Did you know that child marriage is still legal in much of the US? About 300,000 children and teenagers were legally married in the US between 2000 and 2018, according to the advocacy group Unchained at Last. At least 60,000 of those marriages “occurred at an age or with a spousal age difference that should have been considered a sex crime”.

Did you know that, until quite recently, Missouri was a “destination wedding spot” for children who wanted to tie the knot? The state has tightened its child marriage laws now – and is seeking to ban the practice – but not all lawmakers are happy about the changes. Missouri state senator Mike Moon said last year that he knows kids who have been married at age 12 (to another minor) and they’re “thriving”!

Did you know that many school districts in Missouri still authorize corporal punishment? If a kid acts up in class, a teacher can spank them. Don’t worry though, they’re not allowed to do anything horrible like punch them in the face. According to one school district, the only punishment allowed is “swatting the buttocks with a paddle”.

Did you know that Human Rights Watch gave Missouri an “F” grade last year for its compliance with international child rights standards?

I mention all these fun Missouri facts because I think they’re important to bear in mind as we look at the latest dystopian news coming out of the state. Which is this: state representative Jamie Gragg is so concerned about the welfare of kids in his district that he has come up with a novel new way to “protect” them. How? By introducing a new bill which would force teachers to register as sex offenders if they use a transgender child’s preferred pronouns or otherwise help them in their “social transition”.

The bill states that any teacher or school counsellor who provide support or “other resources to a child regarding social transition” could be found guilty of a class E felony and placed in the same sex offender registration category as someone possessing child sexual abuse images. They would not be able to work at a school again or be within 500ft of one.

One hallmark of a Republican-authored bill is ambiguity: key terms are defined extremely broadly (or not at all) so that it is unclear what is prohibited and what isn’t. This vagueness is a feature not a bug: the idea is that people will over-comply because they’re worried about getting in trouble. It also means that Republicans can say “We didn’t mean it like that if people try to argue that the legislation is unconstitutional. It’s a deviously brilliant tactic.

This new anti-trans proposal is no exception to the GOP vagueness rule. “Social transition” is defined extremely broadly in the bill as: “The process by which an individual adopts the name, pronouns, and gender expression, such as clothing or haircuts, that match the individual’s gender identity and not the gender assumed by the individual’s sex at birth.”

So what does this mean? Well it means that if this bill becomes law a teacher in Missouri would potentially be able to spank a child on the buttocks without facing any consequences but would lose their job and have to register as a sex offender if they used that kid’s preferred pronouns while doing the spanking. Hell, this bill is so broad that simply complimenting a cis girl who just got a “boyish” haircut could get a teacher in serious trouble.

Of course, a bill is not a law. We should be very clear that, at the moment, HB2885 is just one lawmaker’s fantasy written down on paper. There are currently no co-sponsors for the bill and no hearing scheduled. It’s highly unlikely it will actually become law anytime soon. Erin Reed, a journalist specializing in transgender legislation and the first person to break the news of the bill, has noted that she doesn’t “believe something like this could pass, even in Missouri”.

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But just because HB2885, as it is currently written, is unlikely to move through the state legislature doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t alarm us. Extreme bills like this signal where Republicans want to head and help push the Overton window more and more to the right. Pretty soon a “moderate” is going to mean a raging conservative who is kind enough to think that a teacher shouldn’t be called a sex offender for using someone’s preferred pronouns. (Oh, hang on, that’s already what it means! Just how look at how frequently Nikki Haley is labelled a “moderate”.)

It’s also important to note that while HB2885 might not move forward, plenty of other anti-trans bills will. Last year was a banner year for anti-trans bigots: over 308 anti-trans bills were introduced in the US, according to the Trans Legislation Tracker, including 43 in Missouri. This year will probably be even worse.

All this legislation, and the anti-trans rhetoric that comes with it, is endangering the lives of trans and non-gender-conforming people. A bill doesn’t have to be passed for it to contribute to an environment where is dangerous to be LGBTQ+. Transgender deaths are on the rise in the US, with 53 transgender people killed and 32 lost to suicide last year. So, again, don’t dismiss the importance of bills like HB2885. This particular proposal might not go anywhere, but its very existence is a horrifying sign of where the US is heading.

Arwa Mahdawi is a Guardian US columnist

QOSHE - Missouri: home to child marriage, corporal punishment and sick ‘child welfare’ ideas - Arwa Mahdawi
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Missouri: home to child marriage, corporal punishment and sick ‘child welfare’ ideas

12 92
07.03.2024

Did you know that child marriage is still legal in much of the US? About 300,000 children and teenagers were legally married in the US between 2000 and 2018, according to the advocacy group Unchained at Last. At least 60,000 of those marriages “occurred at an age or with a spousal age difference that should have been considered a sex crime”.

Did you know that, until quite recently, Missouri was a “destination wedding spot” for children who wanted to tie the knot? The state has tightened its child marriage laws now – and is seeking to ban the practice – but not all lawmakers are happy about the changes. Missouri state senator Mike Moon said last year that he knows kids who have been married at age 12 (to another minor) and they’re “thriving”!

Did you know that many school districts in Missouri still authorize corporal punishment? If a kid acts up in class, a teacher can spank them. Don’t worry though, they’re not allowed to do anything horrible like punch them in the face. According to one school district, the only punishment allowed is “swatting the buttocks with a paddle”.

Did you know that Human Rights Watch gave Missouri an “F” grade last year for its compliance with international child rights standards?

I mention all these fun Missouri facts because I think........

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