Under Attack: Standing up for LGBTQIA+ Rights in Theatre and Performance Studies

Roundtable Discussion

The moderators asked participants two questions. Thankfully, no one on the panel used the frame of “rights” in their discussions. My answers were more elaborate versions of what follows:

1. What is a specific problem we need to address in the field, in our institutions, in our classrooms, and in our research in relation to LGBTQ+ rights?

It seems to me that one of the central issues in LGBTQ+ rights currently is the question raised by the legal framework of adult/minor. This is, especially, an issue that affects us as college and university educators because we mostly teach adults and are legally barred from speaking to parents, at least about grades and other personal information. What seems important to me is that the legal framework for attacking trans individuals right now hinges on this axis of adult/child. For me it throws into relief the entire legal construction of adult/minor, a construction that is, in many ways, a simple fiction designed to grant power to (some) parents and remove power from people under the age of 18. The attack on LGBTQ+ individuals in the state of Florida, where I live and work, is precisely an attack on LGBTQ+ youth and their teachers and supportive parents. This attack is made possible, however, by the legal fiction of the adult/child.

2. What actionable items could be done moving forward in relation to reinforcing/protecting LGBTQ+ rights (i.e. what is something that you have found to be useful to you, your colleagues, and/or your students, or what ideas do you have)?

I think it is important to address the laws precisely and examine them carefully. One of the ways my university is surviving beneath the yoke of the Florida legislature is by looking carefully at the letter of the law and mostly ignoring the rhetoric of politicians supporting the laws. Laws are accompanied by much rhetorical bluster and nonsense, but what must be followed is the law itself, and here there is often more room to maneuver than we might imagine. Every conservative legislator and almost every commentator on the laws note a “chilling effect”. This effect is mostly caused by the rhetoric of these laws and not their letter. It is important for us to address these laws on substance and not sentiment.