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Anti-LGBTQ Proposals Are Flooding U.S. State Legislatures at a Record Pace

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 4/8/2022 Kelsey Butler

(Bloomberg) -- This year is heating up to be another record-breaking one for anti-LGBTQ legislation in U.S. state legislatures.

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In an attempt to fire-up a conservative base ahead of mid-term elections, Republican legislators have proposed at least 325 bills so far, with about 130 targeting transgender rights specifically. That’s already ahead of the 268 introduced last year, a previous record. A total of 27 made it into law in 2021, for the worst year in recent history for anti-LGBTQ legislation, according to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group. This year, so far seven have become laws.

“We are seeing an uptick in the frequency and extremism of these bills as time goes on,” said Sam Ames, director of advocacy and government affairs at the Trevor Project, a nonprofit that focuses on suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth.

Nationwide Wave | More anti-LGBTQ bills are being proposed than anytime in recent memory © Bloomberg Nationwide Wave | More anti-LGBTQ bills are being proposed than anytime in recent memory

In March, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that bans instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity, dubbed by opponents as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. That legislation has already inspired copycat proposals in at least a handful of states, including Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana and Ohio. Texas Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick said this week that he wants to prioritize passing legislation that mimics Florida’s. A separate law requiring Texas public school students to play sports based on their assigned gender at birth took effect in January

Last month, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey signed bills into law which ban some types of medical procedures for transgender youth and prevent transgender students from participating in school sports consistent with their gender identity. Anti-LGBTQ legislation has also been signed in Arizona, South Dakota, Iowa, Oklahoma and Utah this year.

In 2022, Tennessee has introduced more anti-LGBTQ measures than any other state, including one that protects teachers who refuse to use a student’s preferred pronouns from civil liability or being fired. Last year, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee signed a law that bans transgender students from using bathrooms or locker rooms that align with their gender identity, and another that prohibits doctors from prescribing puberty blockers or hormone therapy to prepubescent kids. (Doctors don’t usually prescribe those things until after a child enters puberty.)

On Thursday, Alabama’s House of Representatives voted to make it a felony — with a potential 10-year prison sentence — for a doctor to prescribe puberty blockers or hormones to aid gender transition to anyone under 19. The bill would also mandate school counselors and nurses to alert parents if a child discloses that they identify as transgender. The proposal would need to be signed into law by the governor before it can go into effect.

Even though just a handful of the 325 anti-LGBTQ bills proposed this year have become law, experts are concerned that their mere consideration can still have an impact. In some cases, teachers are being warned to steer clear of so-called “controversial” issues to avoid getting in trouble, which experts predict could cause a chilling effect in the classroom. The number of calls from LGBTQ youth to crisis hotlines like the one run by the Trevor Project have jumped in recent years. The group found in a qualitative analysis that some young people reported feeling stressed or even suicidal due to the laws being debated in their state.

Lay of the Land | Six states have signed anti-LGBTQ legislation into law this year © Bloomberg Lay of the Land | Six states have signed anti-LGBTQ legislation into law this year

The latest groundswell in anti-LGBTQ legislation comes in the wake of the 2015 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which allowed same-sex couples to marry in all 50 states. The following year North Carolina passed its infamous bathroom bill, which spurred a boycott and ultimate rescinding of the law.

“It didn’t matter that we had overwhelmingly good popular opinion on marriage equality, state legislators were in a different mental and emotional space, and they spent their year spinning their wheels trying to find anything that they could do to claw back equality,” said Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel for the Human Rights Campaign. 

There have been signs this year of pushback: A Texas judge last month blocked a directive from Governor Greg Abbott that the state Department of Family and Protective Services investigate instances of “sex change” procedures for youth, including surgeries and puberty-blocking drugs. And at the federal level, the U.S. State Department has said it will allow Americans who do not identify as male or female the option to select the “X” gender marker on passports, as part of a slate of actions to affirm the identities of transgender and nonbinary people in the U.S.

“We cannot talk about any one of these issues without the others, because what we're talking about is not just about sports,” the Trevor Project’s Ames said. “It's not just about healthcare. It's not just about bathrooms or curriculum or any of the other areas where these transgender youth are being targeted. It is about a well coordinated national political campaign to write them out of existence.”

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