By now, most of us who are paying attention have heard about the bill marching its way through the Florida legislature. The Parental Rights in Education bill, more commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, was recently passed in both Florida’s House and Senate. It’s now awaiting a signature from Republican Governor Ron DeSantis, who’s signaled his approval. The bill prohibits teachers and school staff from discussing gender identity and sexual orientation in kindergarten through third-grade classrooms.
The bill has sparked a flurry of opposition from lawmakers, celebrities, CEOs (including Disney’s CEO — though it took backlash to get there), and activists who argue that the bill sends a clear message that LGBTQ students aren’t welcome and that there’s something shameful about their existence. Activists said that the bill could “erase young LGBTQ students across Florida.”
The bill is, on its own, a tragedy with potentially devastating consequences. Unfortunately, the bill isn’t on its own. It’s just one bill among a number of anti-LGBTQ laws spreading in state legislatures across the country. So far this year, at least 17 states have introduced anti-LGBTQ bills.
“Unfortunately, I think we’re getting ready to watch a race to the bottom among legislators who are in a competition to see who can do the most harm to trans kids,” Gillian Branstetter, media manager for the National Women’s Law Center, told NBC News. “It is a hostile and dangerous trend that I’m sure we’ll see continue through the year.”
Restricting Healthcare For Transgender Youth
Among the most vicious of the anti-LGBTQ bills is the one recently passed by the Idaho House of Representatives. By a vote of 55-13, representatives voted to make it a crime punishable by life in prison for parents to seek out gender-affirming care for their child. Gender affirming care includes puberty blockers, hormone therapy, and sex reassignment surgeries.
As if criminalizing gender-affirming care wasn’t enough, the bill goes a step further. If passed, it would make it a crime for parents to leave the state with their transgender teen to get gender-affirming care. Anyone found guilty faces life in prison.
If this bill becomes law, experts expect it to face significant constitutional challenges that would cause it to be struck down. But that’s little consolation to the unknown number of families living in Idaho who can’t un-know the truth that their representatives aren’t working to represent them.
In Alabama, lawmakers are moving through a bill that would make it a felony for a doctor to provide gender-affirming care, namely puberty blockers, hormones, or surgeries to children 18 years old or younger. The offense is punishable by up to ten years in prison.
At least 16 other states have introduced similar bills, some of which have died on the legislative floor, others of which are marching through. These states include Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Wisconsin, and West Virginia.
School Or Curriculum Restrictions
Florida isn’t the only state to introduce bills restricting what educators can and cannot discuss in the classroom. In Indiana, lawmakers are attempting to pass a bill that would bar educators from talking about “sexual orientation,” “transgenderism” or “gender identity” without permission from parents in any context.
At least fifteen more states have introduced bills that would restrict the way educators can and cannot discuss LGBTQA issues. Among them, a bill introduced in the Tennessee House of Representatives, which would ban textbooks and other instructional materials that “promote, normalize, support, or address lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) lifestyles” in K-12 schools, and one in Kansas which would make it a Class B misdemeanor to use classroom materials that depict “homosexuality.”
In Oklahoma, legislators introduced five separate measures that would limit what educators can and cannot teach or discuss.
Other states with similar bills include Arizona, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New Jersey, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia.
In Tennessee, Rep. Mike Bell took a different approach to attack LGBTQ rights. Rather than restricting what can be taught, he introduced a bill that would make it permissible for teachers to choose not to use a student’s preferred pronoun if “the pronoun does not align with the student’s biological sex.” Teachers who do not use a student’s preferred pronoun would be protected from civil liability under this measure.
Banning Transgender Youth From Sports
At least 29 states (that’s more than half of the country!) have introduced bills that would exclude transgender children and teens from sports.
South Dakota passed the first anti-transgender bill of the year, according to the Trevor Project, a nonprofit organization focused on suicide prevention amount LGBTQA youth. The law prevents transgender women and girls from playing on sports teams that match their gender identity.
Following in South Dakota’s steps, Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds signed into law a bill that bars transgender women and girls from participating in the sport that matches their gender identity in Iowa. Notably, a comparable law does not exist for sports designated as men’s.
A similar bill was recently passed in Kentucky and is making its way through the Indiana legislature, as well as through state legislatures in Arkansas, Arizona, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Ohio, South Dakota, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Wyoming.
Similar bills were either killed or withdrawn in Hawaii, South Carolina, Missouri, and Mississippi.
New Hampshire lawmakers took the extra step of introducing a bill that would permit public entities, including schools, jails, and prisons to look to the gender assigned at birth to differentiate between folks.
Texas: Gender-Affirming Procedures As “Child Abuse”
No roundup of hateful laws would be complete without including Texas — where everything from abortion rights to LGBTQA rights is spiraling backward.
Governor Abbott called gender-affirming procedures “child abuse” and ordered the state’s child welfare agency to investigate. This directive was recently struck down by a District Court judge, though supporters have vowed to appeal.
Arizona: Failure To Disclose Youth Confidence Punishable
A bill moving through the Arizona legislature would require teachers to disclose information “relevant to the physical, emotional or mental health of the parent’s child.” That includes any information a student might have confessed about their “purported gender identity or requested transition if the student’s purported gender identity or expression is incongruous with the student’s biological sex”.
If the bill passes, teachers who don’t comply could lose their certification. Parents also can sue districts that don’t provide this information.
What Can We Do?
There’s no doubt that LGBTQ folks are under attack. In 2021, the Human Rights Campaign called 2021 the worst year in recent history for “state legislation attacking LGBTQ equality.” Based on how many bills have already been introduced in 2022, it looks like this year could be even worse.
It’s easy to feel helpless on an individual level as the bills and laws pile up. Fortunately, there’s a strong and growing community of activists and organizations actively fighting these bills. The Human Rights Campaign, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and Lambda Legal are meeting these bills and laws in court. The Trevor Project provides suicide prevention services to LGBTQ youth, who have higher rates of suicide than the general population.
Additionally, Together Rising, the nonprofit founded by Glennon Doyle, actively raises money and invests in local organizations that support LGBTQ youth and their families.
Transgender rights are most certainly under attack. Now, more than ever, we need to pay attention to what’s happening in state legislatures. Because the first step to stopping the onslaught is understanding what’s happening. The second is to act and refuse to keep quiet.