Above: A recent protest against anti-transgender legislation in Alabama
Far-right hostility to transgender Americans has reached record proportions, at least in state legislatures around the nation.
As of this week, 82 anti-trans bills have been introduced at the state level in 2021, the most in history, according to a count released Friday by the Human Rights Campaign. The previous record was 79, set last year.
About half of the 2021 bills would bar transgender athletes from participating in school sports designated for the gender with which they identify; those are aimed primarily at keeping trans girls and women from competing alongside cisgender females. The next largest portion of them, nearly 30, would prohibit gender-affirming medical care for minors, in some cases making the provision of such care a felony.
The 82 anti-trans bills are among 158 total anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced in state legislatures, according to HRC. Many of the measures targeting the LGBTQ+ community as a whole are so-called religious freedom bills, a type of legislation that can often lead to discrimination against LGBTQ+ people and others in the name of religion.
The rise in anti-trans legislation is a sign of backlash to progress made by trans Americans and other members of the LGBTQ+ population, HRC President Alphonso David said.
“In a year that has taken a toll on each and every one of us, it is shocking that anti-equality extremists in state legislatures across this country have dedicated an unprecedented amount of time and energy to attacking the LGBTQ community and particularly LGBTQ youth,” David said in a press release. “The furious pace of these bills shows that hateful anti-equality groups across the country and extremist legislators alike realize that equality is gaining momentum. This is their shameful attempt to throw a wrench into the progress we have steadily made in the fight for equality.”
The only anti-trans bill that has been signed into law so far this year is a school sports bill in Mississippi, which Gov. Tate Reeves signed Thursday and which goes into effect July 1. The Republican governor said the legislation was necessary because of President Joe Biden’s executive order on LGBTQ+ rights, which Reeves asserted “encourages transgenderism amongst our young people.” Biden’s order does not actually encourage anyone to identify in any specific way; it merely puts the federal government squarely in opposition to anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination.
In South Dakota, Republican Gov. Kristi Noem has said she will sign a similar bill into law. She already signed a religious freedom bill that civil rights groups say will enable discrimination by individuals and businesses citing religious objections to LGBTQ+ people, members of minority faiths, and others.
Anti-trans sports bills have been passed by one state legislative chamber in Montana, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Arkansas, while bills targeting medical care have received the approval of one chamber in Arkansas and Alabama. The latest bills introduced were measures on medical care in South Carolina and Texas and one on sports participation in Michigan.
The rash of legislation is being driven largely by national far-right groups such as the Alliance Defending Freedom, which wrote Montana’s bill. It’s also being driven by misinformation. Supporters of the sports bills claim that trans women are threatening women’s sports, when in fact most lawmakers backing them can’t name a single instance where trans participation has created a problem in their state, or even an instance where a trans athlete has competed. Similarly, those seeking to deny medical care claim that puberty-blocking drugs given to trans youth have irreversible effects (they don’t) and ignore the fact that genital surgery is not performed on minors.
There is widespread opposition to anti-trans bills, and not just from LGBTQ+ civil rights groups. More than 55 major corporations have endorsed a statement against these bills and anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in general; they include Facebook, Pfizer, Microsoft, AT&T, Apple, Dell, American Airlines, and many more. Nearly 550 college athletes have signed a letter to the National Collegiate Athletic Association demanding that championship games be pulled from states that have anti-trans sports laws or are close to enacting them. More than 1,000 child welfare groups have taken a stand against legislation that would keep trans youth out of school sports or deny them health care.
States that enact anti-LGBTQ+ legislation often experience boycotts, as was the case with North Carolina and its anti-trans “bathroom bill” in 2016 and Indiana with its discriminatory religious freedom law in 2015. The former has now been repealed, the latter amended. Idaho last year became the first state where an anti-trans sports bill became law, and it is now the subject of a court challenge and has been blocked by a federal judge.
And LGBTQ+ rights groups are continuing to fight. “Today’s milestone serves as a reminder of the intensity of our opposition and just how hard we must continue to work to overcome discrimination and exclusion,” HRC’s David said. “Progress in the fight for equality has always come in fits and starts but nevertheless marches forward. We know we are on the right side of history.”