Although 2021 was dubbed by many, including the Human Rights Campaign. as the “worst year in recent history for LGBTQ state legislative attacks,” many equality and advocacy experts warn 2022 appears to be getting off with an equally hate-filled start.
Matt Lavietes of NBC News reported that “throughout the first week of the [new] year, state lawmakers in at least seven states proposed laws that would limit the rights of transgender and nonbinary youths.”
According to Lavietes, “Republican lawmakers in Arizona, Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, New Hampshire and South Dakota introduced at least nine measures that target trans and nonbinary youths, such as their ability to participate in sports, receive gender-affirming care or use the bathroom.”
In an interview with NBC, Gillian Branstetter of the National Women’s Law Center cautioned that “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. It is a hostile and dangerous trend that I’m sure we’ll see continue through the year.”
So far in 2022, legislators’ anti-trans hate seems to be focused on two specific areas: keeping trans kids from competing in sports and preventing trans kids from getting the necessary gender-affirming medical treatment they need to carry on with their lives.
“Last year, bills prohibiting health care for trans youth were introduced in more than 20 states, with two states — Arkansas and Tennessee — signing them into law,” Lavietes wrote. “Out of the more than 30 states to introduce restrictions on trans athletes last year, nine states enacted the legislation into law, according to advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign.”
In most cases, the lawmakers fighting to strip transgender students of their rights claim their actions are justified because the rights of cisgender students are more important and need to be protected. They also worry that transgender youth aren’t aware of the long-term implications of their decisions and feel the need to protect them from making decisions they might regret later.
“It is unfortunate that we see this as removing the rights of any people,” Republican state Rep. Rhonda Milstead said in defense of an anti-trans law she backed in South Dakota. “If competitive sports are made to be fair, there is a place for everyone to compete according to the biology they were born with.”
Despite Milstead’s concern over what happens with high school athletes on the sports field, most higher-level sporting bodies, including the National Collegiate Athletic Association and International Olympic Committee, have decided there is no issue allowing transgender athletes to compete on teams that correspond to their gender identity, assuming certain criteria are met.
Taking a page out of the recent Texas ban on abortion, the newly proposed anti-trans legislation in South Dakota wouldn’t just limit trans rights — it would also allow cisgender students to sue their school district if they “encounter” trans students in any supposed setting where they don’t “belong,” including the sporting field, locker room, or even the school bathroom, even if a teacher or the school principal might have said that their being there was OK.
In other words, Lavietes said the proposed legislation relies on “bounty-type penalty systems” that would allow private citizens to police what transgender students are and are not allowed to do, whether that means going to the doctor for treatment they or their parents consider “essential” to where they are or are not allowed to use the restroom.
“It’s very dark,” Branstetter concluded of the proposed legislation. “There’s a strong sense among trans people that we are having the door slammed in our face just as we got our foot in the door.”
Fortunately, not everyone agrees with this new anti-trans push in politics. In 2021, a poll conducted by PBS NewsHour, NPR and Marist revealed that most Americans overwhelmingly support trans rights, with two-thirds of those surveyed — and majorities in both political parties — opposing laws designed to restrict transgender rights.
Still, based on the recent actions of lawmakers in Arizona, Alabama, Indiana, Kentucky, Oklahoma, New Hampshire and South Dakota, it appears restricting the rights of trans individuals to appeal to a fringe political base remains the most important thing many lawmakers are doing while in office, as opposed to representing the general public, who support LGBTQ equality and trans rights in particular.
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