Henry Mills

More than 500 bills that would restrict the rights of transgender Americans have been introduced across the United States this year – three times the number presented in the whole of 2022, according to a website tracking LGBTQ+ legislation.

More than 60 of the bills have been passed into law in 16 states, found LGBTQ+ Legislative Tracking, an online archive compiled by trans rights activists Allison Chapman, Erin Reed and Alejandra Caraballo.

The laws include measures banning trans people from accessing gender-affirming medical care, using bathrooms consistent with their gender identity and participating in girls’ sports teams in schools and colleges.

Several states have also introduced bills to prohibit drag shows in public venues or in front of minors.

Critics say the increase in legislative initiatives shows conservative politicians and religious groups are stepping up their push to restrict the freedoms and rights of trans people.

Supporters of the bills say they are needed to protect children – including those who want to transition gender – and give parents more say over how their children are taught about sexuality and gender identity.

Gender-affirming care

More than 35 states have introduced bills to limit access to gender-affirming care such as cross-sex hormone therapy, puberty blockers, and surgery. Most of them focus on under-18s.

Some of the laws are aimed at banning Medicare reimbursement for gender-affirming procedures or seek to impose criminal penalties on doctors who provide such medical care to minors.

The bills’ backers say they want to protect young people coming to terms with their gender identity, but the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and other medical organisations have voiced opposition.

In Missouri, Attorney General Andrew Bailey issued an emergency order that bans trans people of any age from receiving gender-affirming care unless they fulfill strict conditions, such as 18 months of psychological assessment and an annual screening for “social contagion” on gender identity.

Supporters have suggested teens are becoming trans due to the influence of their peers.

This year, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and its affiliates are hoping to file at least eight legal challenges against gender-affirming care bans, said Gillian Branstetter, communications strategist at the ACLU.

In April, they sued Indiana, Tennessee and Missouri.

‘Don’t Say Gay’ bills

Lawmakers in at least 28 states have introduced bills that prohibit classroom discussion on gender identity or sexual orientation in a manner that is considered “not age or developmentally appropriate”.

These bills – including legislation passed by Florida and dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” law – apply to public schools for children aged between five and 18.

Some of the bills also require schools to inform parents that their children have transitioned, as well as notify them of any mental or physical health service provided to the students.

Critics call such measures will lead trans students to be forcibly outed, with potentially harmful consequences, but advocates of the bills say they will ensure parents have the final say over their children’s education and stay informed about their welfare.

Trans sports participation

More than 50 bills presented this year seek to restrict the participation of trans girls and women in female school sports’ teams, often ostensibly to ensure fair competition.

Additionally, however, bills approved in 2022 in states including Oklahoma and Tennessee require trans boys and men to participate in female competitions.

In April, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a Republican-backed bill intended to ban trans women and girls from competing in female sports at federally funded schools across the country.

Although it has little chance of passing in the Democrat-led Senate, President Joe Biden has vowed to veto the law if necessary.

Drag bans

Forty bills in more than a dozen states including Oklahoma, Kentucky, Idaho and Montana prohibit “adult cabaret performances” by “male or female impersonators” in public properties or locations where a minor might be present.

On March 3, 2023, Tennessee became the first state in which performing a drag performance could be punishedas a misdemeanor charge – or felony for a repeat offence – with a punishment of up to six years in prison and a fine of up to $3,000.

While opponents of such proposals say they constitute a threat to freedom of speech, sponsors of the bills say they will bring peace of mind to parents.

Reporting by Diana Baptista.

GAY TIMES and Openly/Thomson Reuters Foundation are working together to deliver leading LGBTQ+ news to a global audience.