee. While LGBTQ+ school outcome data has been available since 2018, I have not seen any statewide response to these outcomes at a legislative level or with the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction (NDDPI), even after two transgender youth died by suicide in our state in the last few years.
31,32 What has gotten attention is an email sent to North Dakota State Representative Jim Kasper (R) by a Grand Forks teacher, who resigned over a perception their school had become corrupted with left political bias and propaganda. In a seven-page letter the teacher details perceived problems with trans student inclusion, professional development training, and “radical initiatives brilliantly marketed in manipulative Orwellian language.”
33 Rep. Kasper spoke at the Administrative Rules hearing of the NDDPI in September about this incident. He highlighted conversations with Superintendent Kirsten Baesler and Attorney General Drew Wigley about how to create funding, teeth, and clawback within his Anti-Critical Race Theory (CRT) Bill.
34 While it is unclear how Kasper sees transgender student inclusion relating to CRT, he does read a list of intentions from this letter that he would like to add as legislative proposals. The summary of these intentions would be that “Transgenderism” is harmful, socially contagious, and unethical. Specifically, that trans identity does not belong in schools, should not be encouraged, and any mention of it should be reported to the appropriate school authorities to convey to parents, unless abuse would be likely.
35 Rep. Kasper also makes a correlation between state performance and inclusive efforts in school. None of these claims are substantiated by credible sources and in practice would likely violate federal protections.
36 The 2021 National School Climate Survey by GLSEN suggests training and inclusion improves mental health, reduces bullying, and improves academic performance.
37 Rep. Kasper was not a sponsor on the anti-trans sports bill in 2021 and it is unclear if other representatives will sponsor or draft their own anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the 2023 legislative sessions, but human rights advocates in our state have been told to expect the worst. We have about 20,000 queer youth in North Dakota looking to us to build a brighter future, not a dimmer one.
38 Rep. Kasper proposed a solution to improve our schools’ academic performance by putting significant funding into the NDDPI and Attorney General’s office with the purpose of punishing schools and financially harming them. I don’t see that as something that builds futures, communities, or hope.
While my experiences are as anecdotal as the letter Rep. Kasper received, I see teachers interested and invested in learning how to make all their kids feel safe and included. And when you interact with these kids, they stop becoming this scary threat you hear about on TV. They become that kid who just needs more help with math, or who makes silly jokes, or who is terrified thinking about bullies in school, at home, or in our state capital.
I’ve been working for the last seven years to make shelters and save lives, long before the current targeted extremism, disinformation, and hate we see impacting public dialogue today.
39 Storms eventually break and I believe we can get past this, we can heal, and there is hope. If you don’t have much hope right now, you’re welcome to borrow some of mine.
Professional Consultant: www.fayeseidlerconsulting.com
Community Uplift Program Manager: Harbor Health Initiative
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