Demanding Justice: You Can’t Save Children by Erasing LGBTQ+ People

by Nicole McAfee

Nicole McAfee (they/she) is the Executive Director of Freedom Oklahoma sharing her words spoken on Saturday, February 25, 2024.

When I read, I like it to be a mix of really light, fantasy romance and really deep, heavy history. I find that digging into the pieces of our history as a community that I don't know as well often reconnects me to why folks like Oklahoma's State Superintendent of Education Ryan Walters work so hard to remove us from any space where we might learn that history.

Last fall I was reading a book called We Are the Middle of Forever: Indigenous Voices from Turtle Island on the Changing Earth edited by Dahr Jamail and Stan Rushworth, and it focused on re-Indigenizing our framework around time. I had the audiobook on as I made my way to the State Board of Education meeting in November. To say I was frustrated would be an understatement. I was there for another bad policy, another bad proposal.

I was in the middle of a chapter about the generational impacts of residential boarding schools. As I listened, I began to think about the connection between the genocidal underpinnings of the residential boarding school mode and specifically the mantra of the Carlisle Indian Industrial School founder, Richard Henry Pratt: 'Kill the Indian, save the man.' Here we are not even 150 years later and we could just as easily sum up Ryan Walter's agenda as 'Kill the Queer, Save the Children.'

Maybe hearing that comparison doesn't click for you, maybe you don't understand how any of that could be helpful because it is heavy. But for me, there's something about connecting and shifting time that gives me hope. It grounds me in the truth that current efforts targeting 2SLGBTQ+ people, especially youth, are nothing new.

We're not fighting a new wave of transphobia and trans misogyny.

We're fighting the latest iteration in a centuries-long project that is colonization, which includes demands of forcible assimilation to a gender binary and compulsive heterosexuality.

Just as we saw at residential boarding schools, current policies attempt to remove trans and queer youth from any sense of community and support through mechanisms like mandatory outings by school staff, library censorship, single-sex sports restrictions, annual gender oaths, limited bathroom access, and bans on access to gender-affirming medical care.

All new versions of old tactics are meant to create isolation and despair.

Since the death of Nex here in Oklahoma, people have continued to ask me what I need. And the hardest thing is trying to articulate that what I need is for not one more trans-Oklahoman to die. What I need is for folks to put their energy into doing something here where it's hardest. What I need is for folks to see that our community is strong and resilient even though that's a word I never want to have to use because we shouldn't have to be those things just to survive.

Nicole McAfee, Executive Director of Freedom Oklahoma

When our team at Freedom Oklahoma received an email from someone out of state that alerted us to a death in Owasso and that the deceased was potentially a victim of anti-trans violence, we started figuring out how we could find answers. The team worked to find out as much as we could about Nex and went about making sure that Nex's name and identity was spoken into the world. Since then, I've seen reporters say we should wait, we should wait until we have more details before we talk about this at all.

With that, I want to make two things clear.
, whatever the result of the medical examiner's report tells us, whether that be Nex died as a result of physical hate-motivated violence or emotional hate-motivated violence, this story is still worth talking about. Nex is still worth remembering and Nex still deserves justice.
And second
, we know that when we don't speak, when we wait for information, when we wait for the news cycle to be ready to tell a story, then that story often forgets us and especially on this land in this space. When we think about the intersection of 2SLGBTQ+ identity and the crisis of missing and murdered Indigenous relatives, we have to know that speaking these truths and demanding justice on our terms is necessary.

I often think of Mariame Kaba's words that hope is a discipline. It can feel really, really, really hard to hope in a place like Oklahoma. But I look around at the people I see every day fighting for the rights of trans and non-binary youth across the country, and you give me hope, so thank you.

Freedom Oklahoma

Freedom Oklahoma advocates and organizes across Oklahoma and within the 39 sovereign tribal nations that call this land home to build a future where all Two Spirit, Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, and fuller spectrum of people whose sexuality or gender or romantic identity exists beyond a heteronormative, binary framework (2SLGBTQ+), have the safety to thrive.

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