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Section 5.1 Understanding the Issue

We begin by investigating key definitions necessary to understand transgender and nonbinary identities and how they are targeted by recent bills.

Exercises Anti-Trans Bills in the U.S. Starting 2018

Exercise Group.

The following questions are about bills prohibiting various types of transition and healthcare for trans and nonbinary people in the U.S., primarily proposed and passed beginning in 2018. Think about your personal definition, then do some research online, to find definitions of the following terms. Be sure to use reputable websites: most university/college sites (put "site:*.edu" at the end of your Google search), the leading professional organizations (American Medical Association, American Pediatric Association, American Psychological Association), the Genderbread Person 89 , and (usually) the sources linked from Wikipedia are all options. In what way(s) do your personal definition(s) agree and disagree with the Internet definitions?
Biological sex.
Assigned sex at birth.
Gender identity.
Social and medical transition.
Gender-affirming healthcare.
Drag performance.
We emphasize the years since 2018 in this analysis because, in 2019, the conservative Heritage Foundation and conservative Christian Family Policy Alliance distributed a model strategy for banning gender-affirming care to state legislators at a conference (Harvard Law Review 2021). In 2020, a conference attendee and South Dakota legislator published a version of the bill seeking to criminalize doctors' provision of puberty blockers and hormones to transgender patients under the age of 16. Similar bills followed the same year: in Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, and South Carolina (Bauer 2020). Though the 2020 bills failed, the language in bills in South Carolina, South Dakota, and Arkansas in 2021 attempting to allow physicians to refuse to treat transgender children shared similar language, which originated in a “Model Conscience Protection Act” published by Kevin Theriot and Ken Connelly of the conservative Alliance Defending Freedom (Theriot and Connelly, n.d.). As we will see below, more and more bills are being proposed, and more are passing, every year since.
These bills go against studies showing that transgender children between the age of 5 and 12 viewed their gender identities similarly to cisgender children (Olson, Key, and Eaton 2015), among other academic studies. The leading association of pediatricians in the United States recommends “that youth who identify as [transgender] have access to comprehensive, gender-affirming, and developmentally appropriate health care that is provided in a safe and inclusive clinical space…[and] that pediatricians have a role in advocating for policies and laws that protect youth who identify as [transgender] from discrimination and violence (Rafferty et al. 2018).”
We briefly describe how each aspect of gender-affirming healthcare is targeted by the categories of bills used in the data analysis below. Social transition is targeted through youth athletics bills preventing young people from competing on sports teams under their identified gender. ID requirements prevent the changing of the “sex” listed on birth certificates, driver's licenses, and other government IDs.Public facilities laws prevent all trans people from using restrooms and other gendered public facilities that match their gender identity. Schools/education laws vary but include laws banning teachers from using students' correct pronouns at all or without parental permission, discussing queer and trans/nonbinary identities in the classroom, and displaying items such as pride flags supporting queer and trans identities, among others.
Drag performance laws (perhaps better categorized as “gender expression laws”), a recent development as of 2023, ban drag shows or “male or female impersonators” in certain circumstances, such as “in the presence of minors” (Tennessee's Senate Bill 3) or on Sundays from 1 a.m. to 12 p.m. (Arizona's SB 1030). Laws barring municipalities from passing nondiscrimination protections, as well as religious freedom laws, legalize discrimination in certain circumstances against LGBTQ+ people, particularly by those with a “strongly felt religious conviction” that being LGBTQ+ is wrong. Finally, healthcare laws prevent gender-affirming care for various groups in various ways, often including bans on hormone therapy and surgery for those under 18.
In the rest of this chapter, you will identify and analyze recent anti-trans and anti-nonbinary bills over time, focusing on their impacts, whether or not they passed, and other details that impact people's lives.