Tony Evers meeting with LGBTQ youth
Gov. Tony Evers speaks with LGBTQ youth following a Pride flag-raising ceremony. The rainbow Pride flag was raised over the Wisconsin Capitol in honor of Pride Month. (Photo by Christina Lieffring)

In flag-raising ceremony, Evers also signed executive orders to ban state money in “conversion therapy” and ensure inclusive language in state documents.

On the heels of last week’s legislative hearings on Republican-sponsored bills that would ban trans girls from participating in youth sports, Gov. Tony Evers had LGBTQ youth–some of whom also testified against those bills–front and center with him for Tuesday’s ceremony to witness the raising of the Pride flag over the state Capitol. 

“This is truly a reflection of a commitment from every level and across state agencies to support and protect the LGBTQ community in the state of Wisconsin,” Evers said. “My administration recognizes that diversity makes our communities and, frankly, our state stronger.”

Evers said the flag, which he ordered to fly over every state-owned agency building in Wisconsin, is “emblematic of the history of the community and hard-fought battles to be seen and heard.” 

“It’s also a sign of our future progress we have yet to make in the more inclusive or just state we can and will build together,” Evers said. 

The Pride flag, made up of many brightly colored horizontal stripes, will fly over the Capitol during Pride Month, held in June because of its roots in the Stonewall Riots of June 1969. A police raid at the Stonewall Inn, a gay bar in New York City, led to violent demonstrations and the beginnings of a movement to fight for rights, respect, and pride for people whose sexual orientations have been historically mistreated in mainstream culture.

In addition to raising the flag, Evers signed two executive orders related to LGBTQ issues: One ordered state agencies to review and revise external documents to ensure they are inclusive; the other ordered the Department of Health, Department of Children and Families, and the Department of Corrections to review expenditures of state and federal funds to ensure they were not going toward conversion therapy on minors.

Gov. Tony Evers signs an executive order aimed at improving equity for LGBTQ individuals in Wisconsin. Evers signed two such orders as the rainbow Pride flag was hoisted above the Capitol in honor of Pride Month. (Photo by Christina Lieffring)

Conversion or reparative therapy is the practice of attempting to change someone’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Over 20 US states and territories have laws banning or regulating conversion therapy on minors, as do some municipalities in Wisconsin, including most recently Sun Prairie, as well as Eau Claire, Racine, West Allis, Sheboygan, Milwaukee and Madison. 

Practically all medical and mental health organizations have voiced opposition to the practice, which is ineffective and instead cause youth to experience depression, anxiety, drug use, homelessness, and suicide or suicidal ideation.

Evers said he did not have any evidence that state or federal funds had gone to conversion therapy.

“When we do take a closer look, we may find that sometime in the past that may have happened,” Evers said. “We want to make sure it doesn’t, if it has happened.”

As for the bills barring trans children from participating in sports, Evers all but confirmed those would not get past his desk.

“I can tell you one thing for sure, as governor, I will veto any bill that’s going to negatively impact our kids,” Evers said. “It’s our jobs as adults to encourage them to play, learn, and grow and be themselves, whether they’re in the classroom, out in the community, on the court, on the field or on the track.”

Rep. Lee Snodgrass (D-Appleton) who is chair of the legislature’s LGBTQ caucus said the caucus plans to release a package of bills promoting LGBTQ rights on June 16.

‘Whiplash’

Brian Juchems, co-executive director at GSAFE, an organization that works with LGBTQ students, said Tuesday’s flag-raising ceremony couldn’t have been in starker contrast to what he and his students experienced last week before legislative committees discussing the anti-trans student athlete bills.

“It feels like a little bit of whiplash,” Juchems said. “A lot of the students that were here today were also at the Capitol last Wednesday, testifying for their safety, to be respected, to be seen and validated. Throughout the day at the Capitol last Wednesday, there were a lot of really harmful, incorrect, dismissive, invalidating remarks made by both elected officials as well as folks testifying at the hearings.”

While Tuesday’s ceremony was a reassurance to LGBTQ youth that they are not alone and they have support within Wisconsin’s statehouse, it doesn’t cancel out the harm done by others who diminish their humanity.

“For decades now, trans people, particularly trans women have been used as a bogeyman for the right or people who don’t want to see a quality in our state. Last week was just a continuation of like this pattern of singling out trans girls [and] trans women for discrimination,” Juchems said. “Even if they’re not athletes, people are still talking about them and saying really harmful things about them and of course it has an impact on their health and wellbeing.”

Juchems said young people need more healthcare access and investment in educators, schools, and resources to help with their mental health. He would also like to see policies that ensure young people of color or LGBTQ youth are given the same treatment and opportunities as other young people.

But also, when young people are being attacked, they need adults to defend them. Juchems said the children that testified last week volunteered and his organization did what it could to support them. 

RELATED: Republican Anti-Trans Bills Are Political Theater Being Played Out at Kids’ Expense

“It’s us working with the trans community, working with the non-binary community, standing up and saying, ‘Hey, this is wrong. This is backwards,’” Juchems said. “Trans youth shouldn’t have to be fighting for their lives. They should just be able to be students.”

Evers was joined by Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin at the ceremony. Answering reporters’ questions afterward, Evers criticized what he called a “paltry” school funding plan put forward by Republicans on the Joint Finance Committee writing the next state budget. The governor said a full budget veto is not off the table, though it is unlikely because the state’s chief executive has broad line-item veto powers. Both Evers and Baldwin took issue with Republican efforts to slash pandemic-related unemployment benefits, saying there isn’t correlation between cutting relief and getting struggling Americans into new jobs.