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Over the last several years, the United States has seen a drastic increase in legislation targeting the LGBTQ+ community, particularly transgender youth. This trend has already affected members of the LGBTQ+ community and threatens to worsen as conservative politicians push their intolerant agenda.

2022 has thus far proven to be a record-setting year in terms of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation, with a staggering 238 bills already proposed by March and 155 specifically targeting trans people by October. This is an increase from the previous high of 2021, which totaled to 290 total pieces of legislation across 33 states.

The majority of the proposed bills were directed at the transgender community, which sought to limit transgender peoples’ access to bathrooms and athletic teams that align with gender identity over assigned sex, and restrictions on changes made to ID to reflect gender identity. It has also extended to restrictions on gender-affirming healthcare and even discussion of gender and sexuality in the classroom. 

One of the most notorious examples of recent anti-LGBTQ+ legislation is Florida’s House Bill (HB) 1557, colloquially known as the "Don't Say Gay Bill." Formally termed the "Parental Rights in Education Bill”, the legislation prohibits the discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom from kindergarten through third grade. It further limits discussion in the fourth through twelfth grades to only "age-appropriate" material, despite no definition for age-appropriate content being provided in the bill.

“What you see now with the rise of this woke ideology is an attempt to really delegitimize our history and to delegitimize our institutions,” Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said in a Dec 2021 speech. “I view the wokeness as a form of cultural Marxism.”

Signed on March 28 by DeSantis, the law has already resulted in the dismissal of an LGBTQ+ middle school teacher. Casey Scott, a middle school teacher at Cape Coral Middle School, was dismissed in May after discussing sexuality with her students. Following the discussion, students drew pride flags that aligned with their identity, which the school then required Scott to throw away.

“A discussion happened in class and because of that now I’m fired,”

Scott said to NBC news. Another threat to the transgender community is Ohio’s HB 454, “Enact to Save Adolescents from Experimentation Act (SAFE),” which was introduced by Republican representatives Gary Click and Diane V. Grendell. Thus far, the bill has been referred to the Committee of Family, Aging, and Human Services. 

Ohio’s HB 454 seeks to limit minors' access to gender-affirming care by removing it from Medicaid coverage, prohibiting state-owned medical facilities from providing gender-affirming care to minors, preventing tax dollars from being used for gender-affirming care for minors, and allowing legal action to be taken against healthcare providers who supply gender-affirming care to minors. The bill also prohibits staff in both private and public schools from withholding information about students' gender identity and sexual orientation from parents.

HB 454 supports its actions with unreliable claims that transgender people later come to identify with their biological sex as adults and argues that the small percentage of transgender individuals within the population justifies the crackdown on their access to care. Ironically, conservatives condemn their own stance: if there are so few transgender people, how can they be a threat to American culture? 

In the U.S., 1.8% of adolescents and 0.6% of adults identify as transgender. In a study of 17,000 individuals who had sought to affirm their gender in some capacity, 13% were reported to detransition at some point. However, 82.5% of these detransitioners attributed it to external influences, including societal pressure and stigma. 

The answer is that there is no real harm caused by a gender identity, but it’s the growing acceptance and open expression of LGBTQ+ people that represents the overturning of old-fashioned American values. Such values rely on the stereotyped roles of woman and man, and are destabilized when a person transitions or doesn't fit within the outdated narrative of the gender binary.

This influx of legislation has been pushed largely by conservative lawmakers and funded by right-wing and religious lobbyists who seek to undermine growing support for the LGBTQ+ community. Currently, 70% of Americans support same-sex marriage, up from 54% in 2014. Additionally, 79% of Americans support legislative protection for the LGBTQ+ community. This legislation is not representative of the public, but instead derived from an increasingly extreme group of right-wing politicians who have grown out of touch with the general American public.

These bills may not reflect the majority of the US, but they do provide a space and platform for those who intend to harm the LGBTQ+ community. By limiting speech and preventing LGBTQ+ youth to seek safe and adequate care, queer people across the US are being stigmatized and alienated.

“Words matter. Words become thoughts, and thoughts become actions,"

said Toni Cooper, Director of Community Engagement for the Transgender Justice Initiative, in an interview with TIME. According to the Hate Crime Statistics 2020 report from the Uniform Crime Reporting Program, gender identity-motivated hate crimes spiked 20% from 2019 to 2020, which ranged from destruction of property to sexual assault. This included 57 fatalities in 2021, which disproportionately targeted trans women of color. In 2022, there have been at least 33 transgender and gender nonconforming individuals killed. These numbers are likely an underestimation due to the historic underreporting of violence against gender nonconforming and transgender people.

Sky Bauer-Rowe, a fifth-year psychology major, said that the lack of legislative action surrounding the issue is directly promoting violence against the LGBTQ+ community.

“The lack of action from our elected officials, the advice from Hillary Clinton saying trans people should not be on the Democratic agenda, the lack of alarm from cis people—it’s enraging... We are in the later stages of a genocide. They’re cutting off our rights [and] our medicine, erasing our existence from schools, and painting us as groomers and pedophiles.”

Bauer-Rowe said. This culture of LGBTQ+ discrimination and suppression recently culminated in a devastating mass shooting at Club Q, a gay nightclub in Colorado Springs, on Nov. 19-20, 2022. Ashley Paugh (35), Derrick Wayne Rump (38), Kelly Loving (40), Daniel Aston (28) and Raymond Green Vance (22) were the five individuals that were killed; 25 club-goers were injured. The shooter was taken into custody and now faces five counts each of first-degree murder and bias-motivated crime. He was later identified as the grandson of Republican Assemblyman Randy Voepel from California, and had been arrested in 2021 over a bomb threat. 

The increase in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation has also prompted a spike in mental health issues among members of the community. A survey from the Trevor Project found that 66% of LGBTQ+ youth felt their mental health had been negatively affected by the legislation, along with 85% of gender-nonconforming youth.

The situation is not projected to improve, especially after the overturning of the landmark Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade. Roe set the precedent for Obergefell v. Hodge, which established the constitutional right to same-sex marriage in 2015. In 2020, Supreme Court Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito spoke out against the landmark case, and in the 2022 draft opinion that preceded the overturning of Roe v. Wade, Alito encouraged the reconsideration of cases such as Obergefell.

There has been widespread pushback against these types of legislation, including an open letter signed by groups such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American Public Health Association, which condemned the rise in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. The letter’s authors represent one thousand groups for child welfare and millions of youth services professionals.

Conversely, there have also been attempts to legitimize LGBTQ+ rights through legislation. Many of these bills, including Idaho HB 440 and Mississippi SB 2310—which sought to classify freedom from discrimination due to sexual orientation or gender identity as a civil right—have unfortunately failed to pass. However, a few are still active, including New Jersey  A1846, which seeks to prevent discrimination based on gender identity in issuing and rating in life insurance, and Vermont HB 628, which was signed in April 2022 and legalized the revision of birth certificates to reflect gender identity.

Anti-LGBTQ+ pieces of legislation have recently spiked in the U.S., which cannot be ignored or tolerated. These bills and laws stigmatize vulnerable communities and facilitate hate crimes against innocent people. There are many who support the LGBTQ+ community, but more must be done to support the individual members and protect them from those who deny and belittle their existence. We must vote for candidates who support LGBTQ+ rights, educate ourselves and others on what it means to be LGBTQ+ or an ally, and encourage acceptance and inclusion.