Anti-trans policies barrel forward as legal groups scramble to respond

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis holds up bills he signed during a bill signing ceremony at the Coastal Community Church at Lighthouse Point, Tuesday, May 16, 2023, in Lighthouse Point, Fla.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis holds up bills he signed during a bill signing ceremony at the Coastal Community Church at Lighthouse Point, Tuesday, May 16, 2023, in Lighthouse Point, Fla.
AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee

The relentless stream of anti-LGBTQ bills targeting transgender people continues to flow through statehouses at a rapid pace as many states enter the home stretch of their legislative session. Legal groups supporting the LGBTQ community, meanwhile, are challenging many of the laws.

One of the most notorious hotbeds of transphobia is Florida, where Governor Ron DeSantis has continued to fan the flames of bigotry to prop up his looming presidential campaign. Under DeSantis, the state has passed legislation banning trans athletes from playing sports and muzzling LGBTQ people in schools under the so-called “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill.

On May 17, DeSantis doubled down on his anti-trans agenda by signing legislation to outlaw gender-affirming care for youth and, to a certain extent, adults, and bar people from using bathrooms that are inconsistent with their gender assigned at birth. DeSantis also signed an expansion of the “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” law to eighth grade (he already proposed a rule expanding it to all grades) and approved legislation that would allow the state to pull food and beverage licenses if businesses allow children to attend drag performances

In Texas, another state that has worked aggressively to roll back trans rights, state lawmakers voted on May 17 to ban hormone treatments, puberty blockers, and other elements of gender-affirming care. The legislation passed in Texas stipulates that youth who are already receiving gender-affirming care “shall wean off the prescription drug over a period of time…” The state made headlines last year when Governor Greg Abbott directed state officials to investigate “any reported instances” of children receiving gender-affirming care, prompting courts to issue a restraining order curtailing the policy.

Texas also approved a bill requiring athletes in public colleges to play on teams that correspond with the gender on their birth certificate at the time they were born.

The nationwide attacks on trans youth have led to the passage of laws restricting gender-affirming care for youth in nearly a third of states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, South Dakota and West Virginia. 

Legal groups are moving to respond across multiple regions. Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union have been teaming up to take on many of the laws, including in Texas, where they joined the Transgender Law Center in filing a suit against the ban on care for trans youth. 

“We will be filing a lawsuit to protect transgender youth in Texas from being stripped of access to healthcare that keeps them healthy and alive,” the legal groups said in a joint statement. “Coming on top of the effort last year to classify providing medically necessary and scientifically proven care to transgender youth as child abuse which threatened to tear Texas families with transgender children apart, an effort that is currently blocked in state court, Texas lawmakers have seen fit to double down, creating untold harm on Texas families.”

In yet another example, ACLU and Lambda Legal also announced on May 18 that they filed a binding agreement with the Oklahoma Attorney General’s Office to prevent the attorney general from enforcing a law, signed by Governor Kevin Stitt, that would ban all forms of gender-affirming medical care for trans adolescents and punish medical providers with felonies if they break the law.

Lambda Legal, the ACLU, and Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner LLP also filed a lawsuit against Missouri Attorney General Andrew Bailey’s April 13 emergency rule restricting gender-affirming care for people of all ages. Judicial Circuit Judge Ellen H. Ribaudo issued a restraining order temporarily blocking enforcement of the rule, and Bailey responded by terminating the policy.

Still, however, the Missouri State Legislature passed a bill restricting gender-affirming care for youth and further imposes restrictions on gender-affirming care under Medicaid and in state prisons, according to Lambda Legal.

Among other states, the ACLU, Lambda Legal, and other law groups also filed a lawsuit on May 9 against a Montana law that targets gender-affirming care for youth.

The ACLU also intervened in federal court in a case in Mississippi, where a school district is prohibiting a transgender student from wearing a dress or heels to graduation.