Trans Kids Face New Attacks in State Legislatures: Anti-LGBTQ groups take the fight from bathrooms to the doctor’s office and athletic teams

Last week, the inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris brought a sense of renewed hope to LGBTQ advocates who had become accustomed to hostility from the White House. With unprecedented diversity amongst federal appointees and White House staff alike, LGBTQ people once again have a seat at the table. They’re also invited in: for the first time, the official White House website now offers a public contact form asking for your pronouns and prefixes.

Anti-LGBTQ interest groups and right-wing elected officials are alarmed. On his first day in office, Pres. Biden signed an executive order that directs federal agencies to incorporate the Supreme Court’s 2020 ruling protecting LGBTQ people from job discrimination. The order expanded the Supreme Court’s decision, with a line that specifically highlights the rights of trans youth to fair and equal opportunities in schools. Anti-trans critics singled out that part of the order, campaigning with renewed vigor against trans kids under the guise that trans-inclusive policies somehow take athletic opportunities away from cisgender girls (to which the Women’s Sports Foundation responded, “nothing could be further from the truth.”) The hashtag #BidenErasesWomen trended, and the day after Biden took office, Rep. Greg Steube of Florida introduced a bill in Congress that would withhold federal funding from schools if they allow trans students to participate in sports.

So while LGBTQ advocates celebrate, they’re also gearing up for the battle of a lifetime in state legislatures around the nation. With the White House no longer pushing anti-LGBTQ policy, as it was in the Trump era, the fight has intensified in the states to target trans youth and those who care for them. Where the anti-LGBTQ movement used to be focused on prohibiting marriage equality, it is now almost entirely committed to attacks on transgender Americans. Especially, and most insidiously, on trans children and teens.

2021 brings forth a slate of increasingly hostile bills that propose restrictions not just on trans youth, but also on medical professionals who serve them. Bills have been introduced in nine U.S. states that restrict or ban trans children and teens from participating in school athletics. In another nine states (some overlap, but not all), bills have been introduced that criminalize doctors for treating trans youth. In both cases, the legislation is incredibly misinformed. In Montana, for example, a proposed law would ban trans girls from participating in sports in elementary or high school—despite the fact that there are no known trans athletes at that level in the state. And in other states, laws are being considered that equate medical treatment of trans youth with child abuse. Several of those laws largely focus on prohibiting gender-affirming treatment for children under 18, even though The American Medical Association and more than a dozen other leading medical groups have long supported lifesaving treatment for trans youth. Research shows simple acts like acknowledging and using their pronouns saves trans youth from self-harm and saves their lives.

A handful of national anti-LGBTQ groups repeatedly devise strategies that rely on fear rather than reality. In 2015 the anti-LGBTQ law firm Alliance Defending Freedom authored draft legislation that was copied in 15 states; the legislation sought to ban trans people from public bathrooms (including in schools) based on the wildly false and defamatory idea that trans people were predators who could threaten the privacy and safety of girls and women. (Side note: Alliance Defending Freedom has also filed lawsuits to ban trans girls from school sports.) Despite no accounts of trans women attacking other women in restrooms, entire campaigns—including ads on social media—played upon this unfounded fear. Now that “bathroom bills” have been proven a losing strategy, thanks in part to costly boycotts against early adopter states like North Carolina, the focus has shifted to new grounds - girls and women’s athletics. The approach remains the same: to falsely paint trans women—and trans kids—as a sinister threat  to cisgender women and children.

Countless times, it has been proven that trans people do not present a threat to anyone’s safety. In fact, trans women and kids face higher rates of bullying, harassment, and violence than their cisgender counterparts. 22% of trans women perceived as trans in school were harassed to the point they had to leave school because of it. 45% of trans students avoid the bathroom at school. Claims that trans women and girls have an advantage are at odds with the reality of most trans girls’ lives.

Sixteen U.S. states already have policies in place that allow full participation in school athletics for trans youth K-12.  Leading sports governing bodies, including the International Olympic Committee and the NCAA, are also trans-inclusive. And since 2015, all “seven sisters” women’s colleges in the Northeast have welcomed trans students and adopt NCAA guidelines allowing trans women to participate in athletics. Despite the uptick in laws attempting to ban them, trans women and girls have been participating in women’s sports for decades. And there is simply no evidence trans athletes destroy or disrupt women’s sports. Trans athletes have been allowed in Olympic competition since 2003, yet no trans athlete has ever made it to the Olympics—busting the myth of the alleged “biological advantage” held by trans women over cisgender women. Transgender athletes have been able to compete on NCAA college teams consistent with their gender identity for the past nine years, with no disruption to women’s collegiate sports.

Discrimination and exclusion don’t help anyone. While the anti-trans legislation of 2021 purports to be about safety and fairness for women and girls, it does little to address the real problems facing school sports for girls—namely, lack of funding and opportunities. Allowing trans girls to join their friends in school sports doesn’t take away from anyone. The benefits of athletics—camaraderie, physical and mental health, problem solving—are structural learning experiences that we carry with us into adulthood. For example, nearly seven million children ages 6-17 play soccer. The vast majority never go on to elite competition. But all get the chance to feel the benefits of sports - to belong, to work together, to set and achieve goals. There is no reason or rationale to keep a trans girl from the same experiences that will benefit her throughout life. Including trans girls benefits all student athletes, by promoting values of inclusion and non-discrimination.

No matter how many new forms these legislative attacks on trans lives take, and no matter where anti-trans foes rear their heads, GLAAD and other advocacy groups will be there to fight back. We’re constantly monitoring news coverage to make sure that it prioritizes and centers trans voices, doesn’t rely on tired inaccurate myths and stereotypes, and follows GLAAD's media guidelines.

For more information on 2021’s discriminatory anti-trans state bills, visit the Freedom for All Americans tracker. For information and sourcing on trans athletes, reach out to groups like Athlete Ally, Transathlete, Gender Justice and Out Foundation. And for attorneys and plaintiffs involved in legal action regarding trans inclusion in school sports, contact the ACLU of Connecticut and the ACLU of Idaho.