State Lawmakers Are Pushing Anti-Trans Legislation at Record Rates

(Bloomberg) -- So far in 2023, barely a day has passed without state lawmakers across the country introducing a new anti-LGBTQ bill. Many of those bills are advancing, and in some cases, being enshrined into law.

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Indiana on April 5 became the 11th state this year to ban gender-affirming care for minors, one day after Idaho did the same. Kentucky and West Virginia passed similar bills in recent weeks.

At least 425 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced this year — more than in the past five years combined. They vary in scope, and more than 20 have so far made it into law. Some 127 of the bills focus on limiting health care for transgender people in various ways.

At the same time, some lawmakers have moved to protect LGBTQ people: Utah this year codified a ban on the discredited practice known as conversion therapy for minors, joining 19 other states that have similar laws on their books.At the federal level, Republican lawmakers have introduced two bills that would affect the LGBTQ population in schools. The bills aren’t expected to pass in a Democratic-controlled Senate, but introducing such bills is enough to make young LGBTQ people fearful, the mental-health advocacy group The Trevor Project has found.

Here’s how lawmakers are targeting LGBTQ rights in states across the country.

Health-Care Bans

Eleven states — Utah, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Iowa, Mississippi, South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, Idaho and Indiana — have this year passed bills restricting or banning doctors from providing gender-affirming care to transgender and nonbinary youth, with a particular focus on barring doctors from prescribing puberty blockers and hormone protocols. The bans follow similar moves in Alabama, Arizona, Florida and Texas, according to the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles’s law school.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychological Association, the World Professional Association for Transgender Health and other leading medical groups all recognize gender-affirming care as the standard of care for transgender youth. That can vary from person to person, and can include social transitioning, puberty blockers at the onset of puberty and access to mental health support and social services such as legal document changes.

Listen to The Big Take podcast: A Record Number of Anti-LGBTQ Bills Across the US

In Arkansas, a law that would ban doctors from providing such care was initially passed, then blocked by a federal judge, but a newer law — SB 199 — places additional restrictions and requirements on doctors. Other states have “sunsetting” clauses: Doctors in South Dakota have until the end of 2023 to take kids off already-prescribed treatments, while doctors in Iowa have until September.

Nearly three in 10 of the anti-LGBTQ bills introduced this legislative session restrict health care, according to a tally by the National Center for Transgender Equality. Around two thirds of these bills include exceptions for medical procedures performed on intersex children, who are born with traits that don’t fit conventional expectations of male and female bodies. In 2020, countries at a United Nation Human Rights Council session condemned “medically unnecessary” surgeries on intersex children on the basis of human rights violations.

A number of bills include clauses that temporarily exempt children who are already on puberty blockers or hormone treatments.

Drag Bans

Conservative lawmakers nationwide are increasingly proposing bans on drag performances outside of adult-only venues. In March, Tennessee became the first state to make one of these bills law, though it has since been temporarily blocked by a federal judge. Under the ban, an “adult cabaret performance” that features “male or female impersonators who provide entertainment” can’t take place on public property or in a place where it could be viewed by a minor. A first offense could mean jail time of up to 11 months and 29 days, fines of up to $2,500, or both.The law would prevent drag story hours, during which entertainers read books to children “encouraging them to use their imagination,” according to one LGBTQ group that hosts such events. LGBTQ advocates have also said that the laws include vague language that puts transgender and nonbinary people at risk of being targeted if they are merely in the presence of a child.

Bathroom Bans

Lawmakers in Iowa, Idaho and Arkansas have passed legislation banning transgender children from using the school bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. The bans are framed as protecting children from potential abuse, but many transgender children already report feeling unsafe and unsupported in schools.

In a survey conducted by the LGBTQ rights group The Trevor Project, 58% of transgender and nonbinary youth said they had been blocked or discouraged from using a bathroom that corresponds with their gender identity. Children who’d had those experiences had higher rates of depression and suicidal thoughts, the group said in a paper published in the Journal of Adolescent Health in December 2020.

Sports Bans

In March, Wyoming became the 19th state to ban transgender youth from playing on school sports teams that align with their gender identity. Republican Governor Mark Gordon allowed the bill to become law without his signature, saying the ban was “overly draconian,” as well as “discriminatory without attention to individual circumstances or mitigating factors, and pays little attention to fundamental principles of equality.” It will take effect in July.

In Idaho, West Virginia, Indiana and Utah, courts have blocked the enforcement of existing laws, according to the Movement Advancement Project, a nonprofit think tank. The bans largely apply to K-12 public schools, but some states, like Texas, are proposing extending the bans to college athletes.

Gag Rules

Arkansas and Kentucky in March joined Florida in enacting a rule that bans teachers from discussing gender identity and sexual orientation with children up to a certain grade. Florida’s law, which was signed by Governor Ron DeSantis in March 2022, limits discussion for children in kindergarten through third grade; Arkansas’ ban extends up to the fifth grade.

Other Laws

A law enacted in Utah bars schools from noting a child’s name change or gender transition in files without parental approval, and schools are required to share files with parents that ask to see them. While proponents frame it as a matter of parental rights, advocates say such practices can put LGBTQ children in harm’s way, particularly if someone they live with is hostile to LGBTQ people. The state has also enacted laws that impact the ability to change gender on state IDs and ban the state from engaging in contracts with companies that perform gender-affirming care.

Kentucky’s SB 150 also says teachers don’t have to refer to a child by their correct pronouns.

(Updates with Idaho and Indiana bans on providing gender-affirming care.)

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