Last year, state lawmakers perpetrated an unprecedented number of legislative assaults on LGBTQI+ communities. According to the Equality Federation, an LGBTQ+ advocacy organization that closely tracks and combats these state-level attacks, almost 400 anti-LGBTQI+ bills were introduced across the country in 2021.* These bills range from granting states a license to discriminate against LGBTQI+ people and families, to erasing LGBTQI+ people from education curricula, to denying transgender people access to health care and prohibiting transgender youth from participating in school sports.
In fact, many of the extreme bills introduced in the last legislative sessions specifically target transgender youth. The Equality Federation estimates that last year, more than 100 bills were introduced to ban transgender youth from participating in sports consistent with their gender identity; some of the bills would require unnecessary and invasive medical examinations. Another 64 bills would deny transgender youth access to best-practice medical care, in some instances by criminalizing physicians for providing gender-affirming care.
As state lawmakers commence 2022 legislative sessions, these attacks are poised to continue. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, as of January 28, there were approximately 120 anti-LGBTQI+ bills active in almost 30 states. The passage of these kinds of bills significantly restricts the rights of LGBTQI+ people. A recent study by the Williams Institute estimates that Arkansas’ passed bill denying medical care to transgender youth would affect approximately 1,450 young people ages 13 and above across the state, depriving them of medically necessary, best-practice medical care that can have lifesaving effects. The introduction of these bills alone—and the often hateful, dehumanizing, and misinformed debates that surround them—causes concrete harm to LGBTQI+ people, especially youth, by exacerbating existing mental health disparities. New data from The Trevor Project show that 66 percent of LGBTQ youth, including 85 percent of transgender and/or nonbinary youth, report that recent debates about state laws to restrict the rights of transgender people have negatively affected their mental health. The severity of these mental health harms is reflected in an uptake of support services. The Trevor Project reported that between January and August 2021, crisis contacts from LGBTQ youth in Texas seeking support increased 150 percent compared with the same time period in 2020. Many transgender and nonbinary youth stated they were “feeling stressed, using self-harm, and considering suicide due to anti-LGBTQ laws being debated in their state.”
Approximate number of anti-LGBTQI+ bills introduced in states in 2021
Approximate number of anti-LGBTQI+ bills introduced in states as of January 28, 2022
American Cilvil Liberties Union
These legislative attacks are the latest attempts of anti-equality organizations to advance their dangerous agendas after losing the fight against marriage equality and seeing public support for their extreme positions evaporate as the American people become increasingly supportive of LGBTQI+ equality. These extreme groups are pushing these bills in states across the country as part of a coordinated campaign against LGBTQI+ rights and transgender youth. The far-right groups orchestrating this campaign and the legislators propagating their agenda are stoking fear and deepening divisions, denying people the basic rights, resources, and respect they deserve. The Senate must pass comprehensive protections against discrimination to ensure that everyone receives equal treatment under the law and to advance this nation’s shared values of freedom, fairness, and dignity for all.
The Senate must pass the Equality Act
As these state-level attacks continue, the need for the Senate to pass the Equality Act could not be more urgent. LGBTQ Americans are not fully protected from discrimination in 29 states. The current patchwork of legal protections in states across the country and the gaps in federal civil rights laws leave millions of LGBTQI+ people without protection from discrimination, which remains a real and pervasive problem. According to a 2020 nationally representative survey conducted by the Center for American Progress and NORC at the University of Chicago, more than 1 in 3 LGBTQI+ adults faced discrimination of some kind in the past year, including 2 in 5 LGBTQI+ people of color and more than 3 in 5 transgender individuals.** These experiences are detrimental to the well-being of LGBTQI+ people and can adversely affect how they live, work, learn, and navigate everyday life.
The lack of clarity around federal nondiscrimination protections leaves LGBTQI+ people vulnerable to discrimination in schools and housing and when accessing health care and other services. The Equality Act would provide a national solution to this by strengthening and expanding federal civil rights laws to ensure clear, consistent, and comprehensive nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQI+ people in all states. Such protections enjoy broad support among the American public: A 2021 survey from the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute found that more than 80 percent of Americans, including majorities in all 50 states and majorities of Republicans, Democrats, and independents, support LGBTQ nondiscrimination protections such as those found in the Equality Act. The same survey found that solid majorities of people from all major religions support laws protecting LGBTQ people from discrimination. More recently, a March 2021 Human Rights Campaign poll found that 70 percent of voters support passage of the Equality Act.
2022 is poised to see a record number of legislative attacks against the basic rights and dignity of LGBTQI+ people. LGBTQI+ people across the country, especially LGBTQI+ youth, need the Senate to denounce the flood of dangerous, hateful state bills and pass the Equality Act. It is unconscionable that state legislatures are seeking to create a country where one child in a household—where one neighbor, co-worker, or human being—has more rights than another simply because of who they are. It is time to pass the Equality Act and extend these civil rights protections equally to all people.
* Bill counts are based on the Equality Federation’s “2021 Legislative Report.” The report, provided to CAP by the Equality Federation on January 21, 2022, is on file with the authors.
** This survey, which includes a sample of 1,528 LGBTQI+-identifying adults, was jointly conducted by the Center for American Progress and NORC at the University of Chicago and has been weighted to account for both U.S. population characteristics and survey nonresponse. The full results of the study, along with a detailed overview of the methodology, are on file with the authors. For additional information on survey results, please see CAP’s related report and data interactive.
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Vice President, LGBTQI+ Research and Communications Project