The Origins of Anti-Trans Legislation in the US: How it Started and Why it Continues

Shot of the transgender flag blowing in the wind at street

In recent years, the United States has seen a surge of legislation seeking to restrict the rights of transgender people. From bathroom bills to gender-affirming care bans to laws prohibiting trans girls from playing on girls’ sports teams, these measures have been met with controversy, protests, and legal challenges. But where did it all begin? The current wave of anti-trans legislation can be traced back to 2016, with North Carolina’s “bathroom bill” becoming the most high-profile example at the time. However, the pace of legislation increased in 2018, following an increase in such measures after Donald Trump was elected president.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 19 bills were introduced in 2018, and the number slowly increased over the next two years. But 2021 marked a turning point, when a number of states passed bills restricting trans girls from playing on female sports teams. Legislators introduced 131 bills across 34 states that year. That number rose again in 2022, with 155 such bills introduced by mid-October.

The onslaught of legislation has been driven by conservative legislators who argue that these restrictive laws protect the rights of children and families, rather than curtail them. Some have also framed them as a religious prerogative. However, some legislators also have political motives, such as winning elections or pleasing their base.

The anti-trans legislation has also been intertwined with the movement to restrict reproductive rights. The same players, such as the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal advocacy group, have been at the forefront of both fights. In fact, the group was credited with helping write a bill to prevent trans girls from playing on girls’ sports teams in Idaho, the first such bill passed in the country.

Conservative lawmakers have also been reacting to the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2020 landmark decision in Bostock v. Clayton County, which found that federal law barring employment discrimination on the basis of sex also applies to sexuality and gender identity. These efforts have been intertwined with the movement to restrict reproductive rights, which share many of the same players.

The impact of this legislation has been profound. It has led to legal battles, economic boycotts, and significant harm to the mental health and wellbeing of transgender individuals. It has also sparked a national conversation about the rights of transgender people and the need for greater protections against discrimination.

Despite the opposition, however, anti-trans legislation continues to be introduced and passed across the country. As the fight for transgender rights continues, it is essential to understand the origins of this legislation and the motivations driving it. Only then can we work towards a more inclusive and equitable society for all.

Disclaimer: This blog shares general information only, not professional advice or recommendations. Consult healthcare providers for personal guidance. Decisions based on content are the reader's responsibility. Thank you.

Clayre runs a group practice of three queer and trans therapists, including youth therapist Audrey Wolfe, RCC, LGBT therapist Camber Giberson, RCC, CCC, and gender-affirming therapist Clayre Sessoms, RP, RCT, RCC, CCC, ATR-P. Work with us: book a session.

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