Exploring the alarming rise of anti-LGBTQ+ Legislation in the US

In what has been dubbed “the worst year in recent history for LGBTQ state legislative attacks,” Ethan Moser takes an in depth look at some of the new anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in the US and its implications.

A photograph of Capitol hill with the US flag hanging over archways. In this article we explore the impact of anti-LGBTQ+ leigslation being imposed in the US.
Image: @calebjamesfisher via Upslash

Data compiled by the Civil Liberties Union shows that 2022 has been a record-breaking year for anti-LGBTQ+ legislation in America. Since the start of 2022, several hundred anti-LGBTQ+ bills have been filed throughout the United States, with the vast majority of them impacting Transgender rights. By March 10, NBC News reported that nearly 240 bills had been filed, with an additional 162 bills filed by July of this year according to CNN.

LGBTQ+ rights activists have called 2022 “the worst year in recent history for LGBTQ state legislative attacks” citing the dramatic increase in anti-LBGTQ+ bills filed, increasing from only 41 bills in 2018, to 240 in the first three months of 2022 alone. 

In 2021, the Human Rights Campaign reported that 58 bills were introduced on bathroom/locker room bans and youth sports bans for Trans youth in 28 states (Maine, New Hampshire, North and South Dakota, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Michigan, Idaho, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Utah, Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, Arizona, New Mexico, Kansas, South Carolina, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, Hawaii, Texas, and Florida) and were signed into law in three states—Arkansas, Tennessee, and Florida. 

Additionally, the HRC’s report also stated that 20 states filed bills with the intent of preventing Trans minors from receiving gender-affirming healthcare in 2021. Arkansas later signed this legislation into effect on April 6th, 2022. This anti-LGBTQ+ legislation known as the “Arkansas Save Adolescents From Experimentation Act (SAFE)”, was the first piece of legislation in the US that prohibited healthcare professionals from administering gender-affirming healthcare. 

In addition to Arkansas’ ‘SAFE’ Act, a number of prominent anti-LGBTQ+ bills have rocked the US this calendar year. Here’s some more information on a few of these bills, their history, and their consequences. 

Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill
Passed into law on March 8, 2022, Florida’s ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill is one of the more well-known pieces of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation to rock the US this year. The law, which went into effect on July 1, explicitly banned the instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity for students up to 3rd Grade, or, around age seven-years-old. That being said, critics of the bill have suggested that the ambiguous language used in the bill could potentially be manipulated to be applied to older students as well. 

According to the law, in order for sexual orientation and gender identity to be discussed with older students, the discussion must be “age appropriate or developmentally appropriate.” The passing of the ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Bill by Republican Governor Ron DeSantis comes after the banning of sex education curriculums for 5th Grade Florida students.  

According to a report released by the Human Rights Campaign in partnership with the Center for Countering Digital Hate, since the legislation was passed in March of 2022, the use of anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric online has increased by more than 400%, with hashtags like “groomer”, “predator”, and “paedophiles” trending on Twitter. The report also stated that, on average, 6,607 tweets using inflammatory anti-LGBTQ+ language were published per day in the month following the bill’s passing. This included tweets from prolific members of the Republican party, such as Marjorie Taylor Green, Lauren Boebert, and Ron DeSantis’ secretary, Christina Pushaw. 

Several gay and human rights organisations sued the state of Florida over the bill, claiming that the legislation was in violation of students’ and parents’ constitutionally protected rights, such as freedom of speech, equal protection, and due process under the law. 

Disney even spoke out against the legislation—after significant public and internal pressure to do so—which ultimately led Republican Florida legislators to strip the company of their special tax status, which they had held for the previous 50 years. 

Virginia’s New School Guidelines
Currently, certain Trans students in Virginia are protected under the Fairfax County Public School’s Regulation 2603, which allows students to use the pronouns, restrooms, and other school facilities that align most directly with their gender identity. Similarly, Regulation 2603 does not require school officials to notify parents of a student’s transition. 

All of this is set to change, however, following new school guidelines released by Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin on September 16, 2022. Yougkin’s updated school guidelines follow his appearance at a ‘Parents Matter’ rally in August, where he called on school officials to out Trans students and gender non-conforming students to their parents. 

“They think that parents have no right to know what your child is discussing with their teacher or their counsellor,” Youngkin said at the event. “Particularly when some of the most important topics, most important topics that a child may want to discuss are being determined.”

The governor continued: “What’s their name? What pronoun will they use? How are they going to express their gender? This is a decision that bureaucrats in Fairfax County believe that they should be able to make without telling parents.

Under Youngkin’s proposed new school guidelines, Trans and gender non-conforming students would be required to use the school facilities and pronouns that match the sex they were assigned at birth. Similarly, the new guidelines would make it more difficult for students to socially transition and would require school officials to inform parents of a student’s transition. 

The new anti-LGBTQ+ legislation would permit parents of Trans and gender non-conforming students to submit paperwork officially documenting their preferred pronouns and names, but would still allow teachers to misgender and deadname students regardless of these documents, citing teachers’ right to freedom of speech. 

A 30-day comment period on the proposed guidelines was set to begin on September 26, after which the Virginia Board of Education will convene to review the comments. In the end, Jillian Balow—the Superintendent of Public Instruction—will approve a final version of the policy. 

All of that being said, experts expect that the guidelines will be heavily challenged, with University of Virginia Law professor Craig Konnoth suggesting that the new law is designed to “prioritize red tape and teachers’ beliefs over student well-being.”

Similarly, Virginia Delegate Marcus B Simon (D), who introduced Regulation 2603 in 2020, argues that “These policies clearly don’t meet that standard and I don’t think are consistent with the bill I introduced.”

Louisiana’s ‘Fairness in Women’s Sports Act’
On June 6, 2022, Louisiana became the 18th US state to pass legislation banning Trans women and girls from participating on a female school sports team. The legislation, known as the ‘Fairness in Women’s Sports Act’ has also been enacted in Montana, Idaho, South Dakota, Iowa, Indiana, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Arkansas, Oklahoma, Texas, Utah, and Arizona. 

The legislation took effect in Louisiana after Governor John Bel Edwards (D) refused to veto the bill after it was passed by both chambers of the state’s Republican-controlled Legislature. Edwards said later that the bill “was going to become law whether or not I signed it or vetoed it,” citing that the bill was strongly supported by legislators and that his veto would have been overturned regardless. 

The anti-LGBTQ+ legislation requires that Lousiana schools “designate intercollegiate and interscholastic athletic teams according to the biological sex of the team members,” and states that teams that are specifically designated for female players are “not open to participation” by anyone who was assigned male at birth. 

After vetoing a similar bill in 2021, Gov. Edwards referred to the legislation as “a solution in search of a problem that simply doesn’t exist in Louisiana.” According to Edwards, there “hasn’t been a single instance in Louisiana of a Trans girl participating in sports.” 

Alongside the ‘Fairness in Women’s Sports Act’, Louisiana State Superintendent of Education, Cade Brumley, has also announced that state schools can continue to discriminate against Transgender students despite proposed changes to Title IX Regulations released by the Biden Administration in June. These proposals included explicit anti-discrimination protections for LGBTQ+ students. 

“LDOE does not agree with the proposed changes,” Brumley wrote in a letter, adding that “school systems should not alter their local policies or procedures based solely on these overreaching guidance documents.”

“We shouldn’t discriminate against any children in any school,” Brumley added. “But at the same time, I don’t think it is appropriate for biological males to be in the little girls bathrooms. And I think that would be an opinion shared by a majority of citizens in the state of Louisiana.”

Research Director at the UCLA Law Williams Institute, Kerith Conron, said that trends like those that are being seen in Louisiana and beyond could have serious implications for the mental health of LGBTQ+ students.

“Trans youth are dependent on parents, schools, institutions and paediatricians to support them, in living authentically and to access gender-affirming care – and now on policymakers to facilitate or deny access to care,” Conron told CNN. “It places Trans youth in a precarious place.” 

Based on research conducted by Conron at the Williams Institute, approximately one in four Transgender adolescents could currently be living in a state where anti-Trans legislation is active.

“These laws are not grounded in science or majority medical opinion and have strong implications for the survival of Trans youth in these states …  and for long-term quality of life for those who make it through adolescence,” she added. 

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