As 2023 slouches to an ignominious end, some news came Friday that gave me an unexpected jolt of hope. I have spent much of the year watching with horror and trying to document an unrelenting legal assault on queer and trans people. Around 20 states have passed laws restricting access to gender-affirming care for trans and nonbinary people, and several have barred transgender and nonbinary people from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity.
So it was shocking — in a good way, for once — to hear these words from Ohio’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine, as he vetoed a bill that would have banned puberty blockers and hormones and gender-affirming surgeries for trans and nonbinary minors in Ohio and blocked transgender girls and women from participating in sports as their chosen gender:
“Were House Bill 68 to become law, Ohio would be saying that the state, that the government, knows better what is medically best for a child than the two people who love that child the most — the parents,” DeWine said in prepared remarks. “Parents are making decisions about the most precious thing in their life, their child, and none of us, none of us, should underestimate the gravity and the difficulty of those decisions.”
DeWine, by situating his opposition to the bill on the chosen battlefield of far-right activists — parents’ rights — was tapping into an idiom that is at once deeply familiar to me and yet has almost entirely disappeared from our national political discourse: that of a mainstream, Midwestern Republican. It is a voice I know well because it is one I heard all my life from my Midwestern Republican grandparents.
I did not agree with all of their beliefs, especially as I got older. But I understood where they were coming from. My grandfather, a belly gunner in the Pacific Theater in World War II, believed a strong military was essential to American security. My grandmother was a nurse, and she believed that science, medicine and innovation made America stronger. They made sure their children and grandchildren went to college — education was a crucial element of their philosophy of self-reliance. And above all, they believed the government should be small and stay out of people’s lives as much as humanly possible. This last belief, in individual freedom and individual responsibility, was the bedrock of their politics.
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