Sultana Khan is a social justice advocate who works in youth development. Previously, she worked as a national security correspondent and cultural commentator for Gawker Media.

Over the last few months, the Maine legislature has introduced several bills that have a seemingly progressive agenda. A bill banning conversion therapy, another requiring schools to create suicide prevention policies by next fall, and two separate bills banning female genital mutilation, one sponsored by Democrats and the other by Republicans, have all gained public attention as they wind through the legislative process. On the surface, these bills represent a growing endorsement of liberal ideology. 

But there are deeper issues to be explored by these laws that serve as regulatory actions — they don’t address the root cause of these complex issues. In part, this is because none of these laws provide funding for deeper work.

Banning conversion therapy won’t provide dollars to organizations that do the heavy lifting of supporting and protecting LGTBQ+ young people from ignorant family and community members. 

Requiring schools to create suicide prevention policies doesn’t address the fact that rates of depression, suicide attempts, and suicide itself have been growing exponentially for young women, nor that suicide ideation among LGTBQ+ youth continues to rise. It also doesn’t require that schools provide adequate access to mental health services. How can these policies succeed when they are not backed by programs and funding that support those in crisis?

And then there are the cases of female genital mutilation (FGM), which is apparently occurring at alarming rates throughout Maine. According to Maine Public, Attorney General Janet Mills provided a written statement confirming she was unaware of any instances of FGM in Maine, and if she had been alerted of their existence, she would have prosecuted them to the full extent of her ability under the already established federal laws governing these crimes. Which means these bills do little more than reinforce stereotypes that dehumanize and demonize immigrant community members while encouraging racism, and hatred by bigots. 

As allies, our work does not stop with supporting survivors, or public accountability, or signs in our front yard. It does not end when campaign season wraps up, nor does it encourage band-aid approaches to deeper issues. While the conversion therapy ban bill is important, it’s not a solution to our state’s greater resistance to empathy and dignity for those living in the margins of our society. This political climate does not call for pocket knives, it calls for swords. It calls for critical thinking.

Our work must be preventative. It must create a future that provides equity and access for people of color, those living in poverty, those who have suffered from trauma, women, immigrant communities, queer and trans folks, those living with mental illness, those living with disabilities, those without adequate access to services, and every other person who has suffered from the oppressive systems that keep power in the hands of wealthy cisgender heterosexual white men, trickling just enough to keep us from rioting. 

I look at these bills as opportunities — opportunities for us to ask more from our politicians, and more from ourselves. Rather than asking where the money will come from, we should be asking why our priorities haven’t made funding social change and human rights a priority before this. Building an infrastructure of equity is not reactionary, it is proactive. Use your allyship as a means of foundational support for the future we all hope to see come to fruition.

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