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Anti-transgender legislation has been introduced in more than 30 states in 2021

There has been a wave of anti-transgender legislation in the U.S., with many of the bills aimed at excluding transgender athletes and banning certain treatments.
Credit: AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis
A copy of Mississippi's Senate Bill 2536, banning transgender athletes from competing on girls or women's sports teams, awaits Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves' signature by use of his official pens, Thursday morning, March 11, 2021, at the Mississippi Capitol in Jackson, Miss.

Many states have moved forward this year with legislation restricting the rights of transgender individuals. The Florida House of Representatives on April 14 passed a bill that would ban transgender girls from participating in female-designated school sports. On April 6, the Arkansas Legislature overrode the governor’s veto to pass a bill that bans gender-affirming health care for transgender youth.

As more states act on legislation that targets transgender people, there have been many claims made on social media about the topic. A tweet that has been shared more than 6,000 times says 33 states have introduced anti-transgender legislation in 2021.

THE QUESTION

Have 33 states introduced anti-transgender legislation in 2021?

THE SOURCES

THE ANSWER

   

This is true.

Yes, legislation that targets transgender people has been introduced in at least 33 states in 2021, according to three organizations tracking anti-transgender bills.

WHAT WE FOUND

A transgender person is a person whose gender identity differs from the sex they were assigned at birth. A cisgender person is someone who is not transgender, someone whose gender identity aligns with the sex they were assigned at birth.

There are several organizations tracking anti-transgender bills being introduced across the U.S. One of them is Human Rights Campaign (HRC), an LGBTQ advocacy group. In a press release from March 13, HRC said more anti-transgender bills has been introduced in 2021 than any other year in American history. In a tweet on April 19, HRC said it had found 33 states where anti-transgender legislation had been introduced.

Two other organizations, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and Freedom for All Americans (FFAA), have also compiled a list of anti-transgender bills. The ACLU has found 33 states that have introduced anti-transgender legislation this year, while FFAA says 35 states have proposed legislation that targets transgender people.

Jennifer Pizer, law and policy director for Lambda Legal, a national legal organization working to secure full civil rights for LGBTQ people and everyone living with HIV, said other LGBTQ issues, such as gay marriage, have been used in the past to mobilize conservative voters. She said conservative groups like The Heritage Foundation can be linked to the wave of anti-transgender legislation. 

“It’s not a new phenomenon,” Pizer said. “We’ve been through this again and again and again.”

The Heritage Foundation, which works to “promote conservative public policies,” has published commentaries arguing transgender women should not be allowed to compete in female-designated sports, and supporting bills like the one passed in Arkansas, which limits treatment options for transgender youth.

Many of the anti-transgender bills in state legislatures are aimed at transgender youth. 

Bills have been introduced in more than 30 states that would ban transgender girls from participating in female-designated school sports, according to the ACLU and FFAA. Supporters of the legislation say the bills promote fairness for cisgender girls, arguing transgender girls have an unfair physical advantage. 

Pizer said a debate focused on competitive fairness is essentially creating a problem that doesn’t exist because there are limited real-life examples of the issue.

In Connecticut, a federal lawsuit was filed in 2020 by the families of three cisgender female high school athletes seeking to ban transgender girls from female-designated sports, arguing allowing transgender athletes limits championship and scholarship opportunities. 

But there has not been widespread reports of transgender girls winning at a level that demonstrates an unfair advantage. The Associated Press reported in March that out of more than 20 state lawmakers who were sponsoring transgender athlete ban bills, only a few knew of reported issues from transgender athletes competing in female-designated sports.

Republican Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who signed a bill in March 2021 banning transgender athletes from competing in female-designated sports, said he’s not aware of any instances when transgender girls competing caused problems.

“If you just look at Arkansas itself, there’s not any cases of biological males trying to compete in women’s sports,” he told The New York Times. “It’s not a problem that’s being addressed. It’s a concern about a future potential problem and what the legislature sees as trends across the country.”

A ban in Idaho on transgender girls competing in female-designated sports was challenged by the ACLU in 2020, and a federal judge temporarily blocked the ban “because the court finds plaintiffs are likely to succeed in establishing the act is unconstitutional as currently written.”

The National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) board of governors issued a statement on April 12, saying it supports transgender athletes competing in college athletics. The NCAA allows for transgender women to compete in female-designated sports if they’ve undergone testosterone suppression treatment for at least a year

The NCAA’s board of governors also said it will take into account where athletes are able to compete when selecting sites to host its various championship events.

“When determining where championships are held, NCAA policy directs that only locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination should be selected,” the board of governors said in the statement. “We will continue to closely monitor these situations to determine whether NCAA championships can be conducted in ways that are welcoming and respectful of all participants.”

Another common thread among the anti-transgender bills is the prohibition of certain health care options for transgender youth. These bills, which the ACLU and FFAA say have been proposed in more than a dozen states, prohibit gender-affirming care like puberty blockers and hormone treatments. Some bills would make it a crime for a doctor to provide gender-affirming care to transgender youth. 

The Mayo Clinic says puberty blockers are prescription medications that temporarily suppress puberty, which can ease distress for children who experience gender dysphoria and for children experiencing puberty at a much younger age than average. Hormone treatments are used to help people alter their hormone levels to match their gender identity, and research has shown the treatment can be safe and effective, the Mayo Clinic said.

Supporters argue gender-affirming care is experimental, and therefore the legislation protects children. The bill that was passed in Arkansas is titled the “Arkansas Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act.” The text of a similar House bill in Alabama says, “Absent rigorous studies showing their long-term safety and positive benefits, their continued administration to children constitutes dangerous and uncontrolled human medical experimentation that may result in grave and irreversible consequences to their physical and mental health.”

But major medical groups, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association and the Endocrine Society have publicly opposed the bills, saying there is evidence-based treatment options for transgender youth.

“Proponents of these disturbing bills often falsely assert that transgender care for minors is extreme or experimental,” the American Medical Associaton said in a statement on March 26. “In fact, clinical guidelines established by professional medical organizations for the care of minors promote supportive interventions based on the current evidence and that enable young people to explore and live as the gender that they choose.”

Alejandra Caraballo, staff attorney for the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund, expects legal challenges, on the basis of sex discrimination, to anti-transgender bills that become law.

“We’ve already seen at least one bill that was passed last year in Idaho enjoined in the litigation of Hecox v. Little,” Caraballo said in reference to Idaho’s transgender athlete ban. “And I think many of the bills will meet a similar fate in the courts.”

VERIFY
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