WASHINGTON — Transgender Americans could face a historic year of legislation that will further erode their rights as advocates brace for roughly 280 proposals in statehouses across the country aimed at some of the most vulnerable members of the LGBTQ+ community.
That's according to a comprehensive study released Thursday by the Human Rights Campaign, one of the country's largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer civil rights groups, which looked at dozens of proposals pushed by lawmakers last year.
In its State Equality Index scorecard, the group says state legislatures last year sought more measures than ever before that specifically targeted the transgender community across a range of issues.
While 2020 saw 79 different anti-trans measures dealing with education to athletics and healthcare to bathroom access, in 2021 that count nearly doubled with 147 proposals aimed at transgender Americans.
LGBTQ+ activists are already tracking roughly 280 bills that have been filed ahead of or during 2022 legislative sessions, with South Dakota being the first state to pass an anti-transgender bill this year putting limits on transgender women and girls from competing in school sports.
"The uptick is deeply unfortunate, and what that tells me is that our opposition is getting increasingly desperate to turn back LGBTQ equality," said Cathryn Oakley, state legislative director and senior counsel for the Human Rights Campaign.
Many forms for anti-trans bills
State legislation targeting the trans community took several forms, according to the group's findings, with many bills carrying over from 2021 to this year.
There were roughly 80 proposals in 2021, for instance, aimed at preventing transgender youth from playing in school sports consistent with the gender identity of their choice.
Among them was a Texas bill pushed through the Republican-controlled legislature requiring student athletes play on sports teams that correspond to the sex listed on their birth certificate.
Supporters of such laws have argued the Lone Star State's proposal, which became law on Tuesday, and others like it are necessary to protect cis-gendered women in athletic programs from unfair competition from trans student athletes.
A USA TODAY investigation last year of roughly three dozen states that proposed similar bans, however, found few examples of transgender athletes seeking to participate in sports and even fewer complaints about them.
"The lack of examples just goes to show that they’re grasping for straws here," Chris Mosier, a U.S. triathlete and transgender advocate, told USA TODAY last summer.
"There is not a problem, and there is not a problem at the scale they’re trying to make it. There’s not a problem that would warrant any types of laws against these young people."
This weekend, hundreds of South Dakotans showed up in support of trans youth.
Three anti-trans bills have been filed in the South Dakota legislature — two preventing kids from playing sports and one discriminatory bathroom bill.
We will not stop fighting to #ProtectTransKids. pic.twitter.com/3eGEjAqNYv
— Human Rights Campaign (@HRC) January 18, 2022
Another 43 bills, according to the Human Rights Campaign's report, were also proposed last year to prevent transgender youth from receiving age-appropriate health care that affirmed their gender identity choice.
In early 2021, for instance, Arkansas and Tennessee became two of the first states to enact laws banning doctors from providing gender-confirming hormone treatment to minors.
The Arkansas ban applied to anyone under 18 years of age while the Tennessee version blocks such treatment for prepubescent minors.
Human Rights Campaign officials are warning allies of how 2022 is poised to eclipse last year in terms of those same conservative legislators leaning into an "intentional, coordinated attack" on the transgender community, particularly youth who are grappling with their gender identity.
"The support for transgender people, and I think particularly transgender youth, is absolutely continuing to grow," Oakley told USA TODAY in an interview. "And the opposition has no choice but to really go after kids. They couldn't pick on some of their own size."
Activists hold grim outlook for 2022
Of the 147 proposed measures last year, the HRC's index says by the end of the 2021 legislative sessions, a record 13 bills "attacking transgender youth" were enacted into law.
That is putting LGBTQ+ activists on edge for what could happen in a pivotal year leading up to the mid-term elections. For starters, advocates believe 2022 will worsen the trend as Republicans seek to give their base fuel by November.
"What we're seeing in 2022 is just the newest iteration of the same conversation," Oakley said. "Our opposition is just looking for the place where they can spread enough fear and misinformation that they're able to confuse fair-minded people long enough to get some bills passed."
Oakley said that this year will be marked by hard fights to defend progress in certain states while fending off efforts in others to expand anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination into law.
In Texas, for instance, state Rep. Valoree Swanson — who sponsored the ban on trans student athletes that took effect this week — indicated she wanted to expand the restrictions to the collegiate level.
"It's not fair that biological males can claim to be girls and take over and ruin our girls sports—it's just not," Swanson, a Republican, told members of the conservative-leaning group Texas Values.
She said cis-gendered girls from across the state and country have come forward in support of the new law, and want it to go further.
"We have got to come back and protect our college girls in the next sessions," Swanson said.
The Human Rights Campaign's scorecard lists Texas among the 22 states in its lowest-rated category, where it argues LGBTQ+ people, especially transgender individuals, have yet to achieve basic equality in employment, housing and public accommodation protections.
These states, such as South Dakota and Montana, are more likely to have religious refusal laws that allow medical care providers to refuse to provide certain services if
they assert a religious justification.
Fights in some of those states will certainly take on a political tenor during the 2022 mid-terms, as among those roughly two dozen states are Arizona, Michigan and Georgia, which Democrats flipped to their column in the last presidential contest versus the 2016 election.
In those key swing states at least five bills aimed at transgender Americans have already been pre-filed in 2022, ranging from blocking gender reassignment to participation in school athletics, according to Freedom for All Americans, a bipartisan LGBTQ+ civil rights group.
'Incredible progress' in these states
Despite the grim outlook in states where the GOP has a chokehold on the legislature and governor's mansion, the scorecard provides a glimmer of hope to LGBTQ+ advocates.
The Human Rights Campaign lists at least seven states in its categories as either building or solidifying equality, meaning progress is being made on anti-discrimination laws.
Those include swing states such as Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, but also solidly red state like Florida, Utah and Kansas.
JoDee Winterhof, a senior strategist at the Human Rights Campaign, said 2021 saw a "record-breaking amount of states step up for LGBTQ+ equality" by passing robust non-discrimination laws covering housing, healthcare and public accommodations.
"It is clear that considerable effort has been, and continues to be made, to prevent anti-LGBTQ+ legislation from becoming law," Winterhof said.
The group's scorecard shows there were 44 new pro-equality measures passed into law last year alone. It lists 21 states, and the District of Columbia, in its highest-rated category of creating "innovative equality," meaning a stat has enacted a broad range of protections.
Those states include California, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Maryland, New Mexico, New York and Virginia.
Those laws range from ensuring that utility companies allow consumers to change their names and pronouns to ensuring that places of public accommodation have gender-neutral bathrooms and making it easier to update birth and death certificates with correct names and pronouns.
Oakley said one of the things LGBTQ+ rights activists learned from the fight for marriage equality was how changing attitudes in the culture are tied to legislative and judicial victories.
"People are much more willing to support equality for LGBT people when they have an LGBT person in their life," she said. "It stops being hypothetical and starts being real."
Polling shows a growing share of Americans know someone who is transgender or who goes by a gender-neutral pronoun.
About 42% of adults said they personally know someone who identifies as trans, according to a July 2021 survey by the Pew Research Center. That is up 5 percentage points/ compared to a similar poll conducted five years ago.
But the same survey found Americans remain split on using gender-neutral pronouns to describe a person. About 48% said they would feel very or somewhat uncomfortable doing so compared to roughly 50% who were said they were comfortable.
Those views skew heavily when measured along partisan lines, with 68% of Republican feeling uncomfortable and 67% of Democrats feeling comfortable.
"All of that discrimination is coming from the same root, which is basic fear and misunderstanding of what it means to be trans," Oakley said. "And so we have got tomake sure that people understand that being trans is just the way some people are — it's not a threat to you, it's not a threat to anybody — it just is people's reality."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Anti-trans legislation: LGBTQ advocates worry 2022 could set new record