Here's who's behind the GOP assault on transgender rights

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These right-wing organizations have long records of crafting anti-LGBTQ legislation.

Republican state lawmakers have introduced bills across the country that would make transgender children's lives harder.

Advocacy groups say a small number of influential and well-funded anti-LGBTQ groups are driving the efforts to enact the legislation, as they did with similar bills last year.

Eighteen bills have been introduced in 2021 so far that restrict transgender kids' health care, along with 33 bills that relate to keeping transgender children from playing on the sports team of their gender, according to the ACLU's tracking.

The Human Rights Campaign said the legislation is the result of pushes in the states not from concerned community members but rather from national groups providing model bills, with the language and titles strikingly similar across states. In Florida and Georgia, for example, the bills aimed at criminalizing trans-affirming health care for young people are titled the Vulnerable Child Protection Act, while a similar bill in Alabama is called the Vulnerable Child Compassion and Protection Act.

The right-wing organizations Alliance Defending Freedom, Eagle Forum, Concerned Women for America, and the Heritage Foundation were behind many of the anti-trans bills introduced last year, according to the Human Rights Campaign. The group said they are likely driving many of the bills introduced in the current legislative sessions.

HRC's research has established that the Alliance Defending Freedom had a hand in Montana's bill, which says transgender student athletes can't play on the team of their gender.

The Alliance Defending Freedom, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated as an anti-LGBTQ hate group, and its attorneys repeatedly deny that transgender women are women and have referred to LGBTQ rights as a "degradation of our human dignity." The group's legal counsel applauded the introduction of legislation in Congress to prevent trans athletes from playing on the team of their gender.

Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, said, "We know that legislators are getting this kind of scary misinformation from some of these national sources and then taking it back to their home state. ... Alliance Defending Freedom has on several occasions said that, should a state be sued for one of these pieces of anti-trans legislation, that they would be happy to take care of the litigation."

The Eagle Forum has stoked fears about transgender children, writing that "a transgender flood is coming to our schools." At its 2020 Eagle Council event, Vernadette Broyles, the president of a group called the Child and Parental Rights Campaign, shared a slide that referred to "Vulnerable Child Protection Acts" as the only way to fight what she called an "insidious" movement to harm children and families.

Concerned Women of America's website shares talking points that say policies protecting transgender people from discrimination "opens wide the door to sexual predators searching for victims."

The Heritage Foundation's website is promoting an upcoming virtual event called "The Promise to America's Kids: Protecting Kids From Extreme Gender Ideology and Laws" with a subheading that reads, "Radical gender ideology endangers children's minds, bodies, and relationships with their parents—and the Equality Act would cement it into law.

Shoshana K. Goldberg, a researcher whose work focuses on LGBTQ health, reproductive health, and adolescent health, said in a report published on the Center for American Progress' website that the bills are addressing problems that simply don't exist. Goldberg noted that transgender athletes have competed in sports for many years without hurting cisgender athletes.

The issue of trans athletes competing in sports doesn't seem to concern most voters. Only between 1% and 3% of likely voters polled by Hart Research on behalf of the Human Rights Campaign last year said that transgender people's participation in sports was an important issue for them when deciding how to vote. In its report on the polling, Hart wrote, "In each state, 60% or more of Trump voters say transgender people should be able to live freely and openly, and 87% or more say transgender people should have equal access to medical care."

Republican lawmakers have also made efforts to scare families about the use of puberty blockers as they try to pass bills that penalize physicians for providing them or for giving transgender youth hormone treatments. They suggest that the treatments are harmful to children, but, as the Mayo Clinic notes, the drugs provide transgender young people with the time to make decisions about what is best for them.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a policy statement in 2018 stating that puberty blockers can help transgender youth "reduce distress" and the need for surgery later in life.

In recent state legislative sessions, some bills have been introduced that focus on school policies that affect transgender students. A 2020 Arizona bill that died during the session would have prevented school staff from being penalized for refusing to use transgender kids' correct pronouns; a bill introduced in 2021 in the Alabama Legislature would require school staff to out transgender youth to their families.

HRC's Oakley said that these attacks on the well-being of transgender youth is the expected result of past unsuccessful efforts by anti-LGBTQ groups to push legislation to stop LGBTQ equality, including religion-based refusal bills, bathroom bills, and so-called child welfare bills.

"When you look at these organizations that are really founded on attacking equality, across racial equality, religious quality, gender equality, and LGBTQ equality, their fight against marriage equality didn't work. ... It stopped being controversial," she said.

Oakley added, "At this point, they're at the level of desperation where they go after trans kids."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.