Over the past decade, mainstream society has made progress on LGBTQ+ rights and acceptance. This cultural progress has developed on a national scale, beginning with the Obama Administration’s legalization of gay marriage in 2014.

Following this action, we watched as a vibrant abundance of rainbow parades, yard signs and flags popped up across the nation. It felt like LGBTQ+ rights were on a one-way train to universal acceptance, which nothing could throw off course.

Despite such progress and optimism, the LGBTQ+ community has been continually threatened time and time again. While the Trump administration’s attack on transgender military servicepeople was a major setback, a vast majority of anti-gay and transgender action has taken place at the state level.

Notably, gay and transgender Wisconsinites have been especially targeted. Catalyzed by conservative state politicians, the Wisconsin Republican Legislature has pushed forward on multiple bills that challenge the rights of the LGBTQ+ community.

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Most recently, the Legislature moved to protect conversion therapy. Now more than ever, politicians, students and other allies must stand with the LGBTQ+ community and take action against discriminatory legislation.

In early March, Wisconsin Republicans introduced a bill that would effectively bar transgender youth from participating in sports.

This past week, the Wisconsin Legislature voted to move a bill to committee that “kills limits” on conversion therapy. While 20 states have rules banning conversion therapy, Wisconsin does not.

Rather, the state Department of Safety and Professional Standards had rules in place to limit the capacity of conversion therapists. This new bill effectively kills those therapy restrictions for at least the next two years. Such action leaves conversion therapy unbridled at the expense of LGBTQ+ children in unaccepting and religious households.

Time and time again, legislatures choose when is most convenient to use strict policy interpretation. The “freedom” party touts self-determination and limited government intervention, but when marginalized communities — such as gay and transgender youth — begin to make headlines, this belief seems to go out the window.

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The DSPS therapy board couldn’t ban conversion therapy because the Legislature hasn’t prohibited it in the statute, reported the Associated Press.

So, because of a logistical issue — which is either fabricated and not an issue at all, or could be fixed without repeal — LBGTQ+ children must suffer. This aid also left out the strong influence ultra-conservative organizations had on the shaping of this bill, and early March’s bill regarding transgender athletes.

The introduction and effectiveness of this bill reach further than legalities. It is a deep wound to the LGBTQ+ citizens and politicians of Wisconsin. Wisconsin Sen. Tim Carpenter, an openly gay Democrat from Milwaukee, compared conversion therapy to a witch hunt.

“It doesn’t work. It’s a shame. It’s a political talking point to make some people feel good,” Carpenter said.

Aside from feeling the anguish of my LGBTQ+ peers, I am confused by the longevity of this bill. Sure, given any other year, a discriminatory bill is likely to quietly pass through a deeply Republican legislature, but this is not just any year. We are in the midst of a pandemic that has shaken the economic core of the state and the country.

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Yet, our legislators are using their floor time to propose anti-LGBTQ+ bills? This is not the political discourse we want or need. Students, sympathetic politicians and state residents must take action and demand accountability from our representatives. 

This past Tuesday, ASM Student Council unanimously voted to stand with our transgender allies and call on Gov. Tony Evers to veto the anti-transgender sports bill. Similar action needs to occur in the wake of this conversion therapy ruling.

While Evers does not have veto power here, students can put pressure on human rights organizations, therapists, and parent groups to protect children from this tortuous “therapy.”

Local action has unbelievable power. Often, we forget how community organizing can empower larger populations to follow suit. If Madison students, politicians and residents can band together via protests, lawsuits, petitions and more in support of LGBTQ+ Wisconsinites, we can send shockwaves up State Street and into the Capitol chambers.

Emma Axelrod ([email protected]) is a junior studying political science and journalism.