As anti-trans legislation proliferates in 2024, community fears erasure from public view

Corrections & Clarifications: Lana Moore served on GLAAD's board of directors from 2013 until 2020.

As a third-generation firefighter and then fire captain, Lana Moore served the city of Columbus, Ohio, for 35 years. In 2008, she came out to her crew as transgender.

While some in the department grumbled, Moore said both her chief and union president were fully supportive, and two years after she retired in 2016, she was inducted into the city's hall of fame.

That’s why it pains her to know Ohio lawmakers – for whom, she said, she would have laid down her life as a firefighter – last month overrode Gov. Mike DeWine’s veto of HB 68, a bill banning gender-affirming care for young people and preventing transgender girls and women from competing in female high school and college sports. And they’re still mulling a slate of bills that would restrict transgender rights and visibility.

“It’s frightening,” Moore said. “It feels like I’ve been betrayed. They’ve identified a small minority of people they can stereotype and scapegoat. I’m not a historian, but I paid attention in history class, and it’s not hard to recognize what’s happening here.”

As Republican lawmakers nationwide continue to introduce bills targeting the LGBTQ+ community – and specifically transgender people – at rates on par with last year’s record numbers, Moore and community advocates fear a rising tide of hostile rhetoric is designed to ultimately erase them from public life.

This week, Florida officials revoked transgender residents’ ability to update gender markers on driver’s licenses and ID cards; Utah passed a bill banning transgender people from bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity; and Texas’ attorney general pressed a clinic in Georgia for medical records of transgender young people who used telehealth to obtain gender-affirming care there.

'It has progressively gotten worse'

The Human Rights Campaign, among the country’s largest LGBTQ+ civil rights groups, said 130 bills targeting transgender rights had been filed nationwide in 2024, compared with roughly 225 last year. Overall, the group said, 325 anti-LGBTQ+ bills had been proposed in 2024 as of Jan. 25, compared with 503 in all of 2023.

“For years, transgender people have warned of radical anti-LGBTQ+ forces’ true aim: to abuse governmental power to take away our freedoms and drive trans people out of public society,” said Kelley Robinson, the organization’s president, in a statement decrying what she called a “sinister agenda."

“They want to humiliate, harass and use policy to eliminate transgender people from public life,” she said.

Last week, Michigan news outlet reported Republicans in the Michigan and Ohio legislatures described banning access to gender-affirming care for adults as well as young people as the “endgame” in a conversation on the social media platform X.

Siobhan Boyd-Nelson, co-interim executive director of Equality Ohio, said the group was “profoundly disappointed” in Ohio “lawmakers’ unwillingness to listen to medical professionals, young people and their families. ... There’s absolutely no reason for government overreach into the personal medical decisions of Ohioans.”

“It has progressively gotten worse, and we know that Ohio is not alone,” Boyd-Nelson said. “We’re seeing it happen across the country, and we think people should be very concerned about what appears to be an obsession with marginalizing and harming an already marginalized community.”

Anti-equality bills outnumber those in support

When Moore grew up in the 1970s, she didn’t know the term "transgender"; not until she saw transgender actress and activist Christine Jorgensen on a talk show did she realize she wasn’t the only person who felt as she did.

“I took an oath as a civil servant, and I took it seriously,” Moore said. “That didn’t end when I retired. But it looks like they’ve (Republican lawmakers) taken an oath to a political party.”

According to health policy research organization KFF, 23 states have enacted laws or policies limiting youth access to gender affirming care as of Jan. 31, while 21 states have laws or policies imposing professional or legal penalties on health care practitioners who provide minors with such care.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine speaks during a news conference, Friday, Dec. 29, 2023, in Columbus, Ohio. DeWine vetoed a measure that would have banned gender-affirming care for minors and transgender athletes’ participation in girls and women’s sports, in a break from members of his party who championed the legislation. Last month, lawmakers voted to override the veto.

Gender-affirming care includes using hormones to delay puberty and support physical development aligning with a youth's identity, and has been endorsed by major health groups, including the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics. Proponents of laws prohibiting such care say the bans are intended to protect youths from making life-altering decisions at a young age.

"Families should never fear losing custody of their children for not consenting to superstitious gender ideology," Ohio state Rep. Gary Click, sponsor of HB 68, in a news release.

In his veto of that bill, Gov. DeWine said that should the bill become law, "Ohio would be saying that the state, that the government knows better what is medically best for a child than the two people who love that child the most: their parents."

According to the Human Rights Campaign’s 2023 State Equality Index, more than 253 pro-equality bills were introduced nationwide last year; 50 of them were signed into law.

In contrast, the campaign tallied 571 anti-equality bills in 2023, with 77 of them becoming law.

The campaign gave 20 states and Washington its highest rating (“working toward innovative equality”), and another five were characterized as “solidifying equality,” the index’s next highest ranking.

But 23 other states, most of them in the South, were deemed “high priority to achieve basic equality,” the list’s lowest rating.

“States are trying to rewrite laws to exclude LGBTQ+ people from sex-based protections, and they are continuing to try to erase LGBTQ+ people from history, from the classroom, from artistic performance, and from sport,” the report reads.

'Other people are defining us'

Florida is among the states in the campaign’s lowest rated category. In addition to revoking the ability of transgender people to change the listed gender on their driver’s licenses, the state has passed laws restricting transgender people from using bathrooms corresponding to their gender identity in public schools and places, transgender youth participation in sports, gender-affirming care for transgender young people and inclusion of LGBTQ+ topics in schools.

“The DeSantis administration’s obsession with scapegoating transgender Floridians has escalated into an outrageous attack that further erodes freedom and liberty in our state,” said Nadine Smith, executive director of Equality Florida, in a statement. “These reckless and hateful policies are intended to make the transgender community feel unsafe and unwelcome in Florida and to bully them out of public life entirely.”

Alaina Kupec, president of transgender advocacy group Gender Research Advisory Council + Education, or GRACE, said transgender people provide a "politically opportunistic" group for candidates to prey on. She started the organization out of exasperation over the rhetoric influencing public perceptions of the trans community.

“Nobody was really changing the narrative being put out by hate groups telling outright lies about transgender people and our lives and the care that we get,” Kupec said. “I thought, maybe I should be challenging these five-alarm fires we’re seeing across the country. … Other people are defining us instead of us defining ourselves.”

Through GRACE, Kupec helps trans advocacy groups around the country get their message out while providing them with research and data on issues like gender-affirming care.

“We have a world where the left is shouting at the right and the right is shouting at the left,” she said. “We want to find that movable middle and appeal to their values and not have them see us as the enemy or the woke left. People have tried to portray these issues as partisan, and they’re not.”

Climate prompts fears for personal safety

Kupec and others say some politicians have seized on transgender issues as a means of distraction, trying to make up for lost votes over abortion rights.

“This is purely political theater designed to capture attention,” she said, noting a federal judge last year struck down a 2021 Arkansas law banning gender-affirming care for trans youth, calling it unconstitutional and motivated by ideology. “At the end of the day, the courts are going to knock these things down, because the medical evidence is overwhelming.”

Boyd-Nelson, of Equality Ohio, said that while some politicians might fixate on these issues to score points with their constituencies, she wonders at what cost.

“Lives are at stake, and that’s what’s so disgusting about this.”

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Anti-trans bills: Proposals in 2024 show no sign of slowing down