Alabama’s only out gay lawmaker blasts Republicans for using trans kids as ‘political footballs’

Alabama state representative Neil Rafferty speaks at a podium

Alabama’s only openly gay lawmaker Neil Rafferty has slammed conservatives for “exploiting the public’s misunderstanding of what it is to be trans” to push vile legislation. 

Earlier this month, Democratic Party state representative Rafferty took to the Alabama state House floor and pleaded with his colleagues to reconsider a bill criminalising crucial medical care for trans youth.

He appealed to his fellow lawmakers to consider what it was like “growing up being different” and to then have the state legislature “put a target on children’s backs” as well as the backs of their parents – getting in the “middle of their decisions”. 

“I don’t know where it became a central core issue to pick on these kids, to pick on these families,” Rafferty said.

Rafferty acknowledged that the bill was going to advance through the legislature, but he concluded his fiery speech by declaring: “Just don’t you dare call me a friend after this.”

Sadly, the bill, SB 184, passed in the House by a 66-28 vote on 7 April. Just a day later, Republican governor Kay Ivey would sign the controversial trans healthcare ban into law as part of what LGBT+ advocates have described as the “most anti-transgender legislative package ever passed”

Alabama is the first state in the US to impose felony criminal penalties on medical professionals who offer gender-affirming treatment – like puberty blockers and gender-affirming surgeries – to trans youth, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

Ivey would also pass a separate bill that would ban trans students from using bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond with their gender identity. The bill was also amended to include a ‘Don’t Say Gay or Trans’ measure. 

Neil Rafferty tells PinkNews that the passage of the bills was deeply personal to him as he knew what it was like to grow up “different” in Alabama.

“There is something to say that I’m an adult now – I can take it,” Rafferty says. “You just don’t understand what it’s like growing up like this, what it’s like growing up being different and having to worry about watching your back.”

He has experienced how there is “always” an attempt to “point a finger at somebody” or to “blame somebody” for issues in “politics in the US”. Sadly, at this time, he believes the finger is being pointed at the LGBT+ community – especially the trans community. 

“This was just a low down and reprehensible exploitation of the public’s misunderstanding of what it is to be trans, what it is to be LGBT or LGB,” Rafferty says. 

Rafferty previously served in the Marine Corps, serving under the US armed forces’ vile “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy. He also spent years working as an employee of Birmingham AIDS Outreach, helping the LGBT+ community and those living with HIV and AIDS access vitally needed support. 

He then ran for state legislature in 2018 and became the second openly LGBT+ lawmaker elected in the state. Patricia Todd, the first openly gay lawmaker in Alabama, had the same House seat before Rafferty. 


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Neil Rafferty tells PinkNews that he has seen that there are some “real big issues” that “we have got to tackle before we’re going to have some meaningful change in the state” as he advances in his political career. 

Now, he feels like he is “playing defence” while conservatives push forward anti-LGBT+ bills.

“They’re starting culture wars and using children as the political footballs,” Rafferty says. “That’s the part I think is the most reprehensible and most hateful part.” 

The Democrat describes how he has been battling anti-LGBT+ bills for years now. But he says that the combination of “election politics”, “far-right extremism” and the Republican party had “kind of swept in”, creating a “tidal wave that I couldn’t hold back anymore”. 

He recalls how he was initially told that the trans healthcare ban “wasn’t going to be a priority” in the state, but he came into the office one day to see it suddenly appear at the “very top” of the legislative calendar. 

Rafferty adds that he spoke to one of the bill’s sponsors and questioned if he had spoken to anyone who is trans or parents of trans youth. When the other lawmaker said he hadn’t, Rafferty told him that he had spoken to someone from their district “who is a family that this bill will impact”. 

“He kind of tried to paint [being trans] as this trendy thing that was coming in from New York and California – like having a small dog in a purse or something like that,” Rafferty remembers. “I cannot believe you would say that.”

He continues: “Some of these parents had to work on accepting the situation, and that’s why the testimony from parents is so compelling because they had to go through this transition process with their child. 

“They have to understand what it was like for the child, and they see the progress. 

“They see their child being happy and don’t hear their child talk about wanting to hurt themselves anymore.”

But even though he is fighting these bills, Neil Rafferty says he feels like he has “failed” Alabama’s LGBT+ youth and families as he “always said, ‘I have your back.’” He tells PinkNews that he understands why parents might be thinking of leaving Alabama as they “don’t have time” to wait as advocates fight this harmful legislation in the courts

“A parent’s prerogative, as it should be, is for the wellbeing of their child,” Rafferty says. “As much as it breaks my heart, I understand why anybody would be considering leaving.”

He says families are “scared” and “wondering what the future holds for them”. Rafferty says he would tell families of trans youth in the state who are “scared” and “wondering what the future holds for them” that “Alabama is your home too”. 

“Don’t let anybody try to take that away from you,” Rafferty adds. “[But] if your child doesn’t feel safe and you have to move, you have to do what’s best for your kid in the immediacy of time.”