In The Den with Mama Dragons

Part 2: Responding to Anti-LGBTQ Legislation

March 17, 2023 Episode 11
In The Den with Mama Dragons
Part 2: Responding to Anti-LGBTQ Legislation
Show Notes Transcript

The 2023 legislative season is here, and there are a record-breaking 299 anti-LGBTQ bills being proposed across the nation, most attacking transgender young people. The complex nature of the legislative process, along with the overwhelming number of bills being presented, may lead parents of LGBTQ children to feel discouraged and overwhelmed, but we’re here to help. On this week’s episode of In the Den, Jen sits down with policy advocate Sue Robbins to discuss the legislative process and how these kinds of damaging bills originate, along with how you can make a difference in your state this year and every year. 

Special Guest: Sue Robbins

Sue Robbins is a woman who is Transgender, Intersex, and Pansexual and uses the pronouns she, her, and hers. She is currently serving on Equality Utah’s Transgender Advisory Council working on bills, policy, and other statewide transgender and intersex efforts. She is a Past Board Chair of the Utah Pride Center and of Transgender Education Advocates (TEA) of Utah, along with being a founding member and the inaugural president of Phi Delta, Utah’s chapter of Tri-Ess.  Sue also has lifted voices as a past Community Co-Host of Everyday People at KRCL RadioACTIve.  Sue has been recognized with the 2018 Transgender Advocacy TEAM Award, the 2019 Dr. Kristen Ries Community Service award, and the 2022 Equality Utah Impact Award. Sue is an Engineering Manager currently employed with a government contractor. She is a proud veteran with 20 years of service in the US Army, working first as a Tank Crewmember and later in Satellite Communications. Sue lives in Woods Cross with her loving and amazing wife Theresa and has four children and ten grandchildren.

Links from the show: 

WPATH Transgender Standards of Care: 

Sue’s website: 

ACLU Legislation Tracking:

Trans Equality 2023 Legislation Tracking by State: 

Track Trans Legislation:  

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JEN:   Hello and welcome. You are listening to In the Den with Mama Dragons. I’m your host, Jen. This podcast was created out of our desire to walk and talk with you through this journey of raising happy, healthy, and productive LGBTQ humans. We are so happy that you’re here with us.


The ACLU is currently tracking 299 anti-LGBTQ+ bills across 31 states. 299 different attempts at different steps in the process to limit the basic rights of humans who happen to be LGBTQ. These laws include things like being able to use public restrooms, access healthcare, carry or modify ID, access public businesses, and many other things. It feels absolutely impossible for me to track all these things and be educated enough about them to be able to have any influence at all. I try to track the bills in my state alone, and even that can feel overwhelming. Legislative bills can be tricky in general, particularly the way they name bills with titles that sound like, “Of course I support that. Everyone would support that.” But then when you get into the nitty gritty it isn’t always as peaches and cream as we might’ve hoped. As we learn to advocate for our own children wherever they fall in the LGBTQ+ spectrum, we quickly learn that there is an entire community and we cannot properly advocate for our own children without advocating for the human rights of every other queer person as well. So today, we brought in an expert, Sue Robbins, to talk to us about how on earth we navigate the political scene.


Sue Robbins is a woman who’s transgender, intersex, and pansexual, and uses the pronouns she, her, and hers. She is currently serving on Equality Utah’s Transgender Advisory Council working on bills, policy, and other state-wide transgender and intersex efforts. She is a past Board Chair of the Utah Pride Center and of Transgender Education Advocates (TEA) of Utah. Along with being a founding member and the inaugural president of Phi Delta, Utah’s chapter of Tri-Ess, Sue has been recognized with the 2018 Transgender Advocacy Team Award, the 2019 Dr Kristen Reis Community Service Award, and the 2022 Equality Utah Impact Award.  In addition to all of this, she’s an engineering manager currently employed with a government contractor. Sue is a proud veteran with 20 years of service in the US Army, working first as a tank crew member and later in satellite communications. She lives in Woods Cross with her loving and amazing wife, Theresa, and has four children and ten grandchildren. So, basically, Sue has done everything and has been everything, and I’m a huge fan. So welcome, welcome, welcome, Sue.

SUE: Thank you, Jen. It means I have some years behind me to be able to do things. That’s what it means.


JEN: I’m so delighted that you’re here today to help educate us all on the state of the states when it comes to this topic. And I want to start off by pointing out to the audience that Sue is particularly an expert on what is happening in Utah. I don’t live in Utah, so I haven’t followed that quite as closely. I’m kind of aware of what’s happening in my own state, but my goal is to attempt to discuss this topic with a broad enough umbrella that people might feel empowered to dip their toes into information regarding their own state or their own nation. So, for those who might be listening, Sue, those who don’t remember the School House Rock. Can you walk us through the process of how a bill actually becomes a law?


SUE: Yeah. So that’s actually an interesting question from the perspective of it’s different in many states. And the state laws and the state rules at the time apply. So the School House Rock was about federal bills. So I will cover that kind of basically as it tends to apply to most states. What happens with a bill when it is first put out, and in Utah under our rules, a legislator will open a bill. So when you go to the website, you only see a name. And then you can panic about the name because you have no text to tell what’s going on. So the name could tell you a lot or it could just make you curious. I actually will tag probably a few dozen bills at the beginning of the legislature just to watch because the name made me curious that it might come up later for deeper interest once it has words.


Then, when it gets numbered is when they’ve gone through, and in Utah, we have legislative councils that work for both the Senate and the House. And they’re the ones that help write the bill from the language that the representative or the Senator gives to them and makes sure it passes the legal muster of wording that references the right code in the laws as far as where it will go and what it may change. And then that bill will get posted. And that’s what we call, it is now numbered. So when you see a bill with a number, HB1, SB1, something to that effect, H1077 maybe one for another state. Typically, that’s after the wording’s all available, it’s already gone through some type of legal review and it’s now available for everybody to see.


Then it goes to Rules. So, in Utah, we have two separate Rules committees, one in the House and one in the Senate. And what Rules is, a way of thinking of it is that they’re like a throttle and a priority body. They will review these bills and they will decide which ones they want to release. And the vote on them. Sometimes they release ones that are priority overall for leadership. They want to get them out there soon. Sometimes, they may have multiple ones that seem to be the same and either they want to go ahead and decide what one pushes forward, other times they may push them all forward and let a committee decide. So there’s a lot of different reasonings behind this. And there’s certainly ways for them to politically stop a bill right there depending on what the priorities and agenda is of the leadership and of the state congress itself.


So then you go through the body that it starts in. So, if it’s a representative it goes through the House. If it’s a senator, it goes through the Senate. And it gets assigned to a committee by Rules. Now, you’d think that the committee assignment is going to make sense. Like if you have a bill about schools then it’ll go to the House Education Committee.


JEN: We thought it was just us.


SUE: Don’t start thinking that that’s always true. I would say, as a general rule in Utah, that’s true until you start to get near the end. We only have a six week session. And if they start putting more bills out that are directed to, let’s say the Education committee, and the Education committee has a backlog and the Business and Labor committee is sitting there with nothing to do, they may kick a few of them over to Business and Labor even though it isn’t their specialty, to spread out the committee load so that they can try to get as many through at the end as they want to. So the progress then, an uninterrupted progress, I’ll say, is, Let’s say it’s a House bill. It’ll go from House Rules to the committee that it is assigned to. The committee will review it. They’ll vote on it. They’ll take input from the community and from experts. Vote on it. And if they pass it, it then goes to the House floor. They can hold it. they can reject it. And as we saw two years ago in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, we had a bill where we had a whole bunch of input go through and then they voted to adjourn the meeting which basically just abandoned the bill in place. They can also vote to send it back to Rules if they think there’s a problem and they want Rules to review it again.


So once it goes to the House floor, that’s the part that most people will be more familiar with. You see the deliberative body in these big chambers and they’ll debate the bill at some level. This could take a different form in different states. A lot of bills often don’t get much debate because most bills, even though we may not see it, will get some level of bipartisan support and they move right along. There might be some, what we call in Utah, substitutes. And that is a change that’s being proposed and needs to be voted on separately. Maybe something like an amendment and it might be the name in another state. But, they vote on it and then it goes to the other body and it starts at that Rules committee again. And it goes from Rules, so that Rules can assign it to a regular committee. That committee does the same deliberation as the other body did, votes on it. If they vote to move it to the floor, it then goes to the Senate floor in this case because I started with the House.


The Senate will then vote on it, after deliberating. And if they vote on it positively, if there’s been no changes, it then goes to the governor for signature. If there’s been any changes in that body, then it has to go back to the other body because it’s not the bill they voted in. So they have to revote on it. In Utah, we call that the concurrence calendar. So if the house passes it and it goes to the senate and the senate changes it and passes it, then the house has to concur with the changes before it goes to the governor. So it sounds like a lot already. This is not the School House Rock you learned, is it?


JEN: Even though it seems like this really long process, each step. Think about your experience and talk to us just in general about why there’s a legal battle right now, pretty much across the nation, 299 anti-queer bills that have made it to the point where they have numbers. What do you think is motivating it? And also, is it new?


SUE: So this is not new. If you go back and you look at Gay Rights and talk to people who were gay activists many years ago, they’ll go, “Oh, this sounds exactly like what we went through while we were fighting for marriage equality. We were called groomers. We had all kind of bills come out against us. We were called sexual deviants and there were laws to try and keep us from being in view of kids.” And it’s all the same old story, same old attacks just regurgitated back at mainly the transgender community. But now we’re seeing the drag community being brought in, too. So there’s some bills that are LGBT on the whole, but we’re really seeing this influx of the transgender community. And because of that, drag is associated in there. So why is this happening? It is interesting that we actually have this go on for so long. So we think back to that entire fight for marriage equality, there’s certain groups that were fighting against us throughout the process. The Alliance Defending Freedom is a very key one. They’re like the anti-ACLU. They’ve been going after abortion rights and the LGBTQ community for many, many, many years. And as they were fighting against marriage equality, there were times where it felt like they were really doing some extreme harm like when we had Proposition 8 in California. But, then, all of the sudden, people started to get to know someone who is gay or lesbian or bisexual a little more, and community view of our community started to move. And it started to move and then we got marriage equality. So, then, all these people who are trying to stop marriage equality were like, “Now what?” And the first thing we saw was bathroom bills against the trans community. They turned and said, “Well, we lost marriage. Let’s go over and see if we can attack the transgender community.” And that struggled to get traction. There were some also on birth certificate laws. We saw that in Idaho, your state, and some others. And they did get one through, a bathroom bill, in North Carolina. It turned into a disaster for them. The governor was very much behind it. They shoved it through. There was a lot of discrimination in the bill that went beyond bathroom usage. And after they did it, the NCA pulled out, businesses started to pull out of North Carolina. The number that they lost was about $6 billion if I recall correctly.


JEN: That’s a big number.


SUE: It’s pretty high. So the governor didn’t get reelected. A new governor, Roy Trooper, came in. They soften the bill. They took the bathroom part out and some others. And it kind of went away. But they learned that they just couldn’t jump right into create fear about transgender community and bathrooms because it just wasn’t supported. So they poked around a little at some items with a little bit of mixed success. But then they realized that most people don’t realize the things we go through in our medical care. And they look at a trans woman physically different. And they use that and the fact that people want to protect their youth to go after sports. And if you follow the sports for youth arguments, it’s always about trans girls. The trans boys get impacted but they’re not the ones that they make a big argument about to try and drive the narrative. Outside of maybe talking about Mack Begs which is an entirely different situation in Texas where he had to wrestle girls because the law said he had to. It wasn’t what he wanted. He wanted to wrestle with the boys. But Texas, trying to be anit-transgender got their law kind of screwed up. And Mack’s situation was the result. But then they started to see some progress. They won a couple of sports bills. The first one in Idaho, I believe. And that was received an injunction. And there’s some others, and there’s injunctions in place around multiple states.


So, what an injunction is, is if a law goes in place and a lawsuit comes out against it, a judge – and it depends potentially on federal law or state law depending on what type of court it’s filed in – can look at it and say, “I believe there’s going to be harm done here that is irreversible. So I’m going to enjoin the state from enforcing this law.” Enjoin is a legal word for, “You cannot enforce that law. You will be in violation of my order if you try and enforce that law. So I’m putting this on pause. Let’s keep seeing it through the court system.” So when you hear when a law is enjoined, it doesn’t mean we’ve won permanently, but we’ve made a temporary win while we fight in courts. So that’s what that enjoin is. And there’s multiple ones of those around the United States. But, the fact is, the people coming against us don’t care if they get lawsuits. They want to drag these things to the supreme court for obvious reasons. We have a very, what may be an unfriendly court as far as our issues are. Or at least it would appear so, and we’ll see more as law suits start to bubble up to that level, and we’ll see how it goes.


So, once they started winning in sports, there’s something happening that some of us, when I talk with national activists they’re calling it the “Overton Window”. For those who haven’t heard of the Overton Window, that is the window of political discourse that people find acceptable. So they didn’t find the bathroom stuff so acceptable and birth certificates weren’t so acceptable. But when they went to sports, they found an area where people’s education level on the transgender community hadn’t gotten to the point where they’d really understand what it meant, so they were very willing to say, “Let’s protect girls’ sports and keep transgender girls out,” which doesn’t protect girl’s sports. But that was the narrative that was used against us. and people bought into it. And once that happened, the Overton Window can then start to be moved. And they started to take away trans youth health care by saying we’re mutilating and we’re sterilizing them. They’re just really harsh and harmful words. But, again, they pushed at people’s level of knowledge where people weren’t pushing back. And they had already accepted sports, so the narratives started to build on each other.


And what we’re seeing nationally in a few of the bills, is we’re seeing bills that are coming out that say they want to block trans health care until age 26. And they’re using some weird study that says the brain doesn’t finish developing until you’re 25. So why should you make a decision like this while your brain’s developing. And each of these just builds on each other and chips away at the rights of transgender people. And that’s what they call moving the Overton Window because people are now finding these discourses politically acceptable enough that they’re able to do it and not pay the price for their actions.


JEN: How do I word this? I tend to get a little bit frustrated and start to assign nefarious motives to some of the legislators who are involved. And I’d like to have a more charitable view of their motivations and their reasons. But, more importantly, I want a realistic view. I struggle to understand the point. If trans kids play sports, nobody’s affected. If trans people use the bathroom, nobody is affected. They’re protecting nobody. They can see the data. They know they’re not protecting anybody. So what is the motivation to continue these fights?


SUE: We’re political. And that’s what it is. We’ve become the political wedge issue in a country where we talk about we have potentially immigration issues. That seems to be the thing that gets batted between parties the most. We have a deficit that we have every year. And that gets batted between the parties the most. All these things that we could be doing great work on. And, yet, we talk about kids. And last year we had like six or seven sports bills pass and there was less transgender youth participating in sports than there were sports bills that passed. It’s really just creating a furor to try and drum up votes. And that’s all it’s about. There’s no real issues here in any of this. When we talk about trans health care, there’s loads and loads of studies out there. There’s an international consortium that comes together and puts out a document called the World Professional Association of Transgender Health Standards of Care. I’m trying to read that. It’s a long document. 67 pages of it are footnotes that reference studies. So we can’t say the studies aren’t there, because I can show you hundreds just in that one document without going to the others. Every major medical organization believes in transgender health and supports it and affirms it.


JEN: We’ll link to the WPATH Standards of Care. Those will be available in the show notes.


SUE: And I have those on a website that I have also. And what I’m doing as I’m reading the standards of care is I’m pulling out key lines.


JEN: Sue actually has an amazing website that we’ll also put in the show notes to Sue’s website. Some of it’s Utah specific. But the information is very universal. I reference it often just when I’m trying to figure out Idaho. And I’m not in Utah.


SUE: Thank you .


JEN: So we’ll link that in the show notes also.


SUE: Right now, I think the only thing very Utah specific is the legislation page I have that is tracking Utah legislation. So I hope the rest of it’s useful for other people because it’s basically years of bookmarks and notes I’ve been keeping. I decided to go ahead and throw it on a web page because one of the things that I love, that I’m seeing, is more people being involved in talking to their legislators about legislation.


JEN: Across the nation, we hear the laws being verbalized. They come up with these titles like, “Protect the children” or “Protect Girls” or “Stop the Mutilation of Children” which it sounds like we all agree on. Talk a little bit about how those laws are verbalized and how they’re written, and how we as consumers who are watching these things can see through the lies. Because all of us want to protect children.


SUE: How your state runs may impact how easy it is to peel them apart. And the words can be sometimes direct. I look at a couple of them that in Utah, and one says Sex Characteristic Surgical Procedures. It doesn’t say anything about it beyond that. So you don't know, it’s a red flag to me. Once you start saying sex and surgery, but some people may not pick it up. Or, “Vital Records Modification” seems so nothing until you read and you realize they want to block birth certificate changes. So, or adoption amendments. We have one in Utah that that’s all it is. But they want to give religious liberties to people to refuse to help with fostering and adoption. So the hard part is you have to either have an organization that puts out information about what bills are out there. So, in Utah, we’re pretty fortunate in the amount that we have. Equality Utah is very involved in Utah politics here for LGBT community. And then, as available, they try to do things intersectionally. When you have eight bills on the table as we do this year, it keeps you pretty busy without trying to spread out a lot. We have a great ACLU here in Utah. We used to have a group called Action Utah that was a non-partisan group that really worked into community engagement into the legislature. And they merged with a group called Better Utah. So, as an example of Better Utah’s emails that come out every day during the legislative session, is they’ll go over all the major things that aren’t the kind of bills that just fly through with a bi-partisan nature. And they’ll talk about what happened that day. And they’ll go through the schedule of the next legislative day about what may be appearing in committee and highlight the key items that they think people will be more interested in. I mean, no one’s interested so much if you do a little change to the way a budget may be moved within Health and Human Services that doesn’t impact anyone. But then you start saying how you want to allocate money differently within the tax structure, and everybody’s interested. So they’ll highlight those types of things. So it’s hard to necessarily know what groups to go out and find. But there’s a lot of groups out there, like our YWCA is very engaged. And then we have other organizations that are very specific in what they are up there advocating for. Crossroads Urban center in Utah works on homeless laws. And then there’s Protecting our Children that looks after children’s laws. So, trying to look at your non-profits and following them is probably the best guideline you can get to be able to run into the bills you’re interested in. So if we’re talking LGBTQ+ issues, an equality organization or the ACLU would probably be the two that I would recommend first out of all of them. And then, if you have something more non-partisan that’s about community engagement, they would be great too. 

So, when you go through those bills, you hit those names, they don’t tell you a lot, other than they may give you a red flag. Most states, that I’ve looked at, when you first read a bill, there’s a description in the beginning that talks about what it’s supposed to do. Usually this is enough for a quick scan so you can identify whether you’re interested in that bill or not. For instance, there’s one bill that I’ve been watching, I’ve talked about a bunch of bills that I started watching just based off of the wording of the title before there was actually wording in the bill. And there’s one I’ve been tracking because I want to make sure it doesn’t get amended in a bad direction. But, right now, when you look at the description, it’s pretty nondescript. It’s just doing a little bit of clean up to law. But the problem is, is when a bill gets out there where people can change it, then it becomes a free-for-all. And you can actually have a bill that’s not really meant to harm our community all the sudden have an amendment put in at the last minute and then off it goes. It becomes a law and it may have had less visibility because it didn’t start off that way. Journalists really help a lot here. I think some of our journalists catch these things fast because they recognize that LGBTQ+ related bills are news. That they’re not just the standard bills that go along and have a great community interest.


So then it really gets into the state and the way they present things. Because Utah does very good on the way that we put things on our legislative website. So if you go into a bill in Utah, you’ll find that anything that is being stricken from law will be lined out in the bill. And anything that’s being added will be underlined. And if it’s neither of those, that’s just the existing law wording that’s not being changed. But what they do is they take the statute that’s being modified and drop that whole thing in there. And then, just like going into a word document and doing edits, it shows what’s lined out and it shows what’s added. So it really helps to read what is actually changing in the law for the way that is. And then, if anybody comes out with what we call a substitute or maybe an amendment in another state, they do a document that is a comparison of the differences between the original and the proposed substitute. So, again, this is where I would say organizations will often have resources on their website and potentially even training to help you get engaged in your local legislature.

JEN: We’ll link, this is going to be big show notes. We’ll link a couple of decent sites to start tracking in the show notes also. 

So, the big thing that I hear a lot, mostly in the online conversations from people who are trying to learn, is they’ll say something like, “Some of those bills don’t even matter.” We were just talking about how Mississippi had 25 that they were trying. And people say, “Some of that doesn’t matter. That’ll never pass. Or, if it does pass, relax because it’ll be shot down in court. We’ll get one of those injunctions. There’s no way that this will stand up,” kind of thing. But I want to know, in your experience, regardless of what laws or bills are going to pass or what ones are going to fail, what sort of impact does this type of legislative conversation, these attempts, what kind of effect does it have on the queer community.


SUE: It has a big impact. It’s hard to hear that there’s even a bill out there because you feel like you’re under attack for just existing. A great example was two years back, we had a health care bill, a potential birth certificate bill, and a sports bill that were all going to go through our legislative session. But the sports bill, no one knew about it first. But a local journalist, in an interview talking about the health care bill, just kind of went, “And there’s a representative that’s looking at running a sports bill.” And that was it. When I talk about bills being opened with just the names there, this bill wasn’t even at the state. And we were meeting with this representative to talk about the wording of the bill and seeing what we could impact. So, through the middle of the session, the only mention of this potential bill was that one news clip where the journalist said maybe or this representative is working on one. I was invited to meet with a group of parents and kids, so there was about 40 in all. And we talked about what was going on at the legislature and their feelings. And I looked at them at one point and I say, “Could you please tell me what worries you the most.” And without us having brought up sports, probably about three quarters of them said they feared most, losing their access to sports. So all it took was one mention in a news article and it ran right across our youth community, just from that existing. So, now you can take that and expand that to a bill that actually has wording, that wants to take away their health care, that wants to take away top surgery, that wants to take away birth certificates. Just hearing that someone wants to take away something from you that is a valid and useful intervention, then creates fear within the community of what’s going to happen to them. I want to say, we have some very strong and resilient kids. But you have every right to sit there and be unhappy when you’re going to have your rights impacted. Then, even further, now you get to start hearing the people who are against us in the news say things that are horrible, that are dehumanizing potentially. And if you go to a committee hearing, it’s even worse. It is hard to sit in those committees time after time and listen to either people who just are openly wanting to be on the hateful side. Or there’s also very many, and I want to be very fair about this, that they just heard something from the people who are against us and they haven't been educated enough, so that’s what they’re grabbing onto right now because we need to get at them and help educate them. And it’s very important to think about it that way, because even though a person says a hateful thing today, they may be our ally tomorrow. We’re trying to take them down the road with us and that doesn’t mean they’re going to flip in a moment.  But, to the question is, this is very, very painful for the community even with all these bills that get defeated. So prior to this year, 91% of all anti-transgender legislation failed. But that doesn’t mean that 91% didn’t do damage because our adults, our youth, our entire community are hearing their very existence being debated. And that is great harm.


JEN: You mentioned the sports bill and I was talking to some of the trans teens that I worked with. I talked to a couple dozen of them to figure out which ones would be impacted. “Are you interested in playing sports? Do you play sports in your school?” Those kind of questions. And I actually couldn’t find a single kid, a single teen who was playing sports or even interested in playing sports. But every single one of them was on the verge of tears about that legislation anyway. Even though it wouldn’t impact them because of just exactly like you said, the conversations, the things that they were hearing. And the question that Iheard over and over and over from these teens was, “Why do they hate us? Why does our government hate us?” And to feel like your own government is at war against you when – for these kids they’re like, “I’m just trying to make it through the day and not get beat up at school.” And when I search for information, it seems to me that the laws are targeting a few general areas. But, essentially, they touch and the wording touches on every aspect of living a full and healthy life as a queer person. To move through life, every part of your life. And it seems to me, and I’m not as experienced as you are, but it feels like sometimes almost coordinated. As I read the bills in different states, the language has really similar ideas and even the verbiage. That sounds familiar. Do you have any sort of idea about how coordinated these efforts are across our states?


SUE: Oh, absolutely. It is a real thing. And those who bring the bills in will argue about how coordinated it is. It’s interesting that sometimes you can pull out a bill and say, I think you got this from X. And they’ll say No. I wrote that myself. And then you can lay five bills next to it that have the exact same wording. It’s obvious. So the argument for them to say it isn’t, is very disappointing. At least be a little more upfront about what you’re doing to come at us. But, going back to what I said, the Alliance Defending Freedom has been trying to do this, to be anti-LGBTQ for many years and is trying to fight against our rights. And there’s other organizations that have joined in with them. I think one’s like the American Policy Project, I believe. And there’s so many. But the Alliance Defending Freedom was creating boilerplate bills for many years. But they were having trouble spreading these bills out to multiple states because they didn’t have the resources and the network. So, about three and a half years ago, they entered in a agreement with a group called ALEC,  which is the American Legislative Exchange Council. ALEC has a goal of taking conservative boilerplate bills and moving them around to all the states so that they can take their agenda and move it out to as many states as possible.


JEN: Is that why they don’t try federal laws, they’re hitting individual states?


SUE: Yes. and it’s easier in states where you have, maybe, very distinct control over the states to put some of the laws in. As we can see, obviously, states that have more left leaning are not passing these harmful laws. And in purple states it tends to be more of a battle. So a lot of this is mostly moving largely in the more red states. Arizona is actually a little more of an exception but they did have a very strong conservative leadership while they passed the bills. Now they have a democratic governor and it’s probably just going to come to a halt. Even though it might be a purple state, it depends who’s in leadership at the time too, as far as those go. So, now, with ALEC working with Alliance Defending Freedom, these same bills are going into every state. And it’s interesting when we had, not the ban that passed, but two years ago when we had the first sports bill in Utah, we looked at the representative and said, “You got this from ALEC and the Alliance Defending Freedom.” And she goes, “No. I got it from the representative up in Idaho. And this is the one she ran.” And we’re like, yeah, and she got hers from the Alliance Defending Freedom. So you just can’t point a finger that way because I can show you all these bills that have the exact same wording. And it’s very obvious because some of the wording is so abhorrent that goes into these bills. We had one birth certificate bill that came out in Utah that actually described what “male” was reproductively and what “female” was reproductively to the point of saying the female will receive cells from the male which will fertilize her egg. And it went through wording like that.


JEN: I remember that one.


SUE: Do we really need biology in law like this. It’s obvious, way, way over kill and incorrect as far as a broad statement. So those are the ways these bills tend to come to pass. It’s an all out onslaught by hate organizations. And there’s extremists that support it. So then you end up with moderates that are kind of caught in this “Do I go with the extremist in my party? Do I say we need to move on to more important, better things?” And I think that’s why we see some differences in different states. And we see why a number of these bills don’t get traction because the interest may be mixed once you get out of the people who have extreme angles on this.


JEN: So, what’s the simplest way for a parent… There’s a parent who’s like, “This Don’t Say Gay bill in Florida is really hurtful to my child navigating the public school system,” for example. How do they start to dip their toe into the action that is required to influence legislation?


SUE: Know who your legislator is. So, just for a terminology item, most states have a house of representatives, so you would have a representative in there for your district. And you would also have a senate, so your senator from your district would be in there. Virginia doesn’t have a house of representatives. It has delegates. And then they have senators. So a little bit of different terminology. And then Nebraska is the only state that just has one body. And they have senators. So you won’t have a representative in that state or delegate, just a senator. So, typically, you can go to your legislative website or maybe the lieutenant governor’s page and you can pop in your address, find out what district you're in and know who represents you. I would recommend to everybody, get to know your representative. Don’t wait until everything is all hectic. For instance, in Utah, I was talking to people back in October and September and saying, “Start to reach out to them now. Get to know them because once they’re in session, they’re getting bombarded and your name mixes in with everybody else's.” But if you start having discussions early, when they’re not busy and potentially even meeting with them when possible, then, when your name comes up in an email or a text message which we’re able to do in Utah, they’ll know who you are. And you respond to people you know a little quicker than you do the flood of emails and communications they get. So you start to get an advantage as far as being able to educate them. And then it becomes about approach because if you can introduce them to your queer child and your child is ready for that and able to have a discussion with someone who doesn’t understand them, I feel like that starts to move them. We’ve moved a lot of our legislators. I say a lot and that’s kind of relatively speaking, obviously it’s not enough, if we’re still losing on some bills. But we have some great support from people who weren’t necessarily on our side before that have been moving to our side. And I can even look at some of them and see that it’s incremental each year. I’ll have a conversation with them one year and they’ll say, “I think I’m good at not voting against your health care, but the sports thing I’m not so sure about. I kind of want to protect girls.” And you have that kind of conversation. And then, the next year they vote against banning sports. So it’s a process and it’s a hard process. But getting to know your legislator and having continuing conversations, I think is very important and very impactful because, you can’t hate someone you get to know. Is a saying that you hear. Once you know someone, it’s harder to hate them. And there’s a bit of reality to that. That means some people will be embedded into their views and  you can’t move them. And I want to recognize that. But there’s a lot of them out there that just don’t know. If you’re a parent, think of it this way, when your child first came out to you and perhaps maybe, your first child, where were you at on your knowledge? Where were you at on understanding all of this? Now put that position in a legislators mind who’s trying to manage laws. And when we can maybe have a little more empathy for some of them who are trying to work with us. And understand that if we take them down an educational path, we can move them. And this is the way we are going to start pushing back on this flow. If you think of it like politics, you always have democrats and republicans voting in every election. And neither of those sides decide the election except in extreme districts which is usually smaller districts. The people in the middle are the ones that tend to decide it. So if we can move people who are in the middle to a level of understanding so that they know our kids are not harming anyone in sports, they’re hardly there. The healthcare is really scientifically backed. Our kids need it. There's no harm in changing legal documents and so on. Then we’ll have the people that support us already. We’ll start moving these people in the middle. Now, we have the majority. And now we can start controlling the narrative more and start stopping these laws except in the most extreme states. And, as I said before, we’re not getting these laws in the blue states. Purple states are a little bit of a toss up. And then we’re seeing them in red states. So if we could start taking purple states out of the equation, think about how this narrative works across the entire country and the amount of progress that we’ll be able to do then. Once you get a strong narrative across the country, then we can start crossing our fingers for maybe an equality act at the federal level. Obviously, we can’t predict what legislators and presidencies look like in the coming years. But that’s the way change is made, by moving hearts and minds and starting to bring people to a better level of education so that we have them in our camp.


JEN: I want to throw in a plug too, that who we vote for matters. These might not be issues that we considered before, but now we have an opportunity when we’re voting to find the position of our legislators so that it kind of softens the potential for that. But if somebody listening is considering making a phone call or sending an email to one of their legislators, what have you found to be the most productive way to make those actions effective like as far as language or wording?


SUE: So, phone calls first. This might depend a lot on the states. I imagine some states’ legislators who work year round and have a staff, may have staffers fielding the phone calls. So you don’t develop the personal relationship as easy. But you can get your messaging across through a phone call, through the staffers or through the particular legislator. Here in Utah, you go to the legislative website, and their cell phone is likely to be posted up there. So I text with legislators sometimes and say, “Hey, this bill’s coming up. I want to make sure you don’t have any questions for me related to this issue. Here are the things I think are being misunderstood the most.” I’ll do that in texts sometimes. I have conversations with my senator a lot. And my senator has actually said, “Hey, if you’re a neighbor and you come up while I’m mowing the lawn, I gotta get things done, but I’ll talk. You’re my constituent.” So when we go to writing, I want to make sure that we understand that being a constituent is something that is very important when they’re trying to go through all of this communication they take in. I highly recommend to everybody th  first thing to do in an email is to go, “Good afternoon, Senator. My name is Sue Robbins, and I am your constituent and this is my address in Woods Cross, Utah.” And then, go to another paragraph so that way, that sticks out on top because being a constituent means they’re supposed to be listening to you and they’re supposed to be voting on your behalf. So, for many legislators who take that seriously, that sticks out. Then I talk about what I would like them to learn or understand. And, unfortunately, brevity sometimes helps because if you do a really long email and they’re super busy because of session, then they might kind of scan the top to see what your point is and set it aside. So the way I like to say everything with an engagement with a legislator is put yourself in their shoes. All kinds of bills are new to them and it’s new education to them. So take them from that point forward. And they’re also busy at some level. And, like I said, it depends on which state. But even in Utah, we stop, our legislators stop their work for six weeks they go through session, then they go back to a job. And during that time that’s not six weeks, they’re expected to still talk with the community and start preparing their bills for the next year. So it isn’t a break. It’s not like they’re done being a legislator. It’s just that they’re done taking time off of work. So that can create some busy and very hectic environments for them. So if we want them to be empathetic for us, sometimes it’s helpful to be empathetic to them. Then, their ears open up more. If you yell at a legislator, if you call them names in the phone or in the email, then think about what you would do if you received that. You’d just turn off the input from that person right there. “They’re calling me a name, they’re not being reasonable, why should I listen to anything they’re saying?” So if you are upset about a bill, I’ve got an email address on my website, yell at me, then turn around and go to your legislator and you can be emotional about the bill, but don’t be emotional about the legislator. And that’s probably the best way I can put it. Because the minute you go at them, then they’re going to be defensive. But if you sit here and say “This bill is harming my youth and I cry at night about it,” that starts to make them listen. “My kid took three days off of school last week because they’re hearing what was being said about them in the news.” That gets them to listen. These are emotional things and real life matters. So those are things that I would try and communicate. The last thing about emails I want to mention is we often see, from advocacy organizations, they’ll set up a website that says, “Click here and tell your legislator what you think.” And you go to it and it’ll autofill in your legislator for you. Then it’ll autofill in the subject and it’ll autofill in the whole email. I don’t care for those because, if I’m a legislator and I start seeing a couple hundred emails come in that look the same, then I’m not paying attention to who’s sending them. I’m not paying attention to the content. Why should I? It’s the same email. So it just looks like spam coming through my mailbox. So there's not the kind of impact that a personal story can have. So, my recommendation is, if you click through on one of these and you see this prepared email, read the points that are in there. That organization is giving you great talking points. So that’s very important. But, then, what I do is I change the subject line. And then I go in and I reword the email into your words. But use the points that you want to use that were offered to you by that organization. They know what’s going on and they know what’s effective.


JEN: That’s how I do it, too.


SUE: But try and take it away from looking like a form letter because they’re going to react to that the same way that you get ones from in your personal email. They’ll just, at most, they might have a staff member count how many they received, at most. But they’re certainly not reading anything if it’s the same thing over and over.


JEN: Alright. Last question for you: You probably know this better than most, but there’s a lot of burnout with engaging with the political process, especially when it comes to issues that are fighting against basic human rights of people that you hold dear or potentially yourself. How do you find balance for yourself and the people you work with, just engaging year after year in this tumultuous environment?


SUE: Burnout is a very real thing. One of the things that I think is a contributor is that, when we first are part of the community, whether as a parent or ally, or as an LGBTQ+ individual, there’s this euphoria that comes with it sometimes. Or this desire to protect. And we come in strong even though we may have not settled into our place in the community. And it’s almost like this surge of energy. And it’s not something that’s easy to maintain. That is part of it. And then the other part will be the pushback that you often tend to get. When you go up to a legislator and you talk with either an individual or in a committee, there’s a lot of harmful language that’s there. And it does take its toll. And to get through that, one of things that I believe has helped me in my attitude towards how I approach them, is that I try and not come in thinking that they’re deliberately trying to harm me and I have to argue with them to do that. I come more from a place where I feel like education is the way that’s going to change things. So I don’t look at them as hating me. I look at them as not having the education they need to embrace me. So one of my favorite sayings is “Education brings knowledge. Knowledge brings understanding. And greater understanding brings social change.” I’m one of those that firmly believes that educating people is what’s going to get us to the end. And, in that, if someone says harmful things to me up at the legislature then I’m not absorbing it as hate as much as I’m absorbing it as ignorance in the purest sense of the word. They don’t know better. And it’s particularly hard right now because, for legislators that don’t know better, they’ve already had people on the extreme side against us come to them and fill their minds with things. So we’re having to take them from a very negative place and move them along to where they can reject those other areas of input they had as not being valid, as not being scientific, as not being real. It’s a hard thing to do. And it’s very easy for people to take an emotional toll trying to change those minds. And that is why the burnout is real. So, beyond just trying to alter approach so that it’s not absorbed so much as a hateful attack, you have to have time for personal care. You have to be able to back off and disconnect at times. Even the best that do this will take time down. I can think of one of our most impactful people here in the state that does this for a living. Takes a week off before the legislature session starts and takes a week off after because that is what prepares them and then helps them recover by just disconnecting from social media and all the input that is constant. And it is constant. So, I’ve brought friends in who want to become very strong activists. And each one of them has had to find their place in how much they can do. Not one of them, at this point, can go through the day and then spend time on this full time. And we need to realize that’s part of the problem too, is many of those of us who are trying to do this activism are doing it after a day of discrimination, after a day of having to work two jobs because of the discrimination we receive, after struggling with government entities who don’t recognize us for who we are and we’re trying to get paperwork right or anything. After you go through all those types of things that are harming us because of who we are, then you’re being asked to be an activist and to control your emotions and not to get upset. So, in some of the things I’m saying, I recognize it may sound like tone policing. And I don’t want it to come across that way because this is exceedingly hard. And I don’t want anyone to think otherwise. So that’s why I would recommend to everybody is to find your level. You don’t have to be Icaraus flying right into the sun at the beginning. Dip your feet in, start moving forward and find how far you can be involved and still stay at a healthy place. Because, if you just shoot in real hard in the beginning, you will potentially burn out and then you’ll be disengaged for a long period of time, if not permanently. So, theoretically or the old proverbial “put your toe in the water”: Start with communicating with your legislator. Then start sitting in committee hearings, potentially testifying. And start seeing where your place is and how much you’re able to do for the life that you have right now and the amount of issues you have to deal with. Because this isn’t for everybody. I would love everybody to be at the level of communicating with their legislator because they need to hear us. After that, it’s going to start thinning down and we recognize that. But still, the more that we can have at committees, even if you’re just sitting there for presence, is important. It is all, every step of the way, is important. But it’s not important if it harms you in doing so. So we have to take measured approaches on how we move forward in these efforts to stay healthy.


JEN: I appreciate that so much. The last few years, I find myself with a little bit of a pit in my stomach each winter as the legislative sessions begin around the nation. So it’s helpful for me to have friends that I consider touchstones, like you Sue, that manage to maintain positive and optimistic and professional attitudes as you advocate over and over and over again. 

I want to thank you so very much for taking an entire hour, during the legislative season, to help us all feel a little bit more grounded in what we might potentially do to make the world a little bit safer for the marginalized people that we love. Thank you. You are amazing. Thank you.


SUE: Thank you very much. I appreciate being able to come on. And I appreciate everybody out there who is looking to be engaged. Your voices matter at whatever level you can give. It takes all of us. We can’t count on one or two people who have the great visibility. It’s time for a community and that’s what we need. So I appreciate all of you. And I love all your kids. They’re just so amazing. It makes my heart swell.


JEN: That’s beautiful. Thank you so much, Sue.


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