Over 100 bills target LGBTQ rights and queer life — from transgender healthcare to drag shows — have been introduced in 22 states by 2023 so far, leading advocates to hope that this year will set a new record for anti-LGBTQ legislation.

So far, Texas has led the way with 36 such bills, according to Equality Texas, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group. Missouri is next with 26, then North Dakota with eight and Oklahoma with six.

Most of these approximately 120 bills focus on transgender youth, continuing a trend that began about two years ago.

In the last three years, 18 states have banned transgender student athletes from competing on school sports teams that align with their gender identity rather than the sex they were assigned at birth, according to the Movement Advancement Project, an LGBTQ think tank. Four states (Arkansas, Alabama, Tennessee, and Arizona) have enacted restrictions on gender-affirming health care for minors, though federal judges have blocked them from taking effect in Arkansas and Alabama.

Members of the Texas House of Representatives with family and guests at the opening of the 88th Texas Legislative Session in Austin on January 10, 2023.
Members of the Texas House of Representatives with family and guests on January 10, 2023, at the opening of the 88th Texas Legislative Session. Eric Gay/AP

This year, lawmakers in at least three states have introduced bills to restrict transgender girls and women from playing on women’s sports teams, and lawmakers in at least 11 states have proposed bills that would restrict gender-affirming health care. gender for minors

For the third year in a row, efforts to restrict LGBTQ rights and queer life have intensified, according to Chase Strangio, deputy director of the American Civil Liberty Union’s LGBT and HIV Project. Strangio, one of the attorneys representing transgender youth and their parents in their lawsuit against Arkansas’ ban on gender-affirming health care, said he expected the number of anti-LGBTQ bills filed this year to outnumber those introduced last year, when more than 340 such bills reached state legislatures, according to an estimate by the Human Rights Campaign.

He said he is most concerned about more states restricting access to gender-affirming care and, if the composition of Congress turns more conservative in 2024, a possible federal ban.

“The shift to the right in state legislatures is really scary,” he said. “We are seeing continued erosion and efforts to restrict, constrain, and limit bodily autonomy across the board. … There are a lot of things that I think people take for granted, particularly people who live in states like New York and California and don’t pay attention to what’s going on in states like Arkansas, Oklahoma and Texas.”

Syndication: The Tennessee
Markus Thurman speaks during a press conference for supporters of gender-affirming care at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee on October 19, 2022.Nicole Hester/The Tennessee/USA Today Network

One bill of particular concern to transgender advocates is an Oklahoma proposal that would ban transition-related care not only for minors but also for anyone under the age of 26; it would also prohibit Medicaid from covering such care.

State Senator David Bullard, the Republican sponsor of the bill, told The Oklahoman that gender-affirming health care is a “permanent change to your body that cannot be reversed.

“At the age of 21 you can drink, but at the end of the day, if you decide to give up alcohol, you can give up alcohol,” Bullard told The Oklahoman. “But with this surgery, there is no going back. We just want to make sure the brain is fully developed before we allow this kind of permanent surgery to happen.»

Bullard did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Accredited medical associations, including the American Medical Associationthe American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Psychological Association — have supported gender-affirming care for minors.

Advocates and doctors who treat trans youth have said that many of the health care restrictions proposed by state legislators mischaracterize what gender-affirming care is. The World Professional Association for Transgender Health, a nonprofit professional and educational organization dedicated to the health of transgender people, does not recommend medical intervention. absolutely before puberty

Before puberty, trans youth can socially transition, which means they can change their name, pronouns, and clothing. For some transgender youth, going through puberty in the sex they were assigned at birth can have a negative effect on their mental health, so WPATH recommends puberty-blocking drugs at the early stage of puberty (Tanner stage 2), which temporarily halt puberty, or hormone therapy at the same stage, but only if they meet a list of criteria. Gender-affirming surgery for minors, even after puberty, is rare.

A new slate of bills targeting drag performers has also emerged, likely in response to growing protests last year against children attending drag luncheons or drag story timea national program started in 2015 in which drag performers read books to children in libraries, schools and bookstores

Bills introduced in Arizona, Arkansas, Montana, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia would ban minors from attending drag shows and would seek to classify any business that puts on such shows as a cabaret or «sexually oriented business.»

Tennessee State Senator Jack Johnson, a Republican who introduced an invoice that would make it a misdemeanor for «male or female impersonators providing entertainment appealing to prurient interest» to perform on public property or in front of minors: told WSMV-TV, an NBC affiliate in Nashville, who had received complaints about drag shows from his constituents.

Molly Gormley, Johnson’s press secretary, said the bill «aims to protect children from exposure to drag shows that have explicit sex or other performances inappropriate for children.»

“It is similar to laws that prohibit children from going to a strip club or that prohibit public nudity,” Gormley said in an email. «This is a common sense move and it’s not anti-drag or anti-transgender. It’s about protecting children.»

Jace Wilder, education manager for the Tennessee Equality Project, described the climate for LGBTQ people in the state as «vicious.»

In the past two years, the state has passed a law prohibiting transgender student athletes from playing on school sports teams that match their gender identity and a law prohibiting gender-affirming health care for children before puberty, although medical intervention is not recommended for prepubertal youth.

Johnson’s bill, which is one of four LGBTQ-related bills proposed in Tennessee for the current legislative session, would rank drag performances like adult cabaret.

A Similar bill in Arizona would require businesses that host drag performers to zone as adult performance venues. It defines a drag performer as “a person who dresses in clothing and uses makeup and other physical markers opposite to the gender of the person at birth to exaggerate gender meanings and roles and engages in singing, dancing, or a monologue or skit.” to entertain an audience. .”

Wilder said the language in many of these bills, including those proposed in Arizona and Tennessee, is so broad that it not only includes drag performers, but also «targets anyone who is non-gender-conforming or diverse.» of genre».

The bills feel like they are «going back» to Cross-dressing laws from decades ago.Wilder said, where «you could walk across the street and someone would define it as a sexual presence and they could arrest you for ‘impersonating another gender.'»

«Our biggest concern is, honestly, how are we going to get out of this safe?» he said.

Legislation in Florida has already made people feel unsafe, according to Brandon Wolf, press secretary for Equality Florida, a statewide LGBTQ advocacy group. He specifically cited the Parents’ Rights in Education Act (dubbed the «Don’t Say Gay» bill by critics), which prohibits classroom instruction on «sexual orientation or gender identity…from kindergarten onwards.» infants through third grade or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.”

“We have more than 9,000 open positions for teachers in Florida due in part to the slander they have suffered in recent years,” Wolf said. “Young people tell us that they are very afraid. … They fear that school is no longer safe for them, and their families wonder if they will have to leave Florida in order to raise their children in a state that respects them and treats them with dignity.”

Rachel Hill, director of government affairs for Equality Texas, said lawmakers in her state have previously introduced 36 anti-LGBTQ bills so far, more than were proposed during the entire legislative session in 2021.

Two years ago, Texas considered more than 50 bills targeting trans people during its regular legislative session and three special sessions, and all but one, a ban on trans athletes, failed to become law.

Although the state did not have a legislative session last year (the Texas Legislature meets only every two years), Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and Governor Greg Abbott have ordered the state’s child protective services agency to investigate. any complaints from parents providing gender affirmation services. care of their minor children as child abuse. Some of those investigations have been blocked due to two lawsuits, but the threat of investigation has led many families with trans children to leave the state.

But those who chose to stay are «thrilled,» Hill said, echoing similar sentiments from advocates in other states.

“If anything, what we feel is challenging,” he said. «While we are facing probably the most difficult legislative session we have ever faced in Texas, we are ready to face it.»