Report outlines rise of anti-LGBTQ laws across the country

The chamber at the Idaho State Legislature.
The Idaho State Legislature was the first in the nation to pass a bill banning trans youth from participating in sports in accordance with their gender identity. Other states followed suit.
Wikimedia Commons/Frank Schulenburg

At a time when new anti-LGBTQ bills are popping up more frequently than ever before, a new report outlines the trajectory of legislation and demonstrates the severity of the nationwide backlash against transgender youth and the queer community at large.

The report by Movement Advancement Project, entitled “Under Fire: The War on LGBTQ People in America,” evaluates the different kinds of anti-LGBTQ laws that have been introduced and passed in recent years as well as the consequences of such laws for LGBTQ individuals who live in the states where folks have faced the greatest adversity under the law.

One of the starkest figures in the report the number of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced since 2020. From 2019 to 2020, the number of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced increased from 102 to 185. From 2020 to 2021, that number climbed to 268. In 2022, there were a whopping 315 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced — and 29 of them passed. Over the last two years, more than 50 anti-LGBTQ bills have passed. Between 2016 and 2019, the number of anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in statehouses climbed from 85 in 2014 to 250 in 2016, but then dipped every year until shooting back up in 2021.

“The sheer number of fronts on which LGBTQ people are experiencing attacks, alongside the breadth, speed, and cruelty of those attacks, make this current moment incredibly challenging for LGBTQ people and their families,” Ineke Mushovic, executive director of the Movement Advancement Project, said in a written statement. 

The report also takes a look at the return of some anti-LGBTQ legislative initiatives — such as Florida’s  “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” bill — that roared back in some states after fading away in previous years. The “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” laws started emerging across three states in the late 1980s before peaking in 2001 when there were “Don’t Say Gay or Trans” laws in place across nine states. But from 2017 to 2021, those laws started to fall. By 2021, just four states had “Don’t say Gay or Trans” laws. Since then, though, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis supercharged the issue and it expanded to other states.

The report also points to how the anti-LGBTQ bills have targeted people across many different areas of life, from sports to healthcare to basic identification documents. GOP-led statehouses have especially set their sights on sports bans: At the end of 2019, there were no bans targeting the ability of trans youth to participate in sports in accordance with their gender identity, according to the report. But after Idaho passed a restrictive law in 2020, nine additional states jumped in with similar bills in 2021. By the end of 2022, there were 18 states with laws targeting trans youth in sports, according to the report.

Furthermore, there are currently nine states with explicit bans on coverage of gender-affirming care in health insurance plans — and one in eight LGBTQ people reside in states where doctors can refuse to care for them due to religious beliefs.

All in all, the organized resistance to LGBTQ rights in the last three years has led to a series of firsts: The first trans youth sports ban, the first ban on medical care for trans youth, and the first state ban on using X as a gender marker on ID documents, according to the report.

The authors of the report emphasized that the legislative attacks on LGBTQ people in America are part of a broader pattern.

“Individual policy issues like school censorship bills and bans on transgender youth playing sports have captured national attention, but seeing these as individual flash points misses the larger context of the fast, furious, and coordinated attacks on LGBTQ people,” Naomi Goldberg, deputy director and LGBTQ policy director at MAP, said in a written statement. 

The fallout from the anti-LGBTQ laws has been evident, as well. The report points to the ways in which these laws have an effect on the mental health of LGBTQ individuals. The Movement Advancement Project cites statistics from the Trevor Project indicating that 86% of transgender and non-binary youth said the political debates on trans rights have had a negative impact on their mental health and 75% said the threats of violence against LGBTQ community spaces give them stress and anxiety.

The report further invoked the economic impact of the laws — including how exemptions in healthcare can leave people without the means to afford necessary  gender-affirming care or PrEP, which prevents HIV. People who live in states with anti-LGBTQ laws are sometimes forced to grapple with the costs of fleeing the state and moving elsewhere to escape the harmful effects of the policies.