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LGBTQ+ families face tough question in hostile states: Do we stay or do we go?

"I've gotten passports for my entire family."

Jennifer Harris Dault, 40, has lived in St. Louis for 23 years.

A pastor and mom of two, Harris Dault and her husband bought what they thought would be their forever home in 2020.

Then a slew of anti-trans bills were introduced in the 2023 Missouri state legislative session — bills Harris Dault says put her 8-year-old trans daughter in danger.

"We started having conversations about moving," Harris Dault tells TODAY.com. "At that point ... it was clear that this was a targeted attack and that it was something that was not going to stop."

Families of LGBTQ children are moving to keep their children safe: Three of them tell their stories.
Courtesy Casey Tressler

On June 7, Missouri Governor Mike Parsons signed two anti-trans bills into law, banning trans students from participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity and outlawing gender-affirming care for minors.

Harris Dault packed up the living room where she planned on hosting birthday parties for years to come, said goodbye to the kitchen where she envisioned countless impromptu cooking lessons and reluctantly put her house on the market.

"When we staged our house for sale, there were times when I just had to stop and cry," she says. "I had envisioned my family growing up in this spot, so it's a packing up of those dreams."

"The only bully in our children’s lives is the Missouri government."

Jennifer Harris dault

Harris Dault's house is now under contract and she's still in the process of figuring out housing in New York state. Once her home closes, she says they'll move immediately — even without any job prospects.

“We’re in a place where our school is supportive, our church is supportive, our neighbors are supportive; where we have great friends who love and support us ... the only bully in our children’s lives is the Missouri government," she says.

'It's no longer safe to be here'

So far, more than 490 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced nationwide in 2023, according to the ACLU. The majority of those bills target trans people, forcing those with means to consider fleeing their home states for fear they or their children will be denied health care or become the target of anti-LGBTQ+ violence.

A recent survey of 113 LGBTQ+ parents living in Florida published by the UCLA Williams Institute found that more than half of those surveyed said they considered moving out of the state after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the "Don't Say Gay" bill into law.

Alyssa, a trans woman and mom of two, is one of them.

Alyssa, 43, who asked that her last name be withheld to protect her safety and privacy, has lived in Florida for more than 30 years. Though her children are grown and out of the house, her 18-year-old son still lives nearby.

"In this area, I am incredibly affirmed," Alyssa tells TODAY.com. "In the last couple of years, the volatility we're seeing in other areas of the state has been creeping in. It has become increasingly anxious and, unfortunately, dangerous."

Families of LGBTQ children are moving to keep their children safe: Three of them tell their stories.
Courtesy Casey Tressler

After decades of feeling uncomfortable in her physical body, Alyssa started transitioning at 39.

"I was able to actually realize and understand who I truly am, and I realized I've never really met that person because I never got to be that person," she says. "I have never looked back."

Alyssa says the only way she can look forward to the future is to move out of state. The realization hit her once the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and she and her now-wife decided to move up their wedding date in fear of a potential domino effect that would reverse other federal decisions, like the right to same-sex marriage.

"It escalated from there," she says.

When the Florida state legislature started targeting trans athletes and restricting gender-affirming care for trans youth, Alyssa started to attend local and statewide board meetings and congressional hearings — all solidifying her plan to move.

"It's been a solid year of every day picking up your phone and feeling anxiety, waiting for the 'next thing' to come," she adds. "That factored heavily into just how much we realized that it's just no longer safe to be here."

Alyssa and her wife have plans to visit Colorado to "scout for places" to live.

"At the end of our lease, we'll be leaving," she says.

'I've gotten passports for my entire family'

Even parents without any immediate plans to move say they are constantly discussing the possibility, including Lynn Green, 44, who has been a Georgia native for over 20 years.

Green says when her 15-year-old trans son came out three years ago, her "biggest fears were his safety and acceptance in rural Georgia."

Families of LGBTQ children are moving to keep their children safe: Three of them tell their stories.
Lynn Green, pictured with her son. Courtesy of Lynn Green

"Over the past couple of years, it has evolved to include the physical safety of all of us, including his younger brother," Green tells TODAY.com.

In March, Georgia Governor Brian Kemp signed a bill into law that banned most gender-affirming health care for trans youth. An additional four anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been introduced in the Georgia state legislature, according to the ACLU.

"We know Texas and Florida are really, really tough right now. Georgia is not too far behind them," Green says, adding that her family has considered an even farther move. "I've gotten passports for my entire family. I hoped that it would never come to that — that I would have to leave the country — but that is something that I felt needed to be done as a precaution.

"We really don't know what state could be next," she adds.

Families of LGBTQ children are moving to keep their children safe: Three of them tell their stories.
Lynn Green says her 15-year-old trans son has anxiety, but not because he's trans. "He just doesn't understand why who he is means so much to other people."Courtesy of Lynn Green

So far, at least 17 states have banned gender-affirming health care, and at least 19 states have banned trans athletes from playing on teams that align with their gender identity.

Green says the anti-trans laws both in her home state and across the country are impacting her son, who suffers from anxiety.

“He says: ‘I don’t have anxiety about being trans, that’s just who I am,’” Green says. “There’s a lot of frustration. He just doesn’t understand why who he is means so much to other people.”

As the family continues to discuss how best to remain safe, Green, her husband and her 15-year-old son have thrown themselves into advocacy work.

“We’ll continue to work with legislatures and educate people on what can be done to support our kids,” she says. “We do know the other side of this, which is moving.

"But for now we're going to stay put," she adds. "We plan to dig our heels in and do what we can to make our area accepting and affirming, especially for those people who can't move."