Guide for Media Covering State Legislation Targeting LGBTQ People

2022 is already a record-setting year for state legislation targeting LGBTQ adults and children, with more than 200 anti-LGBTQ bills proposed as of April 22nd. This follows 2021’s record of proposed bills targeting transgender Americans’ access to education, athletics, healthcare, and bathrooms. 

According to Freedom for All Americans, most bills (113) target transgender people and youth, followed by a surge of school policy bills (83) banning classroom conversation and books about LGBTQ people under the guise of “parents’ rights.”  

  • 29 states have bills to restrict transgender youth healthcare, including a bill that passed into law in Alabama, making providing such care a felony.
  • 48 bills have been proposed to ban transgender youth from sports, passing into law this year in South Dakota, Oklahoma, Iowa, Kentucky and Utah, the last states required legislative override of the governors' vetoes and persuasive objections. 
  • 7 states are attempting to block bathroom access for transgender and gender-nonconforming youth: Arizona, Iowa, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee and Virginia.
  • 17 states have bills to restrict or prohibit LGBTQ-inclusive and/or race-inclusive curriculum and books, including Washington, Tennessee, Mississippi, Oklahoma and South Carolina. 
  • 5 states have “Don’t Say Gay” bills canceling conversations in schools about sexual orientation and gender identity, the best known being Florida's, which was signed into law in March (Florida’s being the best-known).

You can track 2022 legislation via Freedom for All Americans, here. Legislation is introduced on a rolling basis and deadlines differ state-to-state. 

Coverage of these bills should include:

  • Expertise over opinion, including facts from experts in healthcare, sports, education and human rights.
  • Questions to lawmakers and others targeting LGBTQ people to provide evidence and facts.
  • LGBTQ families and parents in discussions about bills about “parents’ rights.” 
  • LGBTQ voices. Any story about LGBTQ people or issues should include interviews with LGBTQ people.
  • Context about the bills’ impact on vulnerable youth.

Important Context: despite the troubling groundswell of proposals, the success of state bills targeting transgender students remains small and unsustained. Reporting can include the failure rate of these efforts - of 121 bills targeting transgender children last year, only nine sports bans passed, 93% failed. Bills passed into law are being accurately challenged as unconstitutional. Media should continue to note these bills are actively causing harm - whether passed or not - including increased suicide, crisis contacts, and families in crisis forced to move from states targeting their children. Debating a person’s rights is dangerous and documented.

Failing at most attempts to legalize discrimination has not stopped lawmakers and opponents of LGBTQ equality from continuing to try. These efforts are led by longtime anti-LGBTQ activist groups, who tried and failed to legalize discrimination against LGBTQ workers, have repeatedly failed to ban trans people and children from bathrooms, and failed to stop marriage equality, now at its highest approval rating in history. Coverage of any state bill in 2022 should be informed by this history and alert readers and viewers to it.

 

Report Expertise over Opinion

Coverage should include the fact that professional medical associations support  trans healthcare and sports participation. Leading medical associations including the American Medical Association and American Academy of Pediatrics all support gender-affirming care for transgender youth as safe, effective and lifesaving, and access to school sports as important for children’s physical, social and emotional growth. 

The American Library Association opposes widespread efforts to censor books in U.S. schools and libraries. The National Coalition Against Censorship and GLAAD statement signed by 600 groups and individuals urges access to books that reflect experiences of those from underrepresented and marginalized communities. 

Journalists should consult and interview relevant professionals and experts, and elevate facts over opinion from lawmakers and others. 

For bills about sports participation, note that The International Olympic Committee guidelines prioritize safety and inclusion for transgender people, after consultation with medical, legal, sports and human rights experts, and determined that “no athlete has an inherent advantage over another due to their gender identity, sex variations, or appearance.” Athlete Ally is another excellent source for information about LGBTQ participation in sports.

 

Question Lawmakers to Provide Facts, and Correct Any Misinformation

Journalists should note how many bills use identical language proposed by national groups with long histories of fighting LGBTQ equality. 

Rather than repeat inaccurate bill language verbatim, include facts and information from experts and research. 

Lawmakers, candidates for office, school board members and community members should not be given an unchallenged platform to spread false information about LGBTQ people, in interviews, testimony or speeches involving legislative, campaign or community proposals. For example, coverage of claims from lawmakers calling LGBTQ-inclusive books “obscene” should note that experts in literacy and education have awarded the same books for their themes and important overall representation of marginalized readers, and that there are established policies for evaluating challenged books.

Ask for specifics: in multiple states proposing legislation in 2021, lawmakers could not cite a single instance of trans inclusion in sports being an issue in their states. 

 

“Parents’ Rights” Discussions Should Include LGBTQ and Ally Families

Lawmakers and parent groups purporting to be for “parents’ rights” often do not reflect the views of all parents, and should not be presented as the only perspective or majority perspective. 

Media should seek out parents who support LGBTQ students, as well as parents who support inclusive education about race, gender and sexuality, in coverage of parents’ rights bills. 

Media should ask lawmakers if they have talked with LGBTQ parents, students, or people of color before amplifying a bill targeting them and their experiences.

Check for other targets included in bills such as critical race theory and sex education, or encouraging vouchers over public schools and religious exemption. Many bills targeting LGBTQ curriculum or books also seek restrictions on discussion of racial, sexual health and gender equality. 

Check for and report on previous anti-LGBTQ policy and rhetoric. The GLAAD Accountability Project has tracked lawmakers now proposing bills targeting LGBTQ and race-inclusive curriculum and their history of anti-LGBTQ policy and rhetoric.

 

Include LGBTQ Voices

Journalists covering any story about LGBTQ people should include LGBTQ voices.

This is especially important in stories about bills targeting LGBTQ people. News media must reflect all communities they serve, and include them in the conversation about issues affecting their lives. 

Given concerns about privacy and safety, speaking on the record with LGBTQ youth can pose challenges. GLAAD can connect journalists to LGBTQ local organizations and adult spokespeople. If interviewing LGBTQ youth and their parent(s) or guardian(s), journalists should take the following precautions: 

  1. Ensure youth and their families are aware of the consequences of being out in the media and the potential impact to their privacy both now and in the future. 
  2. Avoid exacerbating or triggering conflict between LGBTQ youth and their families: do not interview minors whose parents are unsupportive or are not aware of their child's LGBTQ identity unless you can ensure the youth's anonymity. 
  3. Consider interviewing LGBTQ youth and their parents who have already been out in the media, or have publicly appeared at legislative hearings and press conferences, rather than seeking new people to interview who have never spoken publicly before. 
  4. Offer to use only first names or not include a hometown to further protect privacy. Read more in this guide for parents of trans and gender-expansive youth navigating being public in the media, which could also be a useful resource for journalists.

 

Include Context about Real-World Harms Facing LGBTQ Students

Media should report research about harms facing LGBTQ students and should ask lawmakers proposing bills about the research.

A 2021 survey from The Trevor Project, a leading crisis and suicide prevention organization serving LGBTQ youth, showed 85% of transgender, nonbinary, and gender nonconforming youths report declining mental health from state bills proposed restricting or debating the rights of transgender people. 

7 in 10 LGBTQ youth regularly follow news related to the issues that impact the trans community. The Trevor Project reported that crisis contacts jumped 150% after dozens of bills were filed in Texas, with many youth directly stating they felt stressed and are considering suicide due to anti-trans laws being debated in their state.

GLSEN’s 2019 National School Climate Survey shows more than 80 percent of transgender students experience gender-based bullying and victimization at school. More than 40 percent missed school in the last month because they felt unsafe.

 

Issue: Transgender Inclusion in Sports: The Facts

Of the more than 121 anti-trans bills proposed in 2021, a small fraction, nine, were passed into law which limit transgender children’s access to sports. The ACLU is challenging these laws and Idaho’s 2020 law is on hold after a federal court found that those supporting a ban on trans athletes had no evidence to support their claims. Another case in Connecticut brought by anti-LGBTQ group the Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF)- a Southern Poverty Law Center designated hate group–against two trans track runners was dismissed by a federal judge. 

Policies have been in place for twenty years at the Olympic and college level to welcome transgender athletes in sports. 

The International Olympic Committee recently updated its guidelines to prioritize safety and inclusion for transgender people, encouraging each sport to create its guidelines for fair and safe access and participation, and stating that no athlete has an inherent advantage over another due to their gender identity, sex variations, or appearance.

There are no reported instances of transgender students “taking scholarships” from other students. Anyone claiming this should be asked for evidence.

There is no evidence that transgender athletes are dominating competition at any level. Stories or sources that use specific athletes as examples for a need for blanket bans should include facts such as policies already in place, and adhered to, by those athletes, their sports and associations to ensure fair participation and competition. The success of Lia Thomas, a swimmer from the University of Pennsylvania, has inaccurately been used to support bans on transgender inclusion. Thomas followed all guidelines, and her school, league and sport governing body have all spoken up in support of Thomas and her eligibility to compete. 

Journalists should check bill language for how proponents propose to enforce the bills, including anatomy screenings, that hurt all children.

Journalists must note the history of anti-LGBTQ legal groups (classified as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center) supporting these bills, often with identical language state to state. A designated hate group, ADF, has filed lawsuits using demonstrably false claims to attack transgender inclusion in state-level bills.

Research from states with transgender-inclusive policies for youth sports suggests that girls’ sports participation may even increase with inclusive policies. 

More than 600 women athletes signed a letter last year to the NCAA demanding that the NCAA follow its own guidelines and not host tournaments in states that do not offer a safe and respectful environment.

The NCAA updated its policy on the participation of transgender athletes on January 19, 2022, leaving eligibility guidelines to each sport’s governing body, but no guarantees of protection for athletes. GLAAD joins Athlete Ally, HRC and others in demanding that the NCAA reinstate protections against discrimination for women, athletes of color and LGBTQ athletes in NCAA competitions: “we are concerned that leaving the enforcement of non-discrimination protections to schools will create a patchwork of protections rather than a comprehensive policy that would protect all athletes, no matter where they play.“ 

Trans athletes and advocates, including Chris Mosier have spoken out against the NCAA’s updated policy, stating it will be impossible for the NCAA to enforce.

 

Issue: Book Bannings and School Censorship 

Efforts to ban books, most involving LGBTQ-inclusive books and books about race and racism, dramatically increased over the last year, encompassing at least 15 states. Works such as the recent memoir All Boys Aren’t Blue, the 35-year-old Beloved and the Holocaust novel Maus have been pulled from shelves. States are taking steps to codify this censorship. 

At least five states have filed legislation prohibiting LGBTQ-inclusive materials in public schools including Arizona, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina and West Virginia.

Some bills are reminiscent of long-ago fights against LGBTQ-inclusive books, and false claims that LGBTQ content is “obscene.” A recent tactic is to target certain books claiming parents have the right to remove material they object to - the material predominantly LGBTQ-inclusive.

Additional bills target classroom conversation about sexual orientation and gender identity (Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill), and weaponize law enforcement against teachers for discussing these topics and librarians lending books a community member finds objectionable.

GLAAD and the National Coalition Against Censorship released a statement in December 2021 to address the book banning efforts and to support LGBTQ-inclusive books. Media reporting on book bans can refer to the statement which details the longstanding policies for challenged books, that include independent expert evaluation for their academic or social merit for underserved readers. 

GLAAD’s full guide to Books Not Bans is here.

Media reporting on book bans framed as a fight for “parents’ rights” should ask lawmakers if parents of LGBTQ students were consulted. Parents’ rights are not reserved for parents objecting to LGBTQ people, issues and experiences. 

Media may note the extreme measures to give “parents rights,” such as requiring lists of every book in a school district to be made public, reviewed for acceptability by parents and school boards, and allow parents and school boards to remove any. 

Opponents in multiple states have targeted the same books, Maia Kobabe’s Gender Queer, Jonathan Evison’s Lawn Boy and George M. Johnson’s All Boys Aren’t Blue. Virginia’s largest school district returned Gender Queer and Lawn Boy to shelves after expert evaluations ruled the books were critical for students with underrepresented identities.

Journalists should consult LGBTQ people and child development experts to discuss consequences of these measures.

  • In Arizona, bills requiring parental consent for students to join LGBTQ school clubs force a student to potentially out themselves at a home that may not be accepting. A bill requiring parental consent before students can be taught about LGBTQ topics is based in the false assumption that LGBTQ topics are shameful, sending negative signals to queer youth about who they are. 
  • Bills allow parents to object to the “morality” of an educational topic - a proposed law in Arizona would prohibit teaching students about HIV before 6th grade, and would require parental consent specifically for HIV education for 6th grade and above- limiting lifesaving information and cementing stigma that fuels silence and new infections. 
  • A proposed Virginia bill would require that parents have the option to opt a child out of curriculum based on an objectionable book, closing off learning and discovery about people whose experiences differ from their own. The bill also requires schools to force transgender students to use restrooms based on sex assigned at birth rather than gender identity- a harmful policy already litigated thoroughly for six years in Virginia and rejected by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The American Library Association’s Office for Intellectual Freedom tracked over 150 attempts to remove LGBTQ and BIPOC books from schools and libraries over the last six months of 2021, as well as noted efforts to intimidate and physically threaten educators and library staff. 

The American Library Association released a statement reading in part: “Falsely claiming that these works are subversive, immoral, or worse, these groups induce elected and non-elected officials to abandon constitutional principles, ignore the rule of law, and disregard individual rights to promote government censorship of library collections. Some of these groups even resort to intimidation and threats to achieve their ends, targeting the safety and livelihoods of library workers, educators, and board members who have dedicated themselves to public service, informing our communities, and educating our youth. ALA strongly condemns these acts of censorship and intimidation.”

GLAAD can connect you with LGBTQ writers and readers who are fighting to preserve all children’s rights to read and learn. LGBTQ books are vital as they can serve as visibility for LGBTQ people as well as inform readers who are not LGBTQ, and provide a more accurate narrative of the LGBTQ community. 

 

GLAAD Resources 

 

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