Seven years ago, a single bill requiring people to use multi-stall bathrooms that conformed to the sex they were assigned at birth caused a firestorm when then-North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory (R) signed it into law.
The NBA moved its All Star Game out of Charlotte. Bruce Springsteen and Ringo Starr canceled concerts. Deutsche Bank, Adidas, PayPal and other massive companies scuttled planned business ventures. An analysis by the Associated Press projected the so-called “bathroom bill” would cost North Carolina more than $3.76 billion in lost business over a dozen years.
The law came with a political cost, as well. McCrory became the first North Carolina governor to lose a bid for re-election. In 2017, his successor, Roy Cooper (D), signed a bill repealing many of the bill’s provisions.
Now, supporters of curtailing transgender rights are pursuing a different strategy. Instead of focusing on a key bill in one state, they have flooded the zone with hundreds of measures restricting health care for transgender youth, restricting drag performances or curriculum that refers to gender identity or sexuality, and even returning to the bathroom bans like the one passed in North Carolina.
Almost 300 bills targeting some element of LGBTQ rights have been introduced in legislatures in 34 states this year, according to the American Civil Liberties Union. Nearly two-thirds of those bills relate specifically to transgender rights.
In February alone, 46 bills relating to transgender rights have been introduced or advanced in Arkansas, West Virginia, Idaho, Georgia, Oklahoma, Texas, Virginia, Illinois, Kentucky, Wyoming, Montana, South Dakota, Colorado, New Mexico, North Carolina and in the U.S. Congress.
So far this year, only two have passed: Utah Gov. Spencer Cox (R) signed a bill in January banning certain medical treatment and procedures for transgender youth. On Monday, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) signed her state’s version of the law, which prohibits medical providers from prescribing puberty blockers, hormone therapy or gender-related surgery to minors.
“South Dakota’s kids are our future. With this legislation, we are protecting kids from harmful, permanent medical procedures,” Noem said in a brief statement.
The same day Noem signed the bill, an Arkansas Senate committee advanced a bill allowing anyone who received a “gender transition procedure” as a minor to sue the health care provider who was involved; Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) listed several bills targeting transgender youth among his 30 top priorities for the year, a strong sign those bills will pass the state Senate there; and the Tennessee Senate approved a measure banning gender-affirming care for minors.
“Children and adolescents cannot provide informed consent for these medical procedures, and given the development of the child-adolescent brain, kids are not capable of fully comprehending the true long-term risk of puberty blockers, cross-sex hormones and surgeries,” Tennessee Sen. Jack Johnson (R) said on the Senate floor on Monday.
Later this week, Kansas House and Senate committees will hear four bills limiting transgender rights and LGBTQ protections. Last week, legislatures in Indiana and North Dakota advanced bills related to parental rights and school districts, while legislators in Nebraska heard testimony about a bill barring gender-affirming care for minors.
While supporters of bills to limit transgender care say they are doing so to protect a child’s long-term health from consequences they cannot appreciate in the moment, opponents characterize the bills as an unnecessary government intrusion on the most private elements of a vulnerable person’s life.
“We are bringing up issues that take away people’s freedoms,” Tennessee Sen. Heidi Campbell (D) said Monday before she voted against the bill banning gender-affirming care. “Anyone who has spent time with our trans friends and family knows there is absolutely nothing wrong with them. They’re just living their lives, and I just don’t know why we want to make that harder.”
Campbell and other Democrats who spoke against the Tennessee bill said gender-affirming care is a years-long process that involves multiple health care and mental health providers. A study released in December by The Trevor Project, an LGBTQ organization that works to prevent suicide, found that gender-affirming hormone therapy alone is linked to lower rates of depression and suicide risk among transgender youth.
The bills “really isolate transgender people, particularly transgender youth, and cuts out the support system from their community, and that leads to increased suicidal ideation, depression [and] anxiety,” Sarah Warbelow, legal director at the Human Rights Campaign, told Pluribus News in a recent interview. “Because they’re getting the message from lawmakers and the public that they’re not welcome.”
LGBTQ organizations and transgender rights groups have mounted protests this year, and showed up at hearings where they testify against legislation.
But with so many bills advancing through legislatures, none of those protests have reached the level of intensity, or received the attention, that ultimately reversed North Carolina’s bathroom bill.
“This same bill is showing up in other states with this extreme plan to change freedoms for these people, with the same language, to divide us,” Tennessee’s Campbell said.