Anti-Transgender Legislation Boom in 2021 Called a ‘Culture War’

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Demonstrators at a Transgender Rights March in 2020, Photo by Oriel Ashcroft via Flickr.

Just five days before President Joe Biden took office, the United States Supreme Court ruled that workers cannot be fired for being gay or transgender. Since the ruling, LGBTQ advocates say an “unprecedented backlash” by Republicans in at least 25 states has seen the introduction of over 60 new bills targeting transgender children, Axios reports.   

Many of the anti-trans youth bills surround gender identity in sports, while other more damaging bills discuss criminalizing gender-affirming care for trans children — like puberty blockers and surgery. 

“I’ve been doing this work a long time, and frankly, never really seen anything like this, in terms of the nature of the rhetoric and the sweeping nature of the bills,” Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), told ABC News.

When breaking this down by the numbers, Axios details that the over 60 bills introduced have already beaten 2020’s total number of anti-trans bills, which saw 41 bills focused on trans youth specifically. With only a few months into 2021, the legislative body has already far surpassed last year’s amount. 

According to a recent Gallup poll, 1.8 percent of Generation Z (those born 1997-2002) identified as transgender in 2020 — the highest of any age group — making these legislative moves potentially incredibly impactful for youth if they’re signed into law.

Dan Cox, the director of the American Enterprise Institute’s Survey Center of American Life told Axios that this trend and pushback accounts for a “culture war” that Republicans are prepared to fight aggressively. 

“On the Democratic side, this is not an issue that really excites the base,” he told Axios. “But on the right, I think these issues are really, really salient, so it tends to fire up folks disproportionately on the right than the left.”

Many saw Cox’s sentiment come to life when in late February, Rep. Marie Newman (D-Ill.) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green (R-Ga.) went viral on social media after Rep. Newman displayed a transgender pride flag outside of her office in solidarity with her transgender daughter. 

In response to the new flag hanging across the hall from her office, Rep. Green put up a sign denying the existence of transgender identities, an action which she received condemnation for online, USA Today details. 

Dan Cox told Axios that a majority of the legislative transgender identity discussion is “being framed as dangerous for children” which “harkens back to the gay rights movement.” 

“It’s not random that these are the issues that are being brought up,” Cox explained. 

Sports Teams Discrimination

Diving deeper into the actual content of the 60-newly-introduced bills, an ACLU Tracker uncovered that a big focus has been on the gender identity breakdown of school sports and the athletes participating. 

Twenty-six state legislatures introduced 41 bills in just the first two months of 2021 to exclude trans youth from teams that align with their gender identity,” Axios detailed. 

A Mississippi bill barring transgender athletes from playing for the team that aligns with their gender identity passed through both houses on Wednesday, and is the first to be sent to a governor who is favored to sign it. Similar bills have been passed in Utah, Montana, and North Dakota statehouses.

A proposal in Georgia would require students to provide details of their “reproductive organs, genetic makeup, and other medically relevant factors” in order to play on team sports, a proposal that advocates say singles out transgender youth just to shame them and prohibit them from playing, Axios details. 

Fox Schweiger, an 18-year-old transgender college student from Tennessee, told ABC News he was not allowed to play sports at his private middle school and high school “so as to not upset the other students or their families.”

Schweiger says because of the discrimination he faced, he experienced both physical and mental health struggles that “stemmed from the constant stress of existing in an environment that was explicitly opposed to my very existence.”

Criminalizing Care

Another focus of many of the anti-trans youth bills center around criminalizing gender-affirming care for trans children — like puberty blockers and physically altering surgery. 

States have yet to pass these health care bills impacting trans youth, though if they’re passed, LGBTQ advocates say they will have serious consequences. 

The majority of the bills introduced aiming to criminalize gender-affirming care would make it so treatment is a misdemeanor offense for doctors. To that end, in Alabama, the bill argues to make it a felony for doctors to prescribe puberty blockers or engage in surgery. 

Violators could face up to 10 years in prison. 

The Alabama bill has already passed in the state’s Senate, and it now moves to the House of Representatives where a committee has already approved a nearly identical bill signaling to LGBTQ advocates that this felony bill could be signed into law. 

“Children aren’t mature enough to make these decisions on surgeries and drugs,” Republican state Sen. Shey Shelnutt, who sponsored the bill, told the Associated Press. “The whole point is to protect kids.”

Transgender youth and parents of these children simply don’t agree with Senator Shelnutt’s assessment, saying that a law like this would actually do more harm than good. 

“This bill masquerades under a save the children umbrella, but the truth is that children who are not gender-conforming, this won’t save them — this is going to endanger them,” Gerry Paige Smith, the parent of a transgender son, told the Associated Press over a telephone interview. 

She also said that her 17-year-old son receives a “minuscule amount of testosterone” but that it was the last treatment step after years of consultation with medical professionals. 

To that end, The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that trans youth have access to “comprehensive, gender-affirming, and developmentally appropriate health care that is provided in a safe and inclusive clinical space,” — a sentiment that many advocates share. 

Andrea Cipriano is a TCR staff writer.

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