Guide for Journalists: Reporting On Anti-Trans State Legislation

This post is updated continuously. Latest update: July 15, 2021.

This year has seen an unprecedented number of state legislature introductions of bills that target transgender people, primarily with a focus on trans youth. As of July 15, at least 121 bills have been proposed around the country targeting transgender people and youth. That includes 36 healthcare bans in 22 states, and 66 sports bans in 36 states. In addition, other anti-LGBTQ bills filed including laws mandating that restrooms be restricted by sex assigned at birth, laws that allow medical providers to discriminate against LGBTQ people, laws that would force teachers to call trans students by their deadnames, bills that would prevent anti-LGBTQ conversion therapy from being banned, and more. In total, more than 139 anti-LGBTQ bills have been proposed this session—most of them targeting the transgender community. [Note: the number of bills changes regularly, so generalized statements like “at least TK bills in the majority of U.S. states” are preferable for quick accuracy.]

So far, nine states (Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, South Dakota, Tennessee, and West Virginia) have passed laws that restrict trans student athletes from participating in school sports.

Arkansas became the first state to pass a bill into law banning gender-affirming healthcare for minors - overriding Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto. He had called the bill a “vast overreach.” In May, Tennessee governor Bill Lee signed into law a ban on gender-affirming hormone therapy for "prepubertal minors." Because trans youth generally only receive hormone-related medication upon the onset of puberty, the law doesn't technically impact care for the majority of trans youth—but it does demonstrate a vast lack of understanding and a willingness to intervene in medical care in discriminatory and inappropriate ways.

What do anti-trans bills do and what’s the problem?

The current slate of anti-trans legislation around the country typically falls into one of the three following categories:

  • Bans on gender-affirming healthcare for minors. These laws typically target doctors and healthcare providers and sometimes parents, making it illegal—often with associated criminal charges—to consent to or provide gender-affirming healthcare to trans youth. Some bills would revoke the medical licenses of doctors who agree to provide care for trans youth, including mental health services. In some cases where healthcare for trans youth would be classified as child abuse, kids could be removed from their homes and placed in state care.

  • Bills that restrict access to athletic programs based on sex assigned at birth. These laws typically target trans girls and women, with trans boys, nonbinary and gender non-conforming youth, and intersex youth impacted as well. These bills seek to restrict sports participation based on sex assigned at birth, with the result being that trans girls would be forced to participate on boys’ teams, and trans boys would be forced onto girls’ teams. One of the harshest proposed laws would charge children as young as 13 with a misdemeanor if found playing sports with other kids of their same gender.

  • “Bathroom bills” that limit access based on sex assigned at birth. While the most prominent so-called “bathroom bill” was North Carolina’s HB2 in 2016, the bills have not gone away. Currently there are several that aim to block trans people and kids from using the restroom or locker room that corresponds to their gender identity and presentation.

All three types of legislation are unnecessary (they are solutions in search of a problem) and are driven by longtime anti-LGBTQ activist groups spreading misinformation about trans youth. Already this year, parents have begged legislators not to police their children’s doctors, and brave kids and teens have testified at state and federal hearings. Medical associations and doctors have spoken out against the healthcare bans, too (see: “what’s the latest” sections below.)

Anti-trans sports bans are often promoted under the guise of “saving women’s sports,” but athletes and researchers have said that equal access to sports for women and girls faces real threats that have nothing to do with trans inclusion—threats like lack of funding, sexual assault, and pay disparities. Anti-trans sports legislation is not about “protecting women and girls”; equality is for everyone, not a zero-sum game. Last week GLAAD circulated an open letter signed by over 700 feminist leaders, women’s groups, and celebrities in support of trans equality. Gloria Steinem stated that she signed the letter because “we all must fight against the unnecessary barriers placed on trans women and girls by lawmakers and those who co-opt the feminist label in the name of division and hatred.”

Polling: How do Americans feel about anti-trans laws?

Americans overwhelmingly reject state legislation efforts that target trans people and limit their access to healthcare and athletics. An April 16 PBS NewsHour/NPR/Marist poll found that two-thirds of Americans are against such laws. In fact, when asked if they support or oppose legislation banning transition-related healthcare for minors, 70 percent of Republicans opposed—the highest percentage of any group. Overall, 66 percent of Americans said they oppose the healthcare bans, and 67 percent of Americans said they oppose anti-trans sports bans.

Who is behind the push for these anti-trans state laws?

National women’s advocates and feminist groups are not behind the anti-trans laws. In fact, the current wave has been tied to a small coalition of longtime anti-LGBTQ activist groups that turned their focus on attacking trans youth after losing their battle to stop marriage equality. The ‘Promise to America’s Children’ coalition (helmed by Alliance Defending Freedom, Family Policy Alliance, and Heritage Foundation) lobbies against the Equality Act and offers model state legislation to further its agenda of hate, and is essentially the same lobby responsible for the anti-trans “bathroom bills” that swept the country during the span of 2015-2017. These groups largely lost the “bathroom bill” fight after North Carolina’s HB2 fallout cost the state an estimated $3.76 billion in losses, and they turned their ire to attacking trans youth through their doctors and parents (access to healthcare) and their coaches and gym teachers (access to sports.)

The Promise coalition is well-funded and deeply connected to local, state, and federal government. On its website, it published a list of allied elected officials in around 15 states, most of which are also considering anti-trans laws. And alumni of training programs—such as ADF’s Blackstone Legal Fellowship and Family Policy Alliance’s Statesman Academy—can be found in prominent legal and political positions. Amy Coney Barrett and Sen. Josh Hawley are examples of Blackstone fellows, and former Reagan admin Attorney General Edwin Meese (of the infamous anti-porn Meese report) is a member of the fellowship’s advisory board. In 2018, Media Matters identified over 100 ADF alumni and other affiliates serving in influential government positions, including "multiple federal agencies, the U.S. Congress, state legislatures, school boards, city councils, and even federal courts." The Family Policy Alliance recently stated that graduates of its training program now serve in public office in 33 states across the country. Former Vice President Mike Pence is a current Heritage Foundation fellow.

All kids deserve the right to play sports with their friends, to have healthcare that meets their needs, and to use restrooms and locker rooms that align with their gender. No one with a stake in the game is actually asking for these laws; parents of trans kids are not asking for them, athletic departments and coaches are not asking for them, medical professionals and associations are not asking for them. States that pass discriminatory sports bans take decision-making power away from parents and families, schools, coaches, and players—and most importantly, are risking real, lasting harm to youth in the process. States that pass discriminatory healthcare bans put youth at immediate risk, will experience pushback from the medical industry, and will uproot families that are forced to relocate in order to continue life-saving medical care for their kids. States that pass anti-trans laws in general risk legal action as well as corporate flight. Already, corporate leaders have spoken out against discriminatory anti-trans laws and warned that business will be impacted; athletic bodies like the NCAA have pledged not to host events in states that pass discriminatory athletic bans.

Who’s speaking out against anti-trans state laws?

  • On April 6, Tom Walton of the Walton Family Foundation (the Waltons are the founders of Walmart) issued a statement saying in part, “We are alarmed by the string of policy targeting LGBTQ people in Arkansas.”

  • On April 7, leaders from four multinational corporations (Unilever, Mars, Nestle, Danone) penned an op-ed for USA Today urging the business community to step up and fight anti-LGBTQ state legislation. The leaders warned of the impact discriminatory laws would have on their ability to follow through on stated diversity and inclusion policies, recruit and retain workers, and said that “These bills are bad for families, for communities, for businesses and for the U.S. economy, all still reeling from the COVID-19 pandemic.”

  • One April 20, dozens of major corporate employers signed on to a letter opposing anti-LGBTQ state legislation, helmed by Freedom For All Americans and HRC. The letter explains that "legislation promoting discrimination directly affects our businesses" by making it difficult to recruit and retain talent in states with discriminatory laws and by placing "substantial burdens on the families of our employees" in those states. A small sampling of the companies that signed on includes Amazon, American Airlines, AT&T, Dell, Google, Hilton, IKEA, Marriot, Microsoft, Nike, PepsiCo, T-Mobile, Uber, Verizon, Wells Fargo, and more.

  • Also on April 20, Col. Jennifer Pritzker—the world's first transgender billionaire—penned an op-ed in the Tennessean threatening to take her business dealings out of the state due to discriminatory laws passed there. Pritzker's family trust company is based in Nashville, the Pritzker Military Museum & Library is currently funding the restoration of war memorials in Tennessee, and Pritzker's family owns the Hyatt chain of hotels among many other businesses.

  • In early March, GLAAD and Athlete Ally helped release a letter signed by over 500 college athletes calling for an end to the sports bans.

  • The NCAA Board of Governors issued a statement on April 12th, "firmly and unequivocally" supporting the opportunity for transgender student-athletes to compete in college sports, and restating its policy that championship events will only be held in “locations where hosts can commit to providing an environment that is safe, healthy and free of discrimination.” On April 2, NCAA president Mark Emmert sent a letter to HRC stating opposition to state anti-trans sports bans and committing to only holding championships in locations that do not have discriminatory laws. On April 5, members of the NCAA’s LGBTQ OneTeam Program penned an open letter calling for an end to the legislation and a repeal of already-passed bans.

  • On March 16, the American Academy of Pediatrics released a statement condemning “dangerous” state legislation that has “the sole purpose of threatening the health and well-being of transgender youth,” pledging to fight each state in court. AAP policy supports appropriate gender-affirming healthcare for trans youth.

  • On April 2, the American Psychiatric Association released a joint statement of opposition to “bills that would restrict delivery of gender-affirming care for gender-diverse patients, specifically for children and adolescents.” The statement was co-signed by American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians, American College of Physicians, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the American Osteopathic Association.

  • On April 14, the Endocrine Society (which sets standards for endocrinologists and hormonal health treatment) condemned state efforts to “prevent transgender and gender diverse adolescents from accessing gender-affirming medical care.” The national association offered a toolkit that its medical professional members can use to promote advocacy and oppose harmful anti-trans state laws.

  • Read the statements from 12 major medical organizations here.

  • On April 12, 1500 parents of transgender, nonbinary, and gender-expansive youth signed an HRC letter to state officials asking them to stop targeting their children. In the letter, parents say their children are experiencing stress, anxiety, and worry, and that some are “asking to move somewhere where they will be protected, because their home doesn’t feel safe anymore with you in charge of creating its laws.”

  • On April 3, 17,300 teachers, educators, and scholars signed a letter calling on President Biden to intervene in state-level legislative attacks on trans youth. The letter asks Biden to strengthen protections for trans, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming students at the federal level to shield them from state laws.

  • On April 26, the American Medical Association (AMA) sent a letter to the National Governors Association urging state governors to veto anti-trans legislation. The AMA called such laws a "dangerous intrusion into the practice of medicine" and said it is "inappropriate and harmful for any state to legislatively dictate that certain transition-related services are never appropriate and limit the range of options physicians and families may consider when making decisions for pediatric patients.”

  • On May 10, GLAAD and Athlete Ally sent a letter to the NCAA asking for clarity on whether the upcoming Division I Softball Championships would include schools located in states with anti-trans sports laws in place. 

  • On May 12, over 100 elected officials in Florida published a letter opposing the state's anti-trans sports ban—the first anti-LGBTQ law passed in Florida in 23 years—and calling on Gov. Ron DeSantis to veto the bill. The elected officials also urged lawmakers not to pass other legislation that targets trans youth.

What’s the latest with trans inclusion in sports?

  • On January 20, immediately after taking office, President Joe Biden signed an executive order to combat anti-LGBTQ discrimination that specifically stated “Children should be able to learn without worrying about whether they will be denied access to the restroom, the locker room, or school sports.” Some elected officials have referenced Biden’s order as a motivation for state anti-trans bills; on March 4 Mississippi governor Tate Reeves tweeted that he planned to sign that state’s anti-trans sports bill because “the Biden EO forced the issue.”

  • The Center for American Progress released ‘Fair Play: The Importance of Sports Participation for Transgender Youth’ in February 2021. Key findings include evidence that the participation of girls in sports overall is actually higher in states with trans-inclusive policies, which counters the false claim that letting trans kids play somehow harms girls’ access to sports.

  • Athlete Ally released its Athletic Equality Index, showing that the overwhelming majority of college athletic programs fail to provide adequate nondiscrimination protections and resources for LGBTQ students.

  • On April 25, a federal judge dismissed the Connecticut lawsuit (Soule et al v. CT Association of Schools et al) filed by Alliance Defending Freedom on behalf of cisgender female athletes in opposition to the state's trans-inclusive policies. The judge's decision noted, “courts across the country have consistently held that Title IX requires schools to treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity.” The ACLU represented two trans track athletes, Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller, who joined the lawsuit after being named in it.

What’s the latest with healthcare bans?

  • An April Williams Institute study found that over 45,000 trans youth are at risk of losing access to healthcare because of proposed state bans. This number does not account for parents, siblings, and extended family that might consider moving out of state in order to continue care—and the associated economic impact.

  • Parents have attended state hearings to plead with lawmakers not to take needed healthcare away from their children. In March, Missouri dad Brandon Boulware’s impassioned plea went viral. In February, Alabama dad—and police sergeant—David Fuller told lawmakers that his child’s doctors “are angels to me. And as a police officer, you’re asking me to someday put handcuffs on these people that are heroes in my life? ... Please don’t ask me to do that.” NBA star Dwayne Wade, who has a trans daughter, shared Boulware’s testimony and agreed that “Our kids are more than bedrooms, bathrooms and locker rooms.”

  • On April 5, Arkansas governor Asa Hutchinson vetoed that state’s already-passed ban on trans youth healthcare, stating that it would create “new standards of legislative interference with physicians and parents as they deal with some of the most complex and sensitive matters involving young people” and that he wants Arkansas to “send a message of tolerance and diversity.” The state legislature overrode the veto, making Arkansas the first state in the U.S. to ban transition-related healthcare for minors.

  • Appropriate and affirming healthcare is vital for trans youth. A 2019 CDC survey found that while only 2% of high school students are trans, 35% of them had attempted suicide in the year leading up to the survey. The students also reported feeling unsafe going to and from school, and experiencing bullying at school. Another study showed the link between affirming healthcare and mental health, showing that in trans adolescents and teens who accessed puberty-blocking medication, the risk of suicide decreased by 70%.
  • Healthcare bans aren't the only threat to fair and equal access to treatment. 5 states currently have "religious refusal" laws that allow medical providers to refuse to treat LGBTQ people: Alabama, Arkansas, Illinois, Mississippi, and Tennessee.

This post is updated continuously. Latest update: July 15, 2021.