Republican legislators have introduced a record number of anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation in Congress only one month into the new year. Advocates say they’re not surprised and see this as a continuation of increasing anti-trans rhetoric that has gained momentum across the political spectrum, especially with the Republican base.
According to Imara Jones, founder of TransLash Media and creator of “The Anti-Trans Hate Machine” podcast, being anti-trans is one of the few items that unites all members of the divided GOP and highly mobilizes their most radical right-wing base. But, beyond that, Jones explains that these laws even appeal to moderate Democrats, with a focus on TERFs (trans-exclusionary radical feminists) and transphobic liberals.
“[Republicans] understand they have to attract new voters because there’s not enough people that share Christian nationalist ideologies to win an election,” said Jones. “They believe that the soft transphobia that exists in America makes independent voters, even some liberals, fertile ground for them to make inroads in those communities and elections in order to be able to win—which is why Gov. [Ron] DeSantis put trans issues front and center in his reelection. It’s why Gov. [Greg] Abbott did so in his reelection.”
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) tracked over 120 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills that have already been filed in January. This includes more than two dozen bills targeting access to medically necessary health care for transgender people across 11 states—most of which are located in the South. According to Victoria Kirby York, the National Black Justice Coalition’s director of public policy and programs, these laws will disproportionately impact the Black trans community.
“We don’t live in places typically where we have protections, and a big reason for that is these are the communities we were brought to during slavery,” said York. “Many of our families have lived in these communities for over 300 years and don’t want to leave just because some legislators decide that they want to come after an already marginalized and historically excluded community.”
Many of these laws aim to ban gender-affirming care for trans youth—and in some states, even adults. Bills proposed this year in South Carolina and Virginia bar state health care providers from recommending or administering puberty blockers, hormones, and gender-affirming surgeries to patients younger than 21. In Oklahoma, legislators went so far as to introduce a bill that bans gender-affirming care and “gender transition procedure” coverage for trans adults under the age of 26. Known as the “Millstone Act,” whose name is derived from a Bible verse about punishing adults who harm children, the bill is a direct nod to Christian nationalist ideology and is one of the most restrictive bans introduced to date.
“As we discovered in our podcast series, ‘The Anti-Trans Hate Machine,’ they’ve been working for nearly a decade, putting hundreds of millions of dollars into shaping this moment—it’s not an accidental moment,” said Jones. “A part of that plan is reshaping the country along very religious lines and ideologies that have become more extreme in the Republican Party, that are largely dubbed Christian nationalist […] and hyper-focus on gender, specifically as they believe them in the Bible.”
Jones notes that Republicans have also used the same tactics with their anti-abortion policies, led by many of the same conservative think tanks. After the right’s success in striking down Roe v. Wade last summer and sending abortion rights to the states’ legislatures, Jones said that the GOP is now emboldened to introduce even more anti-trans legislation statewide.
“I always say that progressives talk intersectionally but that the right fights intersectionally,” said Jones. “That means that they understand the way that these issues are connected and the need to attack both of them at the same time.”
In Texas, lawmakers are trying to label gender-affirming care for youth as a form of child abuse. As this rhetoric increases, so does anti-trans violence. According to the Human Rights Campaign, at least 38 trans people were killed in hate crimes in 2022, and at least 50 were killed in 2021. These reports likely undercount the total number of trans and gender-nonconforming people who were killed considering that the victims’ deaths often go unreported or may not be identified as transgender or gender nonconforming.
“The U.S.’ growing hyper-focus on our community puts [the level of violence] on steroids,” said Jones. “We know that the violence is continuing even with the change in administration because they supplanted the action at the federal level with the action at the state level. So the conversation is actually hitting closer to home.”
The wave of proposed anti-trans legislation is also impacting trans mental health. According to a 2022 LGBTQIA mental health survey by The Trevor Project, 59% of trans men and boys, 48% of trans women and girls, and 53% of nonbinary people surveyed had considered suicide. Of those surveyed, 22% of trans men and boys, 12% of trans women and girls, and 19% of nonbinary people had also attempted suicide.
“These laws are creating a permission and structure for violence,” Jones said. “These attacks are not isolated; they are about this larger attack on American democracy, and one of the reasons why [Republicans] do it is because they believe that nobody cares about trans people.”
In total, trans people make up about 0.6% of the country’s population ages 13 and older. Jones explains that, because they are such a small group, Republicans believe they can “use them as political pie.”
“We’re a tiny group of people, but this tiny group of people has received an outsized amount of attention right now,” said Jones. “What people can do is make their voices heard.”
Jones suggests picking up the phone and calling state legislators to tell them how constituents feel about these bills, as well as funneling support into local trans organizations who are battling these bills on the frontlines.
“[Republicans] don’t believe that anybody cares,” Jones said. “The degree that they understand that people are watching and that there are potentially negative political consequences for attacking trans people, it’s a deterrent, and it’s an important deterrent. A way to surprise them is to show them that people do [care].”