By State Rep. Vernon G. Smith
This year, I was proud to get a bill passed through the House that will crack down on bullying in schools. As an educator, I‘ve seen for years the impacts that bullying can have on a young life. From self-esteem issues to the tragedy of suicide, bullying can destroy a child‘s life and the lives of those who love them. I was happy to see strong, bipartisan support for my bill, which is perhaps why I was surprised to see my colleagues support state-sanctioned bullying via Senate Bill 480.
This bill, which prohibits minors from receiving gender-affirming care, seeks to label transgender people as “others” and divide Hoosiers. While I understand there are many concerns surrounding the types of treatment afforded to children, I also listened as many doctors and healthcare professionals assured us no children in Indiana are receiving surgical or irreversible treatments. We also heard from many parents of transgender children who told us gender-affirming care saved their child’s life.
As a man of strong faith, I’m reminded of a verse from the Book of Psalms: “But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” I reflected on this and similar verses while this bill has been deliberated, and knowing that I serve a just and loving God makes it impossible for me to support legislation that seeks to harm those ostracized by society.
Throughout my life, I have faced discrimination and racism because of the color of my skin, and I have spent a great deal of time working to combat racism. Just this year, we in the House of Representatives passed a bill that defines antisemitism as discrimination on the basis of religion, and I was proud to support it. If I believe that discrimination based on race and religion is egregious, which I do, how then could I support a bill that would discriminate against members of the LGBT community?
I was particularly moved by testimony from parents and transgender individuals regarding suicide rates among transgender people. Roughly 80% of transgender children have contemplated suicide, and 40% have attempted to end their life. This is heartbreaking. No child, regardless of their gender, race or sexual orientation, should ever feel that suicide is the only way to escape their pain. And we in the General Assembly should be ashamed to be participating in the actions that lead children to feel this way. I didn‘t get into politics to bully vulnerable children as some of my colleagues are doing, and it‘s a shame that so many of my colleagues have focused their efforts on making life harder for transgender children just trying to live their lives.
I’ve been in the General Assembly since 1990, and during that time, I’ve seen countless groups of people become targets for the Indiana Republican Party’s culture wars. Right now, their target is the transgender community. Whether they‘re targeting members of the LGBT community or educators trying to teach their students the uncomfortable truths about American history, at the end of the day, it‘s always about discrimination and persecution. When you don‘t have solutions to the real problems your constituents are facing, you create a bogeyman to distract them, and Hoosiers are suffering as a result.
Senate Bill 480 is state-sanctioned bullying, plain and simple. As someone who has spent a large portion of my adult life working to combat bullying, I’m dedicated to undoing the harms this bill will ultimately cause. Today, my heart is with Indiana‘s transgender community and all those who love them. Tomorrow, we will continue the fight against discrimination of any kind. There is no place for hatred in Indiana, certainly not in our state government.
State Rep. Vernon G. Smith represents Indiana‘s 14th House District.