WASHINGTON — In May 2021, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) officially announced the worst year for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in recent history. At the time, state lawmakers introduced more than 250 bills — from anti-trans sports legislation to religious denial measures — in state houses across the country, 17 of which were signed into law.
Now, LGBTQ+ rights in the states seem to be impacted even more. According to HRC, more than 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have surfaced in 36 legislatures. As legislation grows — 41 such measures were introduced in 2018 — the number of bills passed and enshrined in state law is also growing, though LGBTQ+ advocates often challenge the laws in court. .
Legislation overwhelmingly targets trans youth, the organization says, from blocking participation in sports to banning access to gender-affirming healthcare. Lawmakers have also attempted, and in some cases passed, legislation limiting how LGBTQ+ issues can be taught in schools and preventing trans children from using bathrooms that match their gender identity.
“2022 is on track to surpass last year’s record number of anti-transgender bills,” Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel at HRC, told the Blade, calling the “attacks ‘craven, baseless’ legislative action against trans youth and an effort to create more division, sow fear and excite radical right-wing voters at the expense of innocent children.
Supporters of the bills say they must “protect” parental rights, children and religious freedom. However, advocates and LGBTQ+ people continue to denounce the legislation as discriminatory and harmful.
One of the most talked about anti-LGBTQ+ measures this year has been Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law last month. The legislation will ban classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through grade 3 if it survives legal challenges.
Days after DeSantis signed the bill, the first lawsuit against the measure emerged, arguing that the law “would deny an entire generation that LGBTQ people exist and have equal dignity.”
“This effort to control young minds through state censorship — and to demean LGBTQ lives by denying their reality — is a grave abuse of power,” the lawsuit states.
Since the Republican sponsors successfully pushed the bill through, other states have followed in Florida’s footsteps. Ohio, for example, introduced its version of the legislation about a week after DeSantis signed it.
In Alabama, Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed an anti-trans restroom bill with a last-minute amendment to stop educators discussing gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through 5th grade. year. Ivey didn’t stop there, also signing a bill that would ban gender-affirming care for minors.
As in Florida, LGBTQ+ advocates were quick to announce legal challenges to the legislation. Some of the most prominent LGBTQ+ and civil rights organizations – including the HRC, GLAD and the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) – have announced a legal challenge in federal court against the ban on gender-affirming care in Alabama.
In terms of legislation introduced, Tennessee has significantly outpaced other states, according to LGBTQ+ rights organization Freedom for All Americans. The group’s legislative tracker found more than 30 bills limiting LGBTQ+ rights in the state, including a “Don’t Say Gay” bill and a ban on LGBTQ-themed literature in schools. But, unlike other Republican-controlled states, none have made it out of the state house.
Arizona has also been a hot spot for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, with at least 17 bills, according to Freedom for All Americans. In March, Republican Gov. Doug Ducey signed two bills limiting the rights of trans people in the state – one banning certain types of medical care for trans youth and the other preventing trans students from participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity.
“Across the country, moderate Republicans are struggling — and too often failing — to prevent dangerous extremists from taking control of their party,” Shannon Minter, legal director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), told The Blade at the time, adding, “We risk seeing large segments of our nation give way to authoritarian extremism.”
In other states, anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has become law without the support of its governor, Democrat or Republican. In fact, two Republican governors vetoed anti-trans sports bills in late March.
Utah Governor Spencer Cox and Indiana Governor Eric Holcomb, both Republicans, vetoed a law banning trans youth from participating in sports. Cox said the bill had “several fundamental flaws and should be reconsidered,” while Holcomb said the measure was looking for a problem.
Ultimately, however, the Utah House overruled Cox’s veto a few days later. Holcomb’s veto still stands.
“This [Utah] The bill highlights an issue of “fairness” in school sports that simply does not exist – but its negative impacts on the mental health and wellbeing of trans and non-binary youth are very real said Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project. “These young people already face disproportionate rates of bullying, depression and risk of suicide, and bills like this will only make matters worse.”
In recent weeks, two Democratic governors have vetoed anti-LGBTQ+ legislation from their Republican-controlled legislatures.
Democratic Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear has vetoed legislation that would ban trans girls from playing on sports teams at Kentucky schools that match their gender identity from sixth grade through college. GOP lawmakers quickly reversed the decision.
“Shame on the Kentucky General Assembly for attacking trans kids today,” said Chris Hartman, executive director of the Equity Campaign. Shame on our Commonwealth lawmakers for passing the first explicitly anti-LGBTQ law in Kentucky in nearly a decade.
Kansas Democratic Governor Laura Kelly last weekend vetoed two anti-LGBTQ+ measures, the “Parents’ Bill of Rights” and “Equity in Women’s Sports” laws.
GOP lawmakers in Idaho decided last month to effectively kill a bill criminalizing gender-affirming care, one of the most extreme proposals in the country. It would have made it a crime – punishable by life in prison – to provide minors with hormones, puberty blockers or gender-affirming surgery.
In a statement, Idaho Senate Republicans said they “strongly” oppose “any sex reassignment and surgical manipulation of the natural sex” on minors. But they also wrote that the controversial legislation “undermines” a parent’s right to make medical decisions for their children.
“We believe in the rights of parents and that the best decisions about medical treatment options for children are made by parents, with the guidance and expertise of their doctor,” the senators wrote.
Texas is one of 14 states without anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, as the state only holds legislative sessions in odd-numbered years. However, the Lone Star State has made headlines for Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s anti-Trans orders.
Abbott in February ordered the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services (DFPS) to investigate reports of gender-affirming care of minors as “child abuse.” The order followed an official notice from state Attorney General Ken Paxton that called the treatment a form of “child abuse” under Texas law.
Since then, two Texas judges have ruled against the policy — one in district court and the other after an appeal. Still, Paxton vows to keep fighting for order in court.
But even as Republican politicians continue to push to limit LGBTQ+ rights, many LGBTQ+ advocates, individuals, and allies vow to continue to fight discriminatory efforts, whether in court or on the streets.
“The Human Rights Campaign strongly condemns these harmful and potentially deadly bills and will continue to use every tool at our disposal to fight for the rights of transgender youth and all LGBTQ+ people,” Oakley said.
In a January 2022 poll by The Trevor Project, an organization that provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth under 25, and Morning Consult, more than two-thirds of LGBTQ youth said recent debates over state laws that target transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.
“These findings underscore how recent politics and ongoing crises around the world can have a real negative impact on LGBTQ youth, a group that is consistently at significantly increased risk for depression, anxiety, and attempted suicide in because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society,” Amit Paley, CEO of The Trevor Project, said in a statement.