Over 60 anti-transgender bills are currently being considered in 28 states across the country, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Just this month, bills in three states — Tennessee, Mississippi, and Arkansas — have already been signed by state governors. LGBTQ+ advocates are warning that the influx of this type of legislation will harm trans and nonbinary youth.
The bills being proposed this year fall largely into two categories. The first focuses on removing trans girls’ and women's ability to participate in sports programs in accordance to their gender identity. The second category attempts to restrict trans youths’ access to gender-affirming healthcare.
In Tennessee, Gov. Bill Lee recently signed an anti-trans sports bill into law that requires students to prove their assigned sex at birth in order to play in middle and high school sports. According to this law, students can only compete as part of teams of that gender, regardless of how they identify.
Last week, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed the “Fairness in Women’s Sports Act.” Similar to the bill signed in Tennessee, this piece of legislation bans trans girls and women from participating in school sports on teams consistent with their gender identity. In order to participate, students must show the sex listed on their birth certificates. This act applies to all sports sponsored by public schools, from elementary through college. Private schools must adhere if they compete against a public school. A similar bill was passed in Idaho last year, but it was blocked by a federal judge over the summer.
“This law simply says that female athletes should not have to compete in a sport against a student of the male sex when the sport is designed for women’s competition,” Hutchinson said in a statement, denying that trans women are women.
"This has been a significant part of my work at the ACLU for the past six years and I've never seen anything like this," Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice at the ACLU, told CNN. "There have never been this many bills targeting trans youth voted out of committee and then making it to the floor."
So far, only legislation around sports bans has made it into law this year, but trans advocates warn that legislation aimed at targeting access to healthcare is worrisomely close to passing in some states. One such bill is the Arkansas SAFE Act, which would ban in minors the use of gender-affirming treatments that enable trans people to change their physical appearance to be more consistent with their own gender identity. Arkansas State Rep. Robin Lundstrum, who originally proposed the legislation, has made public comments contradicting the science of gender identity to falsely position trans and nonbinary identities as a “choice.”
The bill does allow for limited “exceptions” for select instances of intersex people with unspecified chromosomes and hormone production, and those with difficulties resulting from previous gender-affirming treatments. The proposed bill contradicts medical guidelines from several reputable associations including the Endocrine Society, which states, "Youth who are able to access gender-affirming care, including pubertal suppression, hormones, and surgery based on conservative medical guidelines and consultation from medical and mental health experts, experience significantly improved mental health outcomes."
Trans advocates and experts argue that bills like this do not protect young trans people, and recent studies support this. In February, the Center for American Progress (CAP) released a report which argued that banning the trans community from certain sports programs would deprive an entire group of people of the benefits of athletics, including lower risks of depression, anxiety, and drug use. Despite so many states introducing legislation targeting trans youth in sports, the report also found that the argument of an “unfair advantage” does not actually hold up to data-driven scrutiny.
“These bills cloak transmisogyny in inflammatory language and scare tactics that distract from the policies’ discriminatory intent,” reads the report.