Anti-trans bills are being mass produced by a website form

Trans rights are under assault in state legislatures all over the country. But is the surge being fueled by actual concern from constituents or is there astro-turfing afoot?
Trans woman with a trans pride flag
Photo credit: tedeytan on flickr

A new coalition of national anti-LGBTQ+ organizations has launched a website that promises to deliver “model legislation” to policymakers, providing bill language designed to keep trans youth from accessing medical care and participating in athletics.  

The site is part of a broad coalition calling itself the Promise to America’s Children’ that launched in late February to combat the Equality Act and push anti-trans legislation in states, LGBTQ+ advocates say that the groups have manufactured controversies. 

“It’s no surprise that the ugly wave of state attacks on trans kids traces back to a few very familiar national anti-LGBTQ groups,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement. “They have opposed LGBTQ equality for decades, fighting marriage equality and now targeting trans youth.”

The coalition’s backers include the Alliance Defending Freedom, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled an extremist hate group for claiming that LGBTQ+ people are pedophiles and advocating for the forced sterilization of transgender people in the European Court of Human Rights in 2015. It also includes conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation, Family Policy Alliance and other state-based anti-LGBTQ+ organizations. 

America’s Promise to Children did not respond to requests from The 19th for an interview or to questions about whether its groups were responsible for the hundreds of anti-LGBTQ+ bills introduced into statehouses from coast to coast in recent years. 

“This unprecedented surge of anti-transgender legislation is not being demanded by constituents,” Human Rights Campaign State Legislative Director and Senior Counsel Cathryn Oakley said. “Legislators in several states have openly admitted that there is no problem happening in their states that needs addressing.” 

Matt Sharp, senior counsel for Alliance Defending Freedom, previously told The 19th in a statement that his organization had consulted on some of the bills, which is not unusual for national legal groups, he noted. 

On its website, the group claims that “America’s children are under attack” and asks lawmakers to sign a “promise” to protect children from what they say are sensitive topics like information on abortion, sexual orientation, gender identity and sexual education. They vow to back “privacy in sex-specific spaces such as locker rooms, showers, and restrooms at schools,” and support foster care and adoption agencies that turn away LGBTQ+ couples.  

Chase Strangio, deputy director for transgender justice at the ACLU, said those efforts amount to political attacks on children. 

“Lawmakers who want to support young people in our country should listen to what young people, educators, doctors and mental health experts are saying: Affirming a person’s gender is life-saving,” Strangio said in a statement. “Trans and non-binary youth know who they are.”

Since the Supreme Court’s 2015 marriage equality ruling in 2015, state legislatures have increasingly considered bills aimed at transgender people. 

From 2016 to 2018, lawmakers weighed bathroom bills, which would force transgender people to use public restrooms that match their sex assigned at birth. Those efforts, however, largely failed. Most famously, North Carolina passed a bathroom bill in 2016 that spurred nationwide boycotts from businesses. Facing an estimated $3.76 billion in losses, the state was forced to backtrack and rescind the law. In Anchorage, Alaska, anti-LGBTQ+ activists tried to pass a bathroom bill at the ballot box two years later. That measure, too, was defeated. 

In 2018, Massachusetts also held a statewide referendum on whether transgender people should be allowed to use bathrooms and lockers room that corresponded with their genders. But despite the fact that the ballot question baffled voters in much of the deep blue state (voters had to vote “yes” to strike down the ballot question), the anti-trans effort still failed. The bathroom issue largely died there.

Since then, states have shifted focus to regulating transgender children through bills that seek to ban trans girls from competing in school athletics and prevent doctors from treating kids with gender dysphoria

Last year, a historic number of anti-trans bills were introduced in state legislatures. Nearly all of them were stopped when the pandemic shuttered statehouses. LGBTQ+ advocates accuse their opponents of pressing ahead with bills that traumatize trans youth even when they fail and financially have the potential to financially devastate states when they succeed.

“Their goal is to use these states to advance their hateful agenda, and this legislative push is being made without much care for the economic, legal, and reputational consequences these states might face in the wake of their passage,” Oakley said.

This year, more than 184 anti-LGBTQ+ bills have hit state legislatures, according to the Equality Federation, a coalition of statewide LGBTQ+ organizations. This year has also seen the resurgence of Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) bills, which LGBTQ+ advocates say seek to give religious groups a free pass to discriminate against LGBTQ+ people.  

LGBTQ+ advocates including Southern Poverty Law Center’s Scott McCoy said the federal Equality Act, which passed the House last week, is needed to prevent the abuse of those religious exemptions. If passed, that bill would bar anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination in employment, housing, public spaces, jury service, education and other areas. 

“It is disgraceful that until now, LGBTQ+ people were not included by name in these essential protections,” McCoy said in a statement. 

The Promise to America’s Children sees things a different way. The group claims that the Equality Act would promote a nationwide campaign “to use our children as political pawns to advance a sexual agenda.”

“By signing this you are not making a promise to vote for or against specific legislation” the site reads. The exception is the Equality Act, “which clearly violates all principles of this Promise.”

This article first appeared at 19th News and is republished with permission.