Standing United Against the Surge of Anti-Transgender State Legislation
Today, Howard Brown recognizes and honors International Transgender Day of Visibility. Held every year on March 31, International Transgender Day of Visibility is an opportunity for all of us to recognize and celebrate transgender, gender nonconforming, and non-binary people. Just last week, Dr. Rachel Levine became the first openly transgender federal official to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate, and she will nobly serve our country as the Assistant Secretary of Health. But with unprecedented progress also comes unprecedented backlash, and allies and advocates must stand united against anti-transgender discrimination.
Currently, over 80 anti-transgender bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country, the highest number of anti-transgender bills introduced in a single year according to the Human Rights Campaign. The vast majority of this record-breaking surge of anti-transgender legislation specifically targets transgender youth either by denying transgender athletes the right to participate in school sports or by preventing transgender youth from receiving gender-affirming medical care. Many of these bills are being pushed by anti-LGBTQ groups like the Alliance Defending Freedom.
Anti-transgender Sports Bills
So far this year, at least 28 states have introduced anti-transgender bills regarding student athletics, and Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee have all already signed these bills into law. Proponents of these bills argue that transgender girls have an unfair athletic advantage over cisgender girls, and allowing them to compete would erode fairness in women’s athletics. What these bills fail to recognize is that the problem that they intend to address—unfair and widespread domination in women’s sports by transgender women—does not exist. The National Collegiate Athletic Association, the International Olympic Committee, and schools in states with trans-affirming policies have allowed transgender athletes to compete for years now with no measurable harm done to cisgender athletes. Mississippi Senator Angela Hill, the lead sponsor of the state’s anti-transgender school sports law, did not present any evidence of any transgender athletes competing in Mississippi schools, much less dominating the competition.
In actuality, recent research shows that transgender youth participate in sports at a significantly lower rate than the general population and feel unsafe in athletic spaces. A recent systematic literature review found that there is no direct or consistent scientific evidence suggesting that transgender women have an athletic advantage against cisgender women in competitive sports. Without any facts to back up their claims, proponents of these anti-transgender bills regularly rely on fearmongering with claims that cisgender men will pretend to be transgender women in order to dominate women’s sports. These claims are not only completely baseless, they also perpetuate transphobic myths that transgender people are lying about who they are.
While these anti-transgender bills don’t address real issues, they could cause real harm. In the case of school athletics, very few youth participate with the goal of becoming a top tier competitive athlete. Rather, school athletics help young people learn the values of teamwork and dedication, and can help to improve physical, mental, and social well-being. These bills would harm transgender girls, who already widely experience discrimination in school settings, by further stigmatizing their identities and denying them access to the benefits of school sports participation.
Anti-transgender Healthcare Bills
In addition to the surge of sports-related legislation targeting transgender youth, at least 17 states this year have introduced legislation that would criminalize the provision of medically necessary gender-affirming care—such as hormones or puberty blockers—to transgender youth. These bills are based on misconceptions about gender-affirming care, often portrayed as harmful and irreversible services performed on uninformed patients. In actuality, there are established scientific best practices for the provision of gender-affirming care, and research has shown that gender-affirming care is associated with better health outcomes for transgender people, including improved overall quality of life, higher self-esteem, and reduced anxiety, depression, and suicidality. That is why the nation’s leading child health and welfare organizations—including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Public Health Association, and the National Association of School Nurses—came together to oppose “proposals that harm transgender youth, including limiting access to medically-necessary, best practice care.”
It is time for state legislators to stop pushing anti-transgender legislation. These bills are harmful to an already marginalized community, designed to address problems that do not exist, and opposed by the majority of Americans across the country. In fact, according to research by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute, 72% of all Americans support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. As we celebrate and honor International Transgender Day of Visibility, we reaffirm that trans rights are human rights and we condemn this surge of deeply harmful anti-transgender legislation. You can track state anti-transgender legislation and find out about ways to take action using the National Center for Transgender Equality’s State Action Center and ACLU’s Anti-LGBTQ Bills Tracker.