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Why Are Lawmakers Targeting Trans Youth?

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By Richard Dahl | Last updated on

Anti-transgender lawmakers across the U.S. are on the march.

According to the American Civil Liberties Union, some 60 anti-trans bills are now being considering in 28 states. The primary targets of these bills, the ACLU says, are restricting the ability of trans girls to participate in girls' sports and young trans people's access to gender-affirming health care.

Many of these bills won't pass, of course, but three have become law as of March 30:

  • On March 11, Mississippi became the first state to ban transgender women from participating in team sports consistent with their gender identity. The “Mississippi Fairness Act," signed into law by Governor Tate Reeves, requires schools to designate teams by sexes assigned at birth.
  • On March 25, Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson signed into law a bill banning transgender women from participating in school sports teams consistent with their gender identity.
  • On March 26, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee followed suit. That state's new law requires public middle-school and high-school students to prove their sex at birth to participate in sports.

One of the arguments by the supporters of these laws is that they are efforts to provide fairness. On March 4, for instance, Reeves tweeted that he intended to sign the bill “to protect young girls from being forced to compete with biological males for athletic opportunities."

How many more will become law is anybody's guess at this point, but Chase Stangio, deputy director for transgender justice at the ACLU told CNN, “This has been a significant part of my work at the ACLU for the past six years and I've never seen anything like this. There have never been this many bills targeting trans youth voted out of committee and then making it to the floor."

A Coordinated Effort

While they target trans youth, these bills seems to direct particular attention to trans girls, which raises the question: Why?

On March 29, New York Times writer Jeremy W. Peters wrote an article addressing that question. His conclusion was that the conservative backers of these bills are touting them as efforts to provide fairness to female athletes — but only those assigned female at birth.

In 2016, North Carolina experienced serious blowback, including boycotts, after lawmakers in that state passed a notorious “bathroom bill" barring transgender people from bathrooms and locker rooms that don't match the gender on their birth certificates. The latest round of anti-trans bills might reflect lessons learned from that experience.

Peters wrote that the anti-trans bills are the product of a “coordinated and poll-tested campaign by social conservative organizations like the American Principles Project and Concerned Women for America, which say they are determined to move forward with what may be one of their last footholds in the fight against expanding L.G.B.T.Q. rights."

Much Ado?

All this attention seems to suggest that there's a major influx of trans competitors moving into girls' sports, but it's not supported by evidence, Peters wrote. When this does happen, the NCAA has rules in place that address it, including a requirement that athletes who are transitioning to female be on testosterone suppression treatment for a year before they can compete on a women's team.

State rules vary. Some have rules similar to the NCAA and some have none.

Though the bills that have made it into law thus far focus on sports, several focusing on access to health care are nearing passage in several states. On March 29, the Arkansas Senate voted 28-7 to approve the Arkansas Save Adolescents from Experimentation (SAFE) Act, which would prevent gender transition “procedures" for trans people under age 18.

It awaits the signature of Governor Hutchinson, who has already signed one anti-trans bill into law.

Meanwhile, for transgender students and parents of transgender students, it's important to know what the laws are around gender discrimination. Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 states that no students shall be excluded from participation in any education program that receives federal funding.

In 2014, the U.S. Education Department issued guidelines stating that Title IX does indeed protect against the discrimination of transgender students.

The first step following any suspected harassment is to file a complaint with your school. You may also file a complaint to the U.S. Education Department's Office for Civil Rights or your state's education department. In some cases, hiring an attorney who can assist you in filing your complaint can be helpful.

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