For some families, the impact of enacted anti-LGBTQ+ state laws goes beyond political implications. In states where discriminatory state legislation has passed into law, these families have been presented with a dire crisis: whether to endure the unjust and cruel reality brought forth by these laws, or ensure the safety and well-being of their loved ones by leaving and reestablishing elsewhere.
Completely uprooting their lives has been a difficult and heartbreaking decision for these families, leaving behind family and friends, colleagues, and an entire way of life. For Lisa Stanton, a member of our Parents for Trangender Equality Council and a mother of a transgender child, the need to leave Texas became obvious once state legislators took aim at medically necessary care for transgender youth.
“We had been advocating publicly for trans rights and driving back and forth to Austin for more than half our daughter's life,” said Stanton. “After this legislative session, it became very clear to us that we were no longer safe in Texas. Before SB14 even went into effect, clinics across the state began shutting down, including ours. In addition to losing access to trans-affirming health care, we had faced harassment in our home state, including continued threats from our attorney general and governor to prosecute families like ours for child abuse.”
Stanton describes having to inform her two children — Stanton and her husband have twins, one of whom is trans and the other lives with cerebral palsy, which adds another layer of complexity to her family’s situation — about their family’s move.
“Our daughter was really sad about leaving her friends,” said Stanton. “She was ready to escape the political climate and growing hate in Texas. She was more aware of the reality we were facing, as she had spent so much time at the Capitol testifying and fighting for her rights.”
According to Stanton, her daughter began to experience anxiety during this time. While the social impact of these laws are apparent, the emotional and psychological impact on LGBTQ+ people can be significant. Recently, the Human Right Campaign Foundation released data highlighting the native impact of gender-affirming care bans. According to the data, 43% of LGBTQ+ adults report that gender-affirming care bans impact the physical and/or mental health of themselves or their loved ones, while 80% transgender and non-binary adults report the same.
Aside from navigating her family’s move to Colorado logistically, and leaving behind a life her family was used to, Stanton said one of the hardest things she and her husband faced was “putting on a brave face and modeling a growth mindset for your kids when the truth is, you are scared and sad too.”
While the move from Texas to Colorado has been incredibly difficult for Stanton and her family, she knows she “made the right decision for our family to be free from the constant stress, fear and anxiety we were living with. Having peace of mind here has allowed us to begin the healing process and start to truly live again.”
For HRC members Jake Kleinmahon and his husband, Tom, the moment they too decided to leave their home state was made during the Louisiana Senate Education Committee debate on HB466 — Louisiana’s own “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” Bill, which prevents any classroom discussion around gender identity and sexual orientation. During the debate, some Republican lawmakers left while community members expressed their opposition to the bill.
“By the end of the hearing, my husband and I were asking each other ‘What are we doing here?’” said Jake Kleinmahon. “We need to leave. It was a very clear moment.”
Across the country during this year’s legislative season, extremist right-wing elected officials sent a clear message that LGBTQ+ people are not safe in some states. In 2023, over 570 anti-LGBTQ+ state laws were introduced, over 220 of which specifically targeted transgender and non-binary people. More than 80 anti-LGBTQ+ laws were enacted, including more than 20 banning gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth, more than 10 requiring or allowing misgendering of transgender students and more than five censoring school curriculum dealing with LGBTQ+ issues.
Our data suggests that 1 in 3 LGBTQ+ adults report they would move — or already have moved away or taken steps to move — from a state that passed or enacted a gender-affirming care ban. Furthermore, over a quarter of LGBTQ+ adults would specifically look to change jobs to a position located in a different state if their state were to pass or enact a gender-affirming care ban.
Jake Kleinmahon was one of Louisiana's few pediatric cardiologists and wanted to “ensure that the kids of Louisiana received the same or better pediatric heart transplant care than anyone else in the country.”
He said that after having built trusting relationships with his patients and their families, making the decision to relocate was “absolutely devastating.”
“For me, that was the hardest part,” said Kleinmahon. “I felt like I was letting them down. But my family and I were waking up every day to find out which discriminatory policies were being put forth. That’s not the kind of environment we want to raise our family in.”
When it came to informing their children that their family was no longer safe in Louisiana and, thus, didn’t have a choice other than to move, Tom Kleinmahon, Jake’s husband, said their oldest child cried when she told them, “You always have a choice. It’s just one of them is really bad.”
“She got it,” said Kleinmahon. “She understood, even at age 7, that these laws impact our family in a way that’s not acceptable. Despite technically having a choice, the choice was made for us.”
Jake Kleinmahon received some pushback from those around him, namely his colleagues who suggested he “wait to see how it played out” and asked whether he and his family needed to truly leave.
“I responded by telling them that none of them had to go home and have conversations with their children about laws the state was making against their family,” said Kleinmahon. “Why would we stay in a state that, frankly, feels like it doesn’t support us and doesn't want us there?”
Kleinmahon said that after having these difficult conversations, he eventually received understanding and support.
The Kleinmahons say that their hope is that this experience, while challenging and heartbreaking, will show their children the importance of social involvement.
“I hope this shows them how important it is to vote,” said Jake Kleinmahon. “To not be passive watchers of things that are happening around them. To be active participants in trying to effect change. I’m hoping that, while our children didn’t ask for this burden, that they’ll carry it forward and tell their story so that, at some point, other families don’t have to make this kind of decision.”
By sharing their story, the Kleinmahons hope that people are galvanized to take action in some way, whether by voting or by supporting organizations like HRC that fight for civil rights.
“We all have something that we can give,” said Tom Kleinmahon. “Sometimes, it just takes a little motivation to get that kick-started. I hope that our story can ignite that in others.”
The Kleinmahons recognize that relocating isn’t an option for all families in states like Louisiana, while recognizing that there are also individuals whose families aren’t willing to do it for their safety. For them, they have a message: “It will get better.”
“Hang on,” said Kleinmahon. “Fight the good fight. There are lots of good people that want to do the right thing. Be part of the change that you want to see.”
For Stanton and her family, that change they wanted to see was quite literal upon arriving in Colorado. “When we pulled up to our new home the first thing we noticed was our neighbors directly across the street were flying an HRC flag,” said Stanton.
Still, Stanton and the Kleinmahons know that this isn’t the time to back down.
“This doesn’t mean we are done advocating or fighting,” said Stanton. “If anything, I know we must use the privilege we have being in a safe state now to get even louder and continue to advocate for our friends who we left behind in Texas and for all those in the LGBTQ+ community living in hostile states.”