Missouri ranks last in the nation in starting salaries for teachers and 49th in state funding of schools, so low that a quarter of the districts have cut back to four-day weeks.
But the GOP legislators in the "Show Me" state have demonstrated their priority with at least 20 bills aimed at the LBGTQ community. Ten are aimed at restricting transgender athletes in the schools. That is in a state where just seven transgender students in K-12 are presently registered to compete.
"There's more bills about trans kids playing sports than there are trans kids that want to play sports," Senate Democratic Minority Leader John Rizzo told reporters last week.
This legislative frenzy causes the father of one 9-year-old transgender boy-a soccer and basketball player as well as a computer wiz and all around happy kid-to feel his family is targeted.
"Our state government is at war with our family," Daniel Bogard told The Daily Beast.
He says his son is otherwise fine, accepted and embraced and supported by his family, friends, and community.
"The only bullies in our lives work for the state legislature," he said.
Bogard, who is 39, serves along with his wife, Karen, as rabbi at the Central Reform Congregation in St. Louis. Their residence has been his family's home for four generations. He now wonders if they will have to move to another, more tolerant state.
"[My trans son] sleeps in the bedroom that was my bedroom in the house my kids' great grandpa built and we're afraid we're going to have to flee," Bogard said.
The bigotry is more intense these days, but it is nothing new. Bogard has been making the two-hour drive to the Capitol in Jefferson City for four years seeking to counter LGBTQ legislation. He often brings along his trans son, along with another son who is two years older.
"This is not lobbying," Bogard said. "This is showing up and begging our legislators to stop torturing our kids and our families, to see us as human beings and have some empathy…Just to let us live our lives and raise our children as we and our faith and our doctors understand is best."
Both boys go with him to legislators who seem at least open to supporting them. But Bogard keeps his trans son away from the hearings, where people too often prove themselves cruelly insensitive.
"We had a senator in a hearing ask a kid about his genitals," Bogard said.
He noted that this is a particular fixation among the bigots.
"How obsessed they are with children's genitals," he said. "What they're really saying when they ask 'what is he really?' They're really asking what his genitals look like."
He added, "Then they look at us and tell us we're sexualizing kids and grooming them. And we're just trying to let kids be kids."
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Bogard says these bigots are more offended by a trans girl than by a trans boy.
"They live in a world that has a strict gender binary," Bogard said. "It's a world view that is deeply patriarchal and misogynistic. They get it in their minds why a girl would want to be a boy. The other direction, they treat those kids with disgust. "
On his part, Bogard is most repelled by the legislators who are not actually bigoted, but are only going along with it because it is expedient in an increasingly right-wing state where almost half the Republican candidates run uncontested in the general election and the primary is everything.
"How cynical and disgusting is that?" Bogard said. "They know they're torturing us and they're only doing it because it's good for them politically."
Bogard's older son has testified four times on behalf of his brother and a trans friend, most recently on Tuesday.
"I'm here today because I have a trans brother and a trans friend, and I have to be here because you, the Missouri government keeps trying to take away what they have a passion for," the older brother began. "Why do you keep trying to take things from these kids? Kids just wanna have fun playing sports and not wasting time being stressed and coming here to tell you to let them play. It's been years that you have been trying to take things away from people that I love who are just little kids. They're not competing for a scholarship or a job where most of the time they're not even in a tournament. They're just trying to have fun, which they can't do since you're trying to pass these bills. This has affected my brother because now he gets scared that he will not be able to do what he loves.
He went on, "It's affecting my dad because now he goes here every other week to sit for hours to say a small speech that might not even mean anything to you. It's affecting me because I love living here in Missouri and I'm scared that I might have to move away… because of these bills. My family and my friends are just trying to live their lives in peace in Missouri and you are hurting us and scaring us. So please vote no on Senate Bill(s) 2, 29, 39, 48, 87, 165 and all other bills that are targeting trans kids. Thank you for your time."
The 11 year-old was reading from a statement that he had composed on a desktop computer built by the 9-year-old.
"From scratch," the father later told The Daily Beast. "With allowance and birthday money."
After testifying, the 11-year-old stayed the night in Jefferson City with his trans friend's family. His own family, including his 9-year-old brother and his grandmother, Denise Bogard, were at the Capitol the next day. The grandmother has Parkinson's disease, which is a comorbidity with COVID. She had accordingly been very careful about venturing into public indoor spaces, but she risked it to join her son and grandson in doing what they could to counter the hate.
The family had surmised from the younger boy's earliest years that he might be trans. He balked at wearing a dress and preferred his brother's clothes. He was 4 when he asked a question that seemed to confirm it.
"He asked if God could make him over again in a boy's body," Daniel Bogard recalled.
Bogard cut the boy's long, beautiful hair to his shoulder and then to his chin and then to his ears.
"He looked at it and said, 'I'm a boy!" Bogard remembered.
At 9, he is what his father describes as "so well adjusted, such a normal kid."
On Wednesday, the younger son was back among legislators who treat kids like him as handy targets.
"Trans kids are among the most vulnerable kids," Bogard said. "They're really easy punching bags."
The 9-year-old then returns to the house where his family has lived for four generations and fears they will be forced to flee. Bogard feels certain that the elected officials he calls "these bigots and bullies who control our state" will be introducing additional anti-trans bills that are a greater concern to them than underfunded schools and underpaid teachers and fewer school days.
"There will be more [bills] next week and they'll just keep coming because they all want their name tied to this cruelty," he said.
Read more at The Daily Beast.
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