(The Hill) – Three months into an already record-shattering year for legislation targeting the rights of transgender Americans, LGBTQ legal groups and community organizers are focusing on the road ahead, where they say they see successful court battles, repealed anti-LGBTQ laws and a better future in their sight line.
More than 430 state bills targeting the rights of LGBTQ people in the U.S. have been introduced this year in more than 40 state legislatures, according to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), and more than 20 have become law.
More than 90 percent of the 315 proposed bills targeting the rights of LGBTQ people last year failed to become law, however, according to a January report by the Human Rights Campaign, a national LGBTQ advocacy group.
That’s in no small part because of grassroots organizing that has mobilized LGBTQ people and their allies to protest at state houses across the country this year and speak up during bill hearings, even when their testimonies fall on deaf ears.
“You show up because it shows just how many of us there are,” Allison Chapman, a 26-year-old LGBTQ activist and legislative researcher in Virginia, told The Hill this week in an interview. “It also signals to lawmakers that we’re not going to just stand by while this happens.”
“Any massive change has to be done from multiple angles,” Chapman said. “I think protesting is one of those angles.”
Chapman added that it has been uplifting to see young students protest laws that target transgender people in their state by walking out of class, often in coordination with students at other schools.
“The next generation is so bright and so loud,” she said. “They’re going to change everything.”
Legislation targeting transgender Americans has also been introduced at the federal level, and House Republicans this year have proposed bills that would bar transgender women and girls from competing on female sports teams and punish doctors who provide gender-affirming health care to minors.
Anti-transgender rhetoric and calls for federal laws targeting transgender rights were amplified on social media this week by far-right media personalities and members of Congress following a school shooting in Nashville that left six people dead, including three 9-year-old students.
Local authorities immediately after the shooting said they believed the suspect, 28-year-old Audrey Hale, who was fatally shot by police, was transgender. Days later, however, Hale’s gender identity remains unclear.
But policies that prevent transgender people from accessing things like gender-affirming health care – considered medically necessary by most major medical associations – or prohibit them from using restrooms that match their gender identity are not overwhelmingly popular among most Americans, surveys have found.
“This is an issue that’s very cabined to a very, very extreme and small part of the Republican primary electorate,” said Cathryn Oakley, the state legislative director and senior counsel at the Human Rights Campaign, pointing to a wave of GOP losses in last year’s midterm elections.
Those policies are also discriminatory, organizations including the Human Rights Campaign, the ACLU and Lambda Legal have argued in lawsuits, and court orders have blocked a number of anti-LGBTQ laws from taking effect in several states.
“The problem with litigation is that it takes a long time,” Oakley said, “So even as we are having success, we’re having success in early stages because it takes a long time for these cases to move through the courts.”
States that have passed laws targeting transgender people are beginning to feel impatient, too.
West Virginia this month requested the Supreme Court take emergency action to lift a lower court’s temporary injunction that has blocked the state from enforcing a law barring transgender women and girls from competing on female sports teams for more than a year.
The high court has not yet said whether it will take up the case, though if it does, any ensuing ruling will dramatically alter the nation’s transgender rights landscape, for better or worse.
To date, not many laws targeting transgender people, specifically, have been repealed. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) repealed the state’s House Bill 2, which had prevented transgender residents from using public restrooms consistent with their gender identity, in 2017, following boycotts from organizations including the NCAA.
It’s unlikely that the nation will see a similar response to more recently enacted laws, Oakley said, with anti-transgender policies under consideration in over half the nation.
“That makes it a lot harder for the business community to be able to mobilize in that way,” she said.
But that doesn’t mean laws targeting transgender and LGBTQ rights won’t eventually be repealed, Oakley said, it just might take some time.
Chapman, the LGBTQ activist from Virginia, said the outcome of upcoming state and federal elections, including the 2024 presidential election, will play an outsized role in determining what the future will look like for transgender Americans.
“The next two to four years are going to define the rest of my life, essentially, and what it’s like to be a trans person in America,” she said.