Former President Barack Obama spoke out against the dozens of bills attacking transgender youth that have been filed by state Republican lawmakers all over the country this year, saying that “it breaks my heart.”
“This is not who we are,” he told The Advocate. “America has always been at its best when we open our arms wider and help more people feel like they belong — not treat them like second-class citizens because they’re different.”
Most of the bills filed to roll back transgender rights this year have attacked transgender youth, usually their access to gender-affirming health care or right to participate in school sports. Other bills were filed to expand religious exemptions, force schools to out trans students to their parents, or make businesses post signs that say they serve transgender people equally, as if cisgender customers need to be warned.
“These bills are doing real harm – especially to young people – whether they end up passing or not,” Obama said. Several of the bills have already failed, but enough of them have been passed to have raised concerns about trans youth suicide and have made families of trans youth consider moving out of their states.
“Growing up is hard enough, and at some point we all struggle to find our place in the world. I can’t imagine how difficult it is for young people to know that some leaders – including people who are supposed to be representing you – don’t think they deserve equal rights.”
Elsewhere in the interview, Obama was asked if he was worried that his legacy as “the president who did the most for LGBTQ+ rights in history” – which includes repealing Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, expanding LGBTQ rights for federal workers, and appointing two Supreme Court Justices who legalized marriage equality in the U.S. – would be “overshadowed or forgotten.”
“I would love my legacy to be overshadowed, because it would mean another president was doing even more to protect LGBTQ rights,” he said.
Obama cited President Joe Biden’s executive order expanding some federal anti-discrimination protections to include anti-LGBTQ discrimination and how the Biden administration rolled back Donald Trump’s transgender military ban.
“Now we obviously have more work to do,” he said. “We need to do even more to guarantee basic rights and protections for every American. My hope is that whatever success we had while I was president proves that progress is possible.”