Transgender and nonconforming youth, a growing part of the gaming community, are at a higher risk of harassment, bullying and suicide (CDC). Recently, several laws proposed in Texas, Florida, and Alabama put trans youth at further risk.
As creators of games and their communities, it's crucial to stay informed on what's threatening transgender gamers, and to seek ways that we can support and create safe spaces for them. Here's a brief summary of what's happening:
In 2021, lawmakers from 33 state legislatures and assemblies filed 98 bills that seek to restrict the ability of transgender and gender diverse youth to access health care, school facilities, and school athletics. “Without exception, these bills are based on bad science, and ignore the consensus of experts in medicine,” said Sean Cahill, Director of Health Policy Research at Fenway Health.
Some of the most covered bills in the media include Florida's parental rights bill, aka 'Don't Say Gay', and Texas' policy to prosecute parents who provide gender-affirming care for their children.
The ‘Don’t Say Gay’ bill prohibits classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity. Additionally, the law requires parents to be notified of any health or support services offered to their kids in school, allows them the chance to deny those services and gives parents the option to sue a school district if the policy is violated. This law "could effectively require teachers to 'out' LGBTQ students to their legal guardians without their consent, regardless of whether they are supportive,” according to The Trevor Project.
Alabama lawmakers recently approved sweeping legislation that makes it a felony, punishable by up to 10 years in prison, for a doctor to prescribe puberty blockers or hormones or perform surgery to aid in the gender transition of people under age 19.
What does this mean for online gaming communities?
Youth who identify as transgender have among the highest rates of suicide, depression, and self-harm. 82% of transgender individuals have considered killing themselves and 40% have attempted suicide (source: National Library of Medicine).
These state policies carry implications beyond school and homelife environments, and into online environments, i.e. social media and gaming communities. These policies will have a huge impact on transgender youth, serving as a catalyst for transphobic sentiment across the US.
A supportive and safe environment can significantly reduce these risks at home, at school and online.
What can I do to create a safe space for transgender people in my community?
Ensure you have a safe community for your players. You can enable this in a variety of ways, such as:
- Set a precedent, set the tone. Make a public statement of your support both internally and externally. You can do this on social media channels where you engage your community, such as your Discord channel, and you can also do this in any forums where you manage your community.
- Set communication rules or guidelines for engaging in the community. For example, ensure that transgender youth are referred to according to their pronouns, and with their chosen names. This is a critical factor in establishing a safe space
- Provide identification tags. For instance, Twitch added over 350 new tags related to gender, sexual orientation, race, nationality, ability, mental health, and more that streamers can use. Twitch commented, “We’d like to thank our trans community for originally requesting the “transgender” tag, and for their passion and persistence in pursuit of that request. This has been one of the most popular requests we’ve heard, and the simple truth is that we should have done this sooner.” This empowers the Twitch community to represent themselves authentically and find a community within the Twitch platform to feel connected and belonging. Likewise, Discord communities use the roles feature to enable users to self-select their pronouns.
- Host LGBTQ+ centric programming that creates a welcoming, inclusive environment. This may include:
- In-game movie night with a transgender film
- Weekly supportive check-ins from community moderators
- Create interest groups (chat channels) with inclusive themes, such as transfemme, transmasc, non-binary
Your players need you, and the above measures go a long way in creating a space for your players to feel welcome and safe.