GOP governors embrace political assault on transgender kids

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Republican governors have seized on anti-trans legislation as one of their current wedge issues.

Republican state lawmakers are continuing to push legislation in 2022 that targets transgender people, trying to ban them from using the bathrooms of their gender, participating in school sports, and receiving gender-affirming health care, and to restrict LGBTQ-related content in classrooms. Republicans governors are among those who have been particularly outspoken in championing such bills, with some advocating for and writing legislation themselves and others making anti-trans rhetoric a key part of their gubernatorial campaigns.

Observers note that Republican lawmakers and anti-LGBTQ groups seized on anti-trans legislation as a new wedge issue following their unsuccessful fight against marriage equality. Those pushing them claim the bills are about protecting children and families and "fairness in sports."

These Republican governors have fully embraced those messages.

Kristi Noem

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem herself this year proposed S.B. 46, a transgender sports ban, after she issued two executive orders instituting such bans in 2021. The bill, which says that "biological sex is either female or male as described by the sex listed on the athlete's official birth certificate issued at or near the time of the athlete's birth," passed the Legislature on Feb. 1 and was signed into law by the governor on Feb. 3. Noem has used the legislation to bolster her reelection campaign by promoting it in a national advertisement this year.

Greg Abbott

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott passionately fought trans rights at every turn last year after he was accused by a Republican rival of being too soft on the issue. In October, Abbott signed a transgender sports ban into law after repeatedly pushing for it during multiple special legislative sessions.

Abbott also sought to block health care for trans kids, referring to gender-affirming surgery that is rarely performed on minors "genital mutilation" and prodding the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services to declare that gender-affirming surgeries are child abuse. Abbott referred to these procedures, which are very rarely performed as minors, as "genital mutilation."

Right-wing groups are continuing their efforts to ban gender-affirming care for minors in Texas: The American Principles Project, a conservative think tank that has taken a significant role in pushing the current right-wing narrative that transgender kids are hurting school sports for cisgender kids, announced on Feb. 4 that it would spend $1 million on a campaign to call on Abbott to support a bill that classifies all gender-affirming care for transgender minors as child abuse.

Glenn Youngkin

Campaigning for governor of Virginia in 2021, Glenn Youngkin frequently brought up issues of so-called "parental rights" that conservatives have embraced to oppose any school classroom teaching about racism, LGBTQ history, comprehensive sex education, and any affirmation of transgender identity.

Early in his campaign, Youngkin took a stance against transgender athletes in school sports, saying during a voter meet-and-greet in March 2021, "Biological males should not be allowed to play sports in girls sports. It's just not fair." In June, Youngkin defended Virginia teacher Tanner Cross, who was put on administrative leave after he said at a school board meeting, "I will not affirm that a biological boy can be a girl." Youngkin said Cross' views were "in the best interest of the children."

Sworn into office as governor on Jan. 15, Youngkin has already started appointing anti-LGBTQ activists to his administration.

Ron DeSantis

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the state's trans sports ban into law on June 1, 2021, the first day of LGBTQ Pride Month. It was the first anti-LGBTQ law enacted in the state in 23 years, according to Equality Florida.

DeSantis, who is a potential candidate for president in 2024, said, "I can tell you that in Florida, girls are going to play girls' sports and boys are going to play boys' sports."

The governor has also said he would support a ban on gender-affirming care for transgender youth and in June called such health care "chemical castration of minors," according to the LGBTQ-focused website them.

Bill Lee and Greg Gianforte

Although many Republican governors were supportive of anti-trans bills in 2021, the governors of Tennessee and Montana were particularly effective in achieving their agendas. Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee was very busy enacting anti-trans laws in 2021: Lee signed a transgender sports ban into law in March, claiming, despite a complete lack of evidence, that transgender girls and women would "destroy women's sports." In May, he signed into law a bill that effectively prohibits transgender students from using the bathroom and locker facilities corresponding to their gender and one that requires businesses to post transphobic warning signs if they allow transgender people to use the bathroom of their gender. That same month, Lee put his signature on a bill that says schools have to tell parents ahead of time of any instruction in the classroom related to "sexual orientation or gender identity."

In 2021, Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte signed into law a transgender sports ban and a bill requiring parental notification prior to the teaching in school classrooms of LGBTQ subjects, including gender identity.

"This bill sets a dangerous precedent in secondary education that would not only limit access to sex education, but any curriculum regarding LGBTQ people," the Human Rights Campaign stated in response.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.