"Was I willingly dragging my daughter into the line of fire?" the author writes.
“Mommy, I’m so excited,” my daughter Gabby exclaimed as we rolled our bags out of our building and headed toward our ride.
“When I get older, I definitely want a place in Miami,” she told me.
“You mean in addition to your apartment in the city and your house on Long Island?” I asked with a smile.
She laughed as we loaded our bags into the trunk and directed our driver to our friends’ apartment. This other mother and her daughter were among the nine pairs gathering in Florida to support one of Gabby’s bunkmates dancing in a regional production of “The Nutcracker.”
While Gabby never officially took dance lessons, she’d recently gone through a ballet phase, mostly consisting of twirling in our living room for what seemed like hours. Her long legs and arms looked surprisingly elegant, especially for a novice. My 14-year-old daughter considered classes at the local studio, but her packed schedule and visibly packed leotard both served as deterrents. At this stage in her development, Gabby’s body still betrays her gender identity, which makes it difficult for her to dress like the other girl ballerinas.
As we approached the airport, I worried I was betraying my daughter by spending time and money in a state that rejects who she is. It was our first trip to Florida since Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the “Don’t Say Gay (or Trans)” law in March 2022. Though I knew Gabby and her friends were more concerned with getting a tan than discussing a school lesson plan, I still felt conflicted.
Was I willingly dragging my daughter into the line of fire? Did DeSantis (and those who elected him) deserve our tourism dollars? And more importantly, would my daughter not only be safe, but feel safe, when we landed? I ultimately decided she deserved the opportunity to hang with the girls who love, accept and support her for the fun, fabulous, fierce girl that she is.
Just a few short months after our trip, Equality Florida and the NAACP warned people against moving to or even visiting Florida because of the state’s anti-LGBTQ+ laws, restrictions on access to reproductive health care, repeal of gun safety laws and racial prejudice. The U.S. State Department routinely adds foreign locations to its “Do Not Travel” list citing land mines, terrorism and kidnapping concerns. But this was Florida — home to Mickey and Minnie Mouse and thousands of Bubbes and Zaydes anxiously awaiting visits from their grandkids, not to mention millions of law-abiding, equal-rights-supporting, intelligent human beings caught in the crossfire of misguided conservatives waging a culture war designed to divide.
After issuing its travel advisory, Equality Florida Executive Director Nadine Smith said in a statement, “As an organization that has spent decades working to improve Florida’s reputation as a welcoming and inclusive place to live, work and visit, it is with great sadness that we must respond to those asking if it is safe to travel to Florida or remain in the state as the laws strip away basic rights and freedoms. ... We understand everyone must weigh the risks and decide what is best for their safety, but whether you stay away, leave, or remain we ask that you join us in countering these relentless attacks.”
Translation: Florida is not safe for my daughter or kids like her. Period.
DeSantis also recently signed a bill banning gender-affirming care for trans youth. That means the puberty blockers Gabby’s been taking for years ― the ones whose use are supported by the American Medical Association and studies have shown reduce depression and suicidality in trans kids ― are now outlawed in Florida. Ditto for the hormones that are helping my daughter develop not only breasts and curves but also a sense of confidence and belonging. Thankfully, her friend danced at the Ziff Opera House and not in the auditorium of the local high school, because Gabby could now face criminal charges for entering the girls’ bathroom in public schools across Florida, not to mention state and federal buildings. Which raises the question: Where does DeSantis suggest my daughter pee? I’m guessing the governor would say it wasn’t safe for any of these 14-year-old girls to use the guys’ restroom, but that’s exactly what he’s demanding — and legislating — my daughter do.
Sadly, Florida is just one of 49 states that have introduced over 555 anti-trans bills in 2023 alone. According to the Trans Legislation Tracker, on the day this piece was written in late May, 78 of these bills have passed and 373 remain active. We are literally under siege.
Though this is a national crisis for trans people and the people who love them, it’s Florida garnering the most headlines. But you know what we aren’t seeing on the news? A friend from Tampa called me crying a few weeks ago after the doctor treating her trans daughter said he could no longer provide her care. Thankfully, my daughter’s New York City-based endocrinologist was happy to accept her as a patient, but what about trans youth in Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia ― states that have also banned gender-affirming care for kids? What if their parents can’t afford to fly them to New York or another state for their treatment? Will these 17 states soon appear alongside the Sunshine State on an updated “Do Not Travel” list?
Neither my daughter nor any of her TikTok-loving, clothes-swapping, Sephora-shopping teen friends mentioned the then-pending legislation when hanging at the pool, staying up all night, or hugging their favorite ballerina following her regional dance debut. I also don’t think Gabby felt threatened in any way during our three-day getaway, though according to a 2021 study by the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, she’s four times more likely to be the victim of violence than her cisgender peers no matter where she is simply because of her gender identity. Still, we’re told the laws being passed in states like Florida are designed to protect people from my daughter, not the other way around. It’s not only ironic but also heartbreaking. My baby girl deserves better. So do the over 300,000 other 13- to 17-year-old trans teens in our country.
“Mommy, I had the best time this weekend,” Gabby told me as our car dropped us at home on the Sunday night after our trip. “I can’t wait to go back!”
I nodded but said nothing. I knew we’d ultimately need to design and discuss a “Do Not Travel” list and other safety measures that fit our family’s sensibilities. That’s the reality of having a trans child in this country right now. But at that moment, I didn’t want to disturb the high my daughter was experiencing from spending the weekend just being a typical teenage girl on vacation with her friends.
“You know what, though?” Gabby continued. “I don’t think I want a place in Miami anymore.”
“Why the change of heart?” I asked.
“Well, I’ve been doing some research,” she explained, “and I think Malibu is more my vibe.”
Sounds great to me. Lawmakers have only introduced one anti-trans bill in California this year, and the State Department, LGBTQ+ advocacy groups, and the NAACP aren’t suggesting we steer clear of the Golden State. Besides, I’ll take earthquakes over terrorists any day.
Note: Names and some identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of the individuals in this essay.
Kate Brookes is the author of “Transister: Raising Twins in a Gender-Bending World” (She Writes Press, Aug. 8, 2023). She is an award-winning TV reporter/anchor turned producer/filmmaker who has interviewed everyone from Beyonce to the late Barbara Walters, field-produced for The Discovery Channel, written for Today.com, and emceed galas, live events, and webcasts for nonprofits and Fortune 500 companies. An activist since her teenage years, Kate has devoted countless hours to the causes she supports, including mental health, housing justice, and anti-gun legislation. But it wasn’t until realizing she’d completely botched the birth announcement for her twins that she became active in LGBTQ+ causes. Kate lives with her husband and rock star children in New York City. Find out more about her at TransisterMom.com.