KOSA: A Nationwide Anti-Trans/LGBTQ+ Bill in All but Name
Over the last couple years, conservatives have become obsessed with “eradicating transgenderism.” This year alone, Republicans in red states have proposed 496 bills (84 of which have passed) targeting LGBTQ+ people. For instance, Florida has passed a so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law (which censors classroom discussions about gender identity and sexual orientation), banned trans people from using public restrooms, and criminalized gender-affirming care for both minors and many adults. Some states have passed anti-drag laws written so broadly that they’ve been used to prevent trans people from simply speaking in public. Often this legislation is framed in terms of “protecting the children,” but its true intent is to remove trans people (and LGBTQ+ people more generally) from the public sphere inasmuch as possible.
So what if I told you that there was a nationwide bill currently working its way through the U.S. Senate which, if passed, could be used to censor LGBTQ+ content on the internet? And what if I told you that it has bipartisan support and that President Biden has indicated he would sign it?
Well, that bill is KOSA — the Kids Online Safety Act. Obviously from the title, it is framed as legislation that would “protect the children” from potentially harmful internet content. But the language regarding what constitutes “harm” is written in an extremely broad way, applying to anything that might impact “anxiety, depression, eating disorders, substance use disorders, and suicidal behaviors” in minors.
And who gets to decide whether minors are being negatively impacted in these ways? State attorneys general. You know, people like Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey, who earlier this year announced an emergency rule banning gender-affirming care for most trans people of all ages. Or Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, who last year declared that gender-affirming care for minors constitutes “child abuse,” leaving trans children susceptible to being removed from their parents’ custody.
That’s right, KOSA empowers state attorneys general — even those from the most rabidly red states — to take measures against internet and social media companies that platform supposedly “harmful” material. And this “harmful” material will without a doubt include trans and LGBTQ+ content. The Heritage Foundation, who has the ear of many GOP politicians, has openly said (in both essay and tweet form) that it plans to do just this. And Senator Marsha Blackburn, the Republican co-sponsor of KOSA, in response to the question, “what do you think is . . . the top issue that conservatives should be taking action on?” said this:
“Well, there are a couple of things. Of course, protecting minor children from the transgender in this culture and that influence. And I would add to that watching what’s happening on social media. And I’ve got the Kids Online Safety Act that I think we’re going to end up getting through.”
We’ve already been through this before with SESTA-FOSTA: internet and social media companies will almost certainly purge targeted content rather than risk lawsuits and legal penalties. And it’s not just LGBTQ+ content that is likely to be targeted. Republican state attorneys general could also target information about abortion, or “CRT,” or basically anything they oppose that can be flimsily tied to children’s mental health issues.
Since I began raising awareness about KOSA, the most common question I’ve received is “so why are Democrats on board with this?” Well, they weren’t initially. In November 2022, 90+ LGBTQ and human rights organizations signed a letter opposing an earlier draft of KOSA — this effectively killed the bill. But then (according to what I’ve heard from reliable sources), Senator Richard Blumenthal (the Democratic co-sponsor of KOSA, who has long wanted to pass a “protecting kids from the internet” law) convinced a small handful of national LGBTQ+ organizations to switch their position from “opposed” to “neutral.” Then he told his colleagues that he had gotten major LGBTQ+ orgs on board with the bill, even though they did not support it and far more LGBTQ+ orgs continue to oppose it.
Given this, it is quite likely that Democratic congresspeople who currently support KOSA may change their position once they realize that most LGBTQ and human rights organizations still oppose the bill — especially if they hear so from their own constituents!
So it’s crucial that you contact your senators and representatives ASAP and tell them you strongly oppose the bill. You can do so via the website StopKosa.com — just enter your information and they’ll send a letter to your lawmakers or provide you with what you need to call them yourself. The Electric Frontier Foundation has set up a similar webform.
And by all means, please help spread the word!
If you want to learn more about KOSA and its many problems (some of which I did not cover here), here’s some more in-depth coverage:
- Ashley Belanger in Ars Technica: “Critics warn KOSA could trigger widespread censorship, privacy concerns”
- Melissa Gira Grant in The New Republic: “Republicans Are Fooling Democrats on Kids’ Online Safety”
- Sarah Philips in Teen Vogue: “The Kids Online Safety Act Would Harm LGBTQ+ Youth, Restrict Access to Information and Community”
- Erin Reed in the LA Blade: “Senator: ‘Kids Online Safety Act’ will target trans content”
And I highly encourage you to read and share this, which was just released today: Open letter from parents of trans and gender expansive kids: KOSA would make our kids less safe.
[If you want to share this story with non-members, a non-paywalled version of the same piece can be found on Substack.]
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