As voters around the country brace for the general election in November, lawmakers in different states have begun the process of introducing bills aimed at rolling back the rights of transgender people, previewing a major civil rights issue aimed at polarizing voters.
So far for the 2020 legislative session, 19 bills have been filed in 11 different state legislatures which would limit the rights of trans people, according to a legislative tracker from the group Freedom for All Americans.
Most of these bills will begin to be debated once lawmakers begin the 2020 legislative session, setting the issue up as one incumbent lawmakers to use to satisfy their electoral bases, advocates tell the Daily Beast.
The sheer number of bills has even drawn the attention of Democratic presidential nominee Elizabeth Warren, who recently tweeted that trans people “need and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect, not to be attacked by their state legislators.”
“The focus on anti-transgender bills is a last-ditch attempt to roll back the growing understanding and empathy that Americans have for their transgender family members, friends, neighbors and colleagues,” Kasey Suffredini, Freedom for All Americans' CEO and national campaign director, told the Daily Beast.
“These bills are designed to inflame stereotypes and myths about transgender people to prevent them from being able to live as who they are, go about their daily lives, and take care of themselves and their families.”
All of the bills introduced in either December 2019 or January 2020 were drafted by Republican lawmakers. Only three states where bills were introduced—Kentucky, Pennsylvania, and Washington—have Democratic governors, meaning in the other seven states some of these bills could be signed into law at some point this year.
Suffredini said that the rise of these bills has been part of an “aggressive” strategy from right-wing anti-LGBT activists since the Supreme Court codified same-sex marriage in 2015. He said that the bills serve no purpose than to “exploit and perpetuate anti-transgender myths”
The goal of many of these bills is to legislate the use of taxpayer funds for transgender medical care, preventing medical professionals from providing transgender medical care to minors, and how school officials should refer to students and where they should go to the bathroom.
One area where this line of fear-based thinking is gaining traction is in the realm of high school sports. Georgia, Missouri, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Washington, and West Virginia all have bills introduced in the past month that say students can only participate in state sport competitions in categories that match the sex assigned to them on their birth certificate.
The success of two female athletes from Connecticut, Terry Miller and Andraya Yearwood, at the Connecticut high school state athletics championships last year has prompted outrage from conservatives, including the president’s son Donald Trump Jr. Both athletes’ titles led to a federal complaint being filed against Connecticut's policy, drawing national attention, which has led to the introduction of bills in 2020.
In Georgia, State Rep. Philip Singleton told the Atlanta Journal Constitution that “a lot of things happening in states across the country” led him to file his bill about student athletes competing in the gender assigned to them at birth.
In Missouri, State Senator Cindy O’Laughlin told local outlet KMOV that the idea for her bill came from “news where, across the country, you had women who are being beaten by biologically born men in big competitions”.
At the highest level of sport, the IOC allows transgender athletes to compete if they fulfill certain guidelines. Many national federations have adopted these guidelines, but have also adopted looser guidelines in non-elite competitions in an effort to broaden participation.
As of September 2019, 17 states allow for athletes to compete in the gender they identify without restrictions, according to Transathlete, an organization run by Chris Mosier.
Mosier told The Daily Beast that the current bills aimed at placing further restrictions on who can and cannot participate in sports at a formative age is “a gateway to further discrimination” against LGBT individuals.
“My own participation in sport was extremely important to my personal development and sense of belonging as a young person, even before I came out as a transgender man,” he said. “State governments have never been involved in creating the rules of play for student-athletes in the past, and they have no place in making policies now—particularly ones that are intended to exclude instead of include young people in sport.”
While the threat of anti-trans bills being passed into law is real and present, all such legislation will almost certainly be challenged in the courts immediately upon passing or before it can be fully implemented.
Chase Strangio, a lawyer for the American Civil Liberties Union, told The Daily Beast that the raft of anti-trans bills could be from lawmakers hoping to stave off primary challenges ahead of the 2020 election, but it truly reflects how the Trump administration has emboldened anti-LGBTQ lawmakers.
While the most strident anti-trans legislation drafted in the past decade, North Carolina HB2, was partially repeated by lawmakers after major public outcry, protections for transgender people to use bathrooms that matched their gender identity were granted from a federal court decision.
“Even when bills like these are defeated, the proposals themselves are harmful and send a message that trans people are an appropriate target of government discrimination,” Strangio said. “They lead to our rights and bodies being debated in the public domain in ways that compromise our health and sense of worth and basic dignity.”
The ACLU will offer “every option to protect the [trans] community,” Strangio said, including introducing litigation to stop the implementation of any passed laws that pose the threat of discrimination. The risk these bills pose “create legal standards and norms that hurt everyone,” not just trans people, he added.
“In efforts to exclude transgender people from public life, lawmakers draft bills that discriminate against anyone that does not meet certain expectations of how men and women should look, identify and act,” Strangio said. “Lawmakers are treading a dangerous and unconstitutional path in the service of fear-driven objections to trans existence.”