GOP lawmakers have pushed 109 anti-LGBTQ bills so far this year

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The bills target transgender people's access to sports, LGBTQ-inclusive sex education, and health care.

Republicans are pushing more anti-LGBTQ bills in legislatures across the nation than they did last year or the year before, according to the ACLU's tracking of the legislation.

In 2021, state lawmakers have introduced at least 109 bills opposing LGBTQ rights in some way, whether they're trying to keep mentions of queer, transgender and nonbinary people out of education programs or ban transgender youth from playing on the sports team of their gender.

In 2020, lawmakers introduced 84 anti-LGBTQ bills, and in 2019, they advocated for 55 pieces of legislation opposing LGBTQ equality, according to the ACLU.

Of the 108 anti-LGBTQ bills, 73 are specific to fighting against transgender rights. Twenty-one bills across 17 states prohibit trans-affirming health care such as puberty blockers, and 44 bills across 25 states are related to bans on transgender people playing on sports teams corresponding to their gender.

Banning transgender people from sports

Republicans have introduced bills that attempt to block transgender people, mostly transgender girls, from playing the sports team of their gender. The bills, as well as legislation attacking trans-affirming health care, often have strikingly similar titles and language, and have been pushed by several prominent anti-LGBTQ groups, including the Heritage Foundation, the Family Policy Alliance, and the Alliance Defending Freedom.

An Arkansas bill would amend the state constitution to require that interscholastic and intramural athletic teams sponsored by public schools be "expressly designated based on biological sex." A Minnesota bill would make it a violation of an existing statute for a public elementary school or secondary school or school in the Minnesota State High School League to allow a transgender girl to compete in girls sports. Another Minnesota bill would provide criminal penalties for transgender girls playing on girls sports teams. South Dakota and Mississippi have passed sports ban bills that both governors have vowed to sign into law.

The Montana, North Dakota, Tennessee, and Utah legislatures have passed similar bills in one chamber this session, according to the ACLU's tracking. Arkansas' Senate passed such a bill on Wednesday. Experts on these bills say that the pandemic slowed down their progress last year, but they have gained more momentum this year.

A recent Morning Consult poll found that 74% of Republican voters support a ban on transgender girls and women playing on sports teams for girls and women compared to 40% of Democratic voters.

Despite the messaging from Republicans that restrictions on sports are for girls and women's equality, a lower percentage of women overall supported the policy, 46% compared to 59% of men. A Hart Research poll on behalf of the Human Rights Campaign released in October of last year found that between 1% and 3% of likely voters said the issue of transgender people playing sports would be important to them when they went to the polls.

Limiting trans youth's health care

Republicans' larger efforts against transgender equality also extend to punishing health care providers for providing hormone treatments and puberty blockers to transgender young people.

An Alabama bill that prohibits such health care for transgender youth passed the Senate this month. Doctors who violate the law would face a maximum of 10 years in prison. The legislation would also tell schools that they must out transgender children to their parents.

A bill introduced in the Kentucky General Assembly would mandate that a medical professional who provides gender-affirming health care to young people could possibly have their license revoked. In Arkansas, the House passed a bill that would make it illegal for transgender young people to receive hormone treatments and other trans-affirming health care. Although many of these bills also prohibit surgery for transgender minors, LGBTQ advocates and physicians say that including this in the legislation is misleading, since kids aren't getting such surgeries.

Religious exemptions that harm LGBTQ rights

Republicans are also championing legislation that provides religious exemptions, whether in health care, adoption care, or, in the case of Iowa legislation, in the general definition of marriage, sex, and gender. At least 25 such bills have been introduced.

A bill has been passed and signed into law by Republican Gov. Kristi Noem of South Dakota that the Human Rights Campaign says grants "a license to discriminate against LGBTQ people across a wide range of goods and services," including by businesses, adoption agencies, and government officials. The organization has also called it the "first major Religious Freedom Restoration Act threat in six years."

At one time, in anticipation of and following the Supreme Court's 2015 landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges upholding marriage equality, such bills were the primary strategy for anti-LGBTQ groups, policy experts say.

Anti-LGBTQ groups and the lawmakers who support their work have now turned their attention to anti-trans bills after Indiana's Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which allowed people to discriminate on the basis of religious claims, caused a national outcry and led to fears in the Indiana business community of an exodus of money from the state.

Regulating LGBTQ-inclusive education

There are at least six bills that focus on keeping all mentions of LGBTQ people out of schools. Legislatures in Missouri, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Tennessee, Arizona, and Iowa all have introduced bills forbidding schools from teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation. Some of the bills require that parents be notified and sign off on any mention of sexual orientation and gender identity, even if an educational program is about human sexuality, as in Missouri. Other legislation, such as Arizona's, says schools' sex education curricula must "emphasize biological sex and not gender identities." 

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.