Since the start of 2021, over 200 anti-transgender bills have been introduced into 33 state legislatures, a record-breaking number. The majority target trans youth, attempting to ban them from playing sports and to restrict gender-affirming healthcare. Each bill serves the same far-right agenda of gaining political momentum by policing gender roles and scapegoating a vulnerable population. While the proposed laws pretend to protect young people (e.g., the “Youth Health Protection Act” and “Save Adolescents From Experimentation Act”), they are nothing more than a purposeful and coordinated attack.
Right-wing siege on trans youth. The onslaught of legislation ranges from prohibiting participation on high school and college athletic teams, to preventing trans students from using locker rooms that correspond with their gender, to criminalizing puberty blockers and hormone replacement therapy for young people. In Montana, a bill was introduced that would allow medical providers and insurance companies the ability to deny care and coverage to trans patients. New Hampshire legislators are pushing a bill that would define gender-affirming care as child abuse. This March, Arkansas became the first state to make it illegal for doctors to provide gender-affirming treatment for trans youth.
Public figures are joining the attack, including former Olympic athlete and reality TV personality Caitlyn Jenner, herself a trans woman! Jenner, running as a Republican in the race for California governor, told a TMZ reporter, “It just isn’t fair. … We have to protect girls’ sports in our schools.”
Arguments against allowing transgender girls to compete in girls’ sports are unsupported by factual evidence. There are no reported cases in which transgender students caused discrimination against cis women athletes or any problems on sports teams. (Cis people are those whose gender identity matches their sex assigned at birth.) In addition, as Jessie Earl, host of the “Jessie Gender” YouTube show, points out in an episode titled “Are Transgender Athletes the End of Sports?”, forcing trans women to participate on men’s teams “would increase the stigmatization that trans women are not really women but just men pretending to be women.… [It]would reinforce that harmful stereotype that we are deceitful, other, or different, and that can lead to discrimination, harassment, and more.”
Bills to restrict gender-affirming health care are equally unfounded. Puberty blockers have few-to-zero long-term side effects and simply allow trans adolescents the chance to pause puberty while exploring their gender. Research shows that young people who do not have access are at increased risk of anxiety, depression, and suicide. Trans youth of color, who experience even greater rates of harassment, discrimination, and violence, are especially vulnerable.
For these reasons, pediatric groups and medical associations overwhelmingly confirm that gender-affirming healthcare is not only safe, but lifesaving. Cassidy Boehm, a trans high school student and activist, told this writer, “Seeing how easily the right to healthcare can be taken away is scary. We are only allowed to live, as long as cis people let us. …. You literally have your life in someone’s else’s hands.”
TERF war. Discrediting the very concept of feminism, a tendency known as trans-exclusionary radical feminists or TERFs are also loudly voicing transphobic claims. Many of their ideas are rooted in the notion that trans women are not “real” women and that they pose a threat to the safety of cis women. Radical Women has organized against this bigoted view of trans women for decades.
The most visible TERF group is the Women’s Liberation Front (WoLF). WoLF has a history of aligning with conservative organizations, including the anti-LGBTQ+ Christian ministry Focus on the Family. In 2019, WoLF representatives spoke against trans rights on a panel hosted by the right-wing Heritage Foundation. In February 2021, the group submitted a petition to the U.S. Department of Education aimed at restricting trans girls’ participation in women’s sports through changes to Title IX regulations.
The fight back. Nationally, LGBTQ+ activists and allies are speaking up against anti-trans bigotry. As part of actions around this year’s International Trans Day of Visibility, more than 17,300 teachers and educational workers sent an open letter to the Biden administration demanding that the government do more to protect trans youth. Young activists are organizing across the country by protesting, filing lawsuits against anti-trans legislation and testifying at state hearings. Parents are also fighting back, with over 1,500 recently signing a national letter to lawmakers in defense of trans kids.
To continue the fight against right-wing transphobia calls for a strong multi-racial, multi-generational coalition of all genders, feminists, and workers, standing in solidarity with trans youth and opposing all aspects of the far-right platform. National pressure is needed to push back against transphobic legislation, including sports bans and restrictions on gender-affirming healthcare.
And solidarity is building! In a recent opinion piece in The Guardian, former professional football player RK Russell compared the support he needed as a young, poor Black athlete to the situation of trans youth: “Trans kids deserve the same opportunity that made my NFL career possible. … This is an attack and we need to defend ourselves and our trans youth. We need to defend equality.”
The author is a graduate student in counseling psychology focusing on interpersonal violence, activism, and social justice. Send your feedback to: firstname.lastname@example.org.