As President Joe Biden called for the passage of the Equality Act during his 70-minute address to Congress on Wednesday night, lawmakers in Florida and West Virginia advanced anti-transgender legislation in their respective states.
“To all the transgender Americans watching at home — especially the young people who are so brave — I want you to know that your president has your back,” Biden said as he urged Congress to pass the Equality Act, which would expand the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to include LGBTQ protections, among others.
As Biden was speaking, Florida Republicans sent an anti-trans athlete bill to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk to sign into law. And West Virginia Gov. Jim Justice (R) signed a bill into law that prohibits trans girls and women from competing on sports teams at “any public secondary school or state institution of higher education.”
Unfortunately, Florida and West Virginia are not alone. 2021 is shaping up to be the most dangerous year on the books for the LGBTQ community, with a baffling number of anti-LGBTQ and specifically anti-trans youth bills being introduced in state legislatures across the country.
In just the first four months of 2021, there have been at least 250 anti-LGBTQ bills under consideration in different parts of the country. More than 120 of those bills directly impact trans youth by attempting to criminalize parents or doctors for providing gender-affirming medical care, as well as by banning trans children from competing in sports.
“The goal is to eradicate trans-ness,” Chase Strangio, an attorney and deputy director for transgender justice at the American Civil Liberties Union, told HuffPost earlier this month. “These bills are being pushed through on theories that claim that it’s harmful to be trans, that trans people aren’t real and the state should come in to stop people from living their authentic trans selves.”
The Equality Act explicitly extends the nondiscrimination protections enshrined in the Civil Rights Act of 1964 to the LGBTQ community, ensuring that people are legally protected from being discriminated against based on their sexual orientation and gender identity.
The House passed the Equality Act in 2019, but it died in the then-Republican-controlled Senate. In February, the House again passed the legislation, and advocates are fearful it could stall in the Senate again. Many are hopeful that it will have a better chance at becoming law this time around with strong support from a Democratic president.
Biden previously pledged to sign the Equality Act into law in his first 100 days as president but did not get to his promise, since Thursday marks that milestone.
Kai Shappley, a fourth-grade transgender girl from Austin, Texas, who is also a trans advocate, pointed out the irony in a tweet after Biden said he would protect trans youth. “I’m very thankful for this,” she tweeted. “But, what does having my back mean? Like, if the bills pass in Texas will you keep them from putting my mom in jail?”
In Shappley’s home state of Texas, lawmakers are pushing a bill that would make it a crime for parents to allow their transgender children to get gender-affirming medical procedures. The bill would define gender-affirming medical care as child abuse and make it legal to remove trans or gender-queer kids from their homes if their parents affirmed their gender identity.
Of the 120 bills targeting trans youth, over half of them would ban trans kids from participating in sports consistent with their gender identities, like the legislation in Florida and West Virginia. These sports bills are rooted in the false belief that “biological men,” as proponents of the bills call trans girls, will take over women’s sports. In order to prevent this and to allegedly protect cisgender girls and women, lawmakers are trying to ban all transgender children from competing on sports teams consistent with their gender identities.
“Legislators across the country have neglected to name any examples of the sky falling based on transgender athletes’ participation in youth sports. That is because those examples simply don’t exist, and athletic organizations have welcomed transgender athletes’ participation for years without incident,” Human Rights Campaign President Alphonso David said in a statement responding to Florida’s anti-trans sports bill.
These bills go against recommendations from some of the most respected medical organizations in the country, including the American Medical Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychiatric Association.
The bills that have passed into law will have an immediate and lasting effect on trans and non-binary kids. At least 45,000 trans youth are at risk of losing medical care if many of these bills pass, according to a new study from the Williams Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law.
And transgender children’s mental health will suffer greatly. Trans and non-binary kids already face higher rates of depression, anxiety and suicidal tendencies than their cisgender peers. In 2019, 1 in 3 transgender kids reported they had attempted suicide, and nearly one-third reported being a victim of sexual violence, according to a study from The Trevor Project, an organization that offers crisis intervention and suicide prevention for LGBTQ youth.
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