Courts offer glimmer of hope during a painful year

An important message for the anti-trans lawmakers pushing transphobic legislation in statehouses across the country.
An important message for the anti-trans lawmakers pushing transphobic legislation in statehouses across the country.
Donna Aceto

It has been difficult to find reasons for optimism during a year when our community has repeatedly encountered news headlines announcing fresh efforts to curtail the basic rights of transgender individuals.

Like last year, the community has spent much of this year redirecting attention and resources to defending gender affirming care, trans athletes, and even drag shows — not to mention the ongoing fight against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ assault on all LGBTQ individuals in the education system.

The fight has been downright exhausting, especially for the trans youth under siege in red states dominated by GOP Legislatures, but also for advocates in blue states who have dedicated themselves to standing in solidarity with vulnerable community members elsewhere.

More than 500 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced this year alone, and while not all of those bills will come to pass — especially with many statehouses concluding their legislative sessions — the ongoing flood of legislation has been overwhelming for so many people who fear the worst. 

However, a recent string of legal developments has indicated that the Republican-led push to advance bills targeting gender-affirming care may be losing momentum  — and that, alone, should give the community some motivation.

In Arkansas — the first state to approve a ban on gender-affirming for youth — a federal judge initially issued a preliminary injunction blocking enactment of the law, as reported by Gay City News legal contributor Arthur Leonard, and on June 20 the judge permanently struck it down, deeming it unconstitutional. 

Similar laws have been temporarily placed on hold by the courts in three other states, while a fourth state — Oklahoma — has agreed to delay enforcement of the law while it is litigated.

The reasons for hope are not just confined to gender-affirming care. In Utah, Senior US District Judge David Nuffer concluded that an effort by a city’s City Council to deny a drag show permit was a pretext for unconstitutional discrimination, prompting the judge to order the city to issue a permit for the June 30 event.

Legal groups such as the ACLU and Lambda Legal have carried much of the weight in courtrooms across multiple states, representing parties on multiple issues — and they’ve joined forces on cases such as the one involving Becky Pepper-Jackson, a transgender girl in West Virginia who sued her state for the right to play on track and cross country after her state banned trans athletes. In a temporary win, the Supreme Court ruled in April that she could continue to play while her lawsuit moved forward. 

The legislative campaign against the LGBTQ community has also emboldened right-wing  forces to mobilize across the country — at drag story hour events, at Pride festivities, and more — including at events right here in New York City, further demonstrating the severity of the backlash.

There is a long road ahead, but let’s hope the handful of legal victories translate into a better outlook for the future. At the very least, the latest developments show that these battles are worth fighting. And now is the time to keep pushing forward.