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Record number of bills look to restrict trans rights in the U.S.

A record number of bills to limit transgender rights have been introduced this year in state legislators across the country, with lawmakers in 28 states considering 93 bills targeting the rights of transgender Americans according to the Human Rights Campaign. John Yang speaks to Kate Sosin, the LGBTQ+ reporter for The 19th News, about how the legal and cultural battles are playing out.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A record number of bills to limit transgender rights have been introduced this year in state legislatures across the country.

    John Yang reports on how the legal and cultural battles are playing out.

  • John Yang:

    Judy, the Arkansas legislature has passed and sent to the governor a measure that would ban physicians from providing established gender-affirming medical care to transgender children.

    Also yesterday, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem signed executive orders banning transgender girls from playing on girls sports teams.

    According to the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBTQ advocacy group, lawmakers in 28 states are considering 93 bills targeting the rights of transgender Americans. And sports bans in Arkansas and Mississippi are set to become law this summer.

    Kate Sosin is the LGBTQ reporter for The 19th News.

    Kate, can you give us an idea? There are a lot of bills, but can you give us an idea of sort of the range of things these bills would do?

  • Kate Sosin:

    Yes, there are currently two main types of bills being considered in legislatures across the country.

    One, of course, is this transgender sports ban, which mostly seeks to limit transgender participation in sports, particularly transgender young girls playing on girls teams. And then the other is a ban on transgender medical care for youth. So, young people, when they reach a certain age, if they have gender dysphoria, which means they experience mental duress because they are transgender, might not want to go through puberty.

    And so their doctors might prescribe them puberty blockers, so that they don't have to go through puberty, and can make a decision when they're older about whether or not they want to medically transition. So, it's a temporary pause on puberty. And this would make it illegal for them to get that gender-affirming care that medical organizations and doctors have decided is the appropriate care for transgender youth.

  • John Yang:

    Kate, why are we seeing these bills? Are these in response to anything, response to incidents or cases across the country?

  • Kate Sosin:

    2015 saw the advent of marriage equality nationwide. And then there was a shift in terms of what LGBTQ advocates wanted to do, and they wanted to pick up trans rights.

    And there was also a focus from opponents of LGBTQ equality. They also wanted to focus on the advancement of transgender rights. And so the shift really became a focus on what we call bathroom bills, which was limiting transgender people from using public bathrooms.

    And the most prominent example that we saw was in North Carolina, which passed an anti-trans bathroom measure. That was repealed because the boycotts and the economic fallout were so severe that the state lost — was set to lose $3.76 billion over the course of several years.

    And so those measures time and again failed. They failed at ballot boxes. They failed in state legislatures. And then the next wave of bills that we saw were these sports bills and these medical bans. And that's where we are today.

  • John Yang:

    But are there cases of transgender girls trying to play on girls sports teams and creating problems because of that? Is that what these bills are responding to?

  • Kate Sosin:

    There are a few examples of transgender girls participating in sports.

    But, by and large, the Associated Press did ask more than a dozen different states lawmakers, do you have examples of transgender girls where this is an issue? And they said, no, that this was a preventative measure.

    So, transgender kids have been participating on sports teams for years and years and years, and we haven't seen this raised as an issue. It seems to only be raised as an issue when transgender girls win in their sports. And we have one prominent example that we can point to, which is Connecticut, where two transgender women were successful in their track competitions, Andraya Yearwood and Terry Miller.

    And those — the fact that they were both in Connecticut, they're both black trans women seems to have sparked quite a controversy in that state, and seems to be the genesis for a lot of these bills.

  • John Yang:

    So, if there are not a lot of cases that this is responding to — there's one case in Connecticut — why are all these other states doing this? Why is this coming up now? Why so many of these bills?

  • Kate Sosin:

    There's a few things.

    One is, a lot of us, we know a gay person or a lesbian person. We might know a bisexual person. Transgender people are more of an unknown, transgender children even less known. And so this is an issue that the American public is less familiar with, right? It's easier to legislate around.

    And when we talk about an issue of fairness in women's sports, it's really confusing for a lot of people, right? We all want to support fairness in sports. We all want to support women's rights. And so this is an issue that is easily confused. And then we have this issue of major anti-LGBTQ organizations have taken this up, right, and have formed coalitions,and provided bills to these state lawmakers.

    You can go on and sign up for model legislation in your state, and you will be provided a bill, whether it's on a trans medical ban or a sports measure, just by filling out a form, as if you were signing up for a mailing list.

    And so all these states didn't wake up on the same day and decide to essentially pass these bills in the same year. This is a push for a movement that is responding to the advancement of transgender rights.

  • John Yang:

    Is this the latest case in the culture wars between the political parties?

  • Kate Sosin:

    This seems to be a response or a tactic to try to bring back white suburban women back to the GOP, after such a loss with the presidential ticket.

    The question is, will it work? The polling suggests no. More and more people know transgender people. And there is overwhelming support for the Equality Act, which is — would be landmark LGBTQ rights legislation federally.

    So, more and more people support LGBTQ rights. More and more people support transgender rights. And this push to limit the rights of transgender youth doesn't necessarily seem to be a winning issue as a wedge issue. So, it will be really interesting to see how this plays out, as lawmakers push this, and the GOP voting base does not seem to support it, according to polling.

  • John Yang:

    Kate Sosin of The 19th News, thank you very much.

  • Kate Sosin:

    Thanks so much for having me.

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