Experts say onslaught of anti-transgender bills is a losing strategy for the GOP


A new poll shows that many Republican voters oppose legal restrictions against transgender youth.

Bills introduced in state legislatures nationwide, overwhelmingly by Republican lawmakers, would restrict transition-related health care for transgender youth and keep them off the school sports team of their gender. Experts on LGBTQ policy matters, however, say the strategy of pushing such bills may not pay off in the long run, and polling data backs them up.

The bills, many of which contain strikingly similar language, have been pushed by anti-LGBTQ groups such as the Heritage Foundation, Family Policy Alliance, and the Alliance Defending Freedom. The website of Promise to America's Children, a coalition of right-wing groups that includes those three groups, features a page through which lawmakers are able to request model legislation on these issues.

Experts on LGBTQ policy say this avalanche of anti-trans bills is unlike anything they've seen in the past few years.

"In terms of the sort of modern 2015-and-since legislation, this is absolutely historic here," said Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel at the Human Rights Campaign. "I think we're likely going to double or come close to doubling the previous record of anti-trans legislation filed in the states. We're already at a record high number for anti-LGBT legislation filed."

This year, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson signed a bill banning gender-affirming care for minors. The governors of Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi have signed sports bans. South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem issued executive orders regulating transgender girls' and women's participation in sports.

The North Dakota, Alabama, and West Virginia legislatures have passed sports bans that are waiting on governors' signatures. In the past week, anti-trans legislation has also advanced in Texas and Florida.

But a new poll, conducted from April 3 to 7 and released on Friday, suggests that this national effort by Republicans and the anti-LGBTQ movement may not be resonating with as many people on the right as they would have hoped. According to a National Public Radio/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll, only 29% of self-identified Republicans said they'd support a transgender sports ban bill, similar to percentages of Democrats, at 25%, and independents, at 28%, who said the same.

The poll also found that the majority of Republicans and Democrats oppose bills that prohibit gender-affirming care for minors, with 70% of Republicans saying they were against the legislation. Fifty-five percent of Republicans said they did not support bills that criminalized the provision of that care. A majority of the adults polled opposed both kinds of bills.

Although the polling showed that the majority of Republicans do not want transgender kids to be allowed to play on the sports team of their gender, experts on the polling said many people aren't interested in actually legislating this on the state level.

Lee Miringoff, director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, told National Public Radio, "There was a reluctance on the part of many people to move in the direction of imposing a ban on gender rights that has been suggested in many states. There clearly is a sense that a lot of people don't want to legislate this at the state level. They do not want to move in a direction of formally discriminating in these regards."

A Hart Research poll on behalf of the Human Rights Campaign conducted before the 2020 election found that between 1% and 3% of likely voters said that transgender people's participation in sports would be an important issue for them when deciding how to vote. Eighty-seven percent of Trump voters said transgender people should have equal access to medical care as other Americans.

Oakley said of the motivations behind the anti-trans state bills, "I think that opponents to LGBTQ equality suspected Trump was going to lose and they needed to be able to have some kind of ongoing relevancy post-Trump."

Following attempts to weaken marriage equality after the landmark 2015 Supreme Court decision in Obergefell v. Hodges made it the law of the land, and efforts to push legislation focusing on transgender people's bathroom access were met with legal opposition, anti-LGBTQ groups looked to their next project, Oakley said. They decided to target transgender children.

Despite this, she said, she doesn't see this strategy working for them over the long haul.

"Even Trump voters are saying that trans people should be able to live their lives really and openly," Oakley said.

She added, "People are starting to understand what is happening here, and their understanding is that this is not based in fact and that it is truly discrimination. In the last few weeks, the media coverage has changed. People's awareness of this has changed. So I think that they really made a miscalculation."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.