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 over 250 bills – from anti-trans sports legislation to religious refusal measures – in statehouses across the country, 17 of which were enacted into law.
Now, LGBTQ+ rights in states seem to be taking even more of a hit. According to HRC, over 300 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have surfaced in 36 state legislatures. As the legislation increases – 41 such measures were introduced in 2018 – so does the number of bills passed and enshrined into state law, though LGBTQ+ advocates often challenge the laws in court.
The legislation overwhelmingly targets trans youth, according to the organization, from blocking participation in sports to baring access to gender-affirming care. Lawmakers have also attempted, and in some cases passed, legislation limiting how LGBTQ+ issues can be taught in schools and keeping trans kids from using restrooms that correspond with 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 the HRC, told the Blade, calling the “legislative attacks” on trans youth “craven, baseless, and an effort to create more division, fearmonger, and rile up radical right-wing voters at the expense of innocent kids.”
Proponents of the bills say they are to “protect” parental rights, children and religious freedom. However, LGBTQ+ advocates and people continue to denounce the legislation as discriminatory and harmful.
This year, one of the most talked-about anti-LGBTQ+ measures was 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 about sexual orientation and gender identity in grades K-3 if it survives legal challenges.
“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 says.
Since Republican sponsors successfully pushed the bill through, other states have followed in Florida’s footsteps. Ohio, for example, introduced its version of the legislation roughly a week after DeSantis’ signature.
Like 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 Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) – announced a legal challenge in federal court against Alabama’s gender-affirming care ban.
In terms of legislation introduced, Tennessee has far outpaced other states, according to LGBTQ+ rights organization Freedom for All Americans. The group’s legislative tracker found over 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 statehouse.
Arizona has also been a hotspot 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 some 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 stop the takeover of their party by dangerous extremists,” Shannon Minter, legal director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR), told the Blade at the time, adding: “We are in danger of watching large segments of our nation give way to authoritarian extremism.”
In other states, anti-LGBTQ+ legislation became law without support from its governor – Democratic or Republican. In fact, two Republican governors vetoed anti-trans sports bills in late March.
Utah Gov. Spencer Cox and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, both Republicans, vetoed legislation that barred Trans youth from participating in sports. Cox said the bill had “several fundamental flaws and should be reconsidered,” while Holcomb said the measure was in search of a problem.
“This [Utah] bill focuses on a problem of ‘fairness’ in school sports that simply does not exist — but its negative impacts on the mental health and well-being of trans and nonbinary youth are very real,” said Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at The Trevor Project. “These youth already face disproportionate rates of bullying, depression, and suicide risk, and bills like this one will only make matters worse.”
In recent weeks, two Democratic governors vetoed anti-LGBTQ+ legislation from their Republican-controlled legislatures.
“Shame on the Kentucky General Assembly for attacking trans kids today,” said Chris Hartman, executive director for the Fairness Campaign. Shame on our commonwealth’s lawmakers for passing the first explicitly anti-LGBTQ law in Kentucky in almost a decade.”
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 felony — punishable by up to life in prison — to provide minors with hormones, puberty blockers or gender-affirming surgery.
In a statement, Idaho Senate Republicans said they “stongly” oppose “any and all gender 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 parents’ rights and that the best decisions regarding medical treatment options for children are made by parents, with the benefit of their physician’s advice and expertise,” the senators wrote.
Texas is one of the 14 states with no anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, as the state only holds legislative sessions in odd years. However, the Lone Star State has made headlines for anti-trans orders from Republican Gov. Greg Abbott.
But even as Republican politicians continue to push for limits to LGBTQ+ rights, many LGBTQ+ advocates, people and allies promise to continue fighting against the discriminatory efforts – whether in court or on the streets.
“The Human Rights Campaign strongly condemns these harmful, potentially life-threatening 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, over two-thirds of LGBTQ youth said recent debates over state laws that target transgender people have negatively impacted their mental health.
“These results underscore how recent politics and ongoing crises facing the globe can have a real, negative impact on LGBTQ young people, a group consistently found to be at significantly increased risk for depression, anxiety and attempting suicide because of how they are mistreated and stigmatized in society,” Amit Paley, CEO of The Trevor Project, said in a statement.