You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Republican State Lawmakers Push Wave of Bills Targeting Transgender Youth

U.S. News & World Report logo U.S. News & World Report 4/9/2021 Claire Hansen
a crowd of people walking on a city street: A person holds a transgender pride flag as people gather on Christopher Street outside the Stonewall Inn for a rally to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York, June 28, 2019. - The June 1969 riots, sparked by repeated police raids on the Stonewall Inn -- a well-known gay bar in New York's Greenwich Village -- proved to be a turning point in the LGBTQ community's struggle for civil rights. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP)    (Photo credit should read ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images) © ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images A person holds a transgender pride flag as people gather on Christopher Street outside the Stonewall Inn for a rally to mark the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots in New York, June 28, 2019. - The June 1969 riots, sparked by repeated police raids on the Stonewall Inn -- a well-known gay bar in New York's Greenwich Village -- proved to be a turning point in the LGBTQ community's struggle for civil rights. (Photo by ANGELA WEISS / AFP) (Photo credit should read ANGELA WEISS/AFP via Getty Images)

Arkansas this week became the first state in the nation to bar physicians from providing gender-affirming treatment to transgender minors after the GOP-controlled state legislature overrode Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson's veto of the measure, which he called "extreme," "overbroad" and "a product of the cultural war in America."

The measure – now a law – is just one of a record number of bills introduced by Republican state lawmakers this year targeting transgender people as the GOP seizes on transgender rights as a cultural wedge issue.

At least 28 state legislatures are currently weighing or have already passed anti-transgender measures, the majority of which target the rights of transgender and nonbinary children and teens. The influx of anti-transgender state bills comes as the Biden administration has moved to expand LGBT rights.

The state measures largely fall into two buckets. Many of the bills aim to bar transgender girls from participating in women's athletics as GOP politicians angle to brand themselves as the defenders of women's sports. Bills in three states – Mississippi, Tennessee and Arkansas – have already passed into law, while more than two dozen state legislatures are weighing the legislation.

More than a dozen other measures seek to bar transgender children from gender-affirming care and in some cases criminalize the treatments, according to a tracker of anti-LGBT bills from the American Civil Liberties Union.

Gender-affirming treatments can aid transgender people in changing their physical characteristics to align more closely with their gender identity – like redistributing body fat, increasing or decreasing body hair growth or deepening the voice. The treatments may include puberty blockers for younger people as well as hormone therapy or surgery, and are linked to a significant reduction in mental health issues among transgender people. Major medical organizations including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Psychiatric Association, the American Medical Association and others support gender-affirming care for transgender youth and adults.

The GOP focus on transgender-related issues is not new. State lawmakers across the country introduced a bevy of so-called "bathroom bills" from roughly 2016 to 2018, many modeled after North Carolina's notorious House Bill 2 that required transgender people to use the public bathrooms, locker rooms and other facilities that aligned with the sex on their birth certificates and not with their gender identity. (The key provisions of the law were eventually nullified, but not before North Carolina lost millions after corporate entities moved events and business out of the state.)

North Carolina is also the location of the latest and perhaps most extreme anti-transgender bills of the current wave. Republicans state lawmakers this week introduced a measure that would criminalize the provision of gender-affirming treatments including surgery, hormone treatments or puberty blockers to anyone under the age of 21, putting physicians at risk of losing their medical license and being fined if they did so.

The North Carolina measure also would compel state employees to immediately inform a minor's parents if they display "gender nonconformity," or "otherwise demonstrates a desire to be treated in a manner incongruent with [their] sex" – a broad directive that could give the state power to determine and police cultural gender norms and presentation.

The slate of measures targeting transgender health care are predicated on the belief of the bills' supporters that the risks of gender-affirming treatments for minors outweigh the benefits.

Supporters of sports-related measures argue that allowing transgender girls to compete in women's athletics creates an unfair playing field. Advocates rebuff that assertion.

Objections from LGBT advocates, transgender people, medical groups and others are manyfold.

Transgender youth experience mental health issues, substance abuse and bullying at far greater levels than cisgender kids, according to research by the CDC. And more than half of transgender or nonbinary youth seriously considered suicide in the last year, according to a 2020 survey conducted by The Trevor Project, a crisis intervention and suicide prevention organization for LGBT youth.

"It is not extreme or sensational to say that this group of young people, who already experience disproportionate rates of violence and suicide attempts, would be put at significantly increased risk of self-harm because of legislation like [Arkansas] HB 1570 pushing them farther to the margins of society," Sam Brinton, Vice President of Advocacy and Government Affairs for The Trevor Project, said in a statement after the passage of the most recent Arkansas measure.

Transgender people and allies have vocally opposed the recent measures. Cash Ashely, a transgender man, told Arkansas legislators during a hearing that the recent measure could prove deadly.

"If this bill passes, people will die. I wish deeply that this weren't hyperbole," Ashely said before the measure passed.

The American Medical Associate views the measures "as a dangerous legislative intrusion into the practice of medicine," it said in a statement. In a letter to Missouri lawmakers, the organization said that measures barring minors from gender-affirming care "force physicians to disregard their oaths to act in the best interest of their patients and insert the government into clinical decision-making."

Forbidding kids from playing on sports teams that align with their gender identity would further marginalize transgender youth and could increase mental health problems and bullying, advocates and medical groups say.

"Forcing transgender children to play on teams according to their sex assigned at birth, rather than the gender they live in, also puts their physical and mental health at risk," the American Academy of Pediatrics said in a statement.

Advocates also worry that provisions like those included in the newly-introduced North Carolina measure could out transgender youth to their families without their consent – an event that may not only be emotionally damaging but physically dangerous.

There are legal concerns as well. Advocates argue that the measures are blatantly discriminatory because they target transgender people specifically because of their gender identity. The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas has already pledged to sue over the state's new law.

Idaho became the first state last year to bar transgender and nonbinary youth from participating in sports leagues at odds with their gender identity. A federal judge in August blocked that law while the legal battle continued.

Bills targeting transgender people are actively moving through several state legislatures. West Virginia is on the verge of becoming the latest state to restrict transgender people's participation in sport after the state senate on Thursday passed a measure in a narrow vote.

Alabama is also poised to pass into law both a bill restricting athletic participation and a measure that would make it a felony for medical professionals to provide gender-affirming care to anyone under the age of 19.

Copyright 2021 U.S. News & World Report

AdChoices
AdChoices

More from U.S. News & World Report

U.S. News & World Report
U.S. News & World Report
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon