What lies ahead

In statehouses around the country, the 2020 legislative sessions have fired up — and with it, several bills have been introduced to curtail the rights of transgender people.

South Dakota, an unlikely battleground for anti-trans legislation, is home to many of them. Last year, the Mount Rushmore State tried and failed to pass many bills to limit trans rights, with most aimed at trans youth.

For 2020, rather than learn from previous losses, they’ve ramped things up.

Already among the dead is Senate Bill 88, which would have required school counselors, psychologists and social workers to break the trust of transgender or nonbinary youth and inform parents if they “determine” a student may be “articulating feelings of gender dysphoria.” This could, of course, be disastrous for kids who may feel they need to keep such information from their parents.

Another piece of legislation is House Bill 1057, which passed the State’s House but was subsequently defeated in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee vote 5-2. This bill went after those in the medical profession who may assist trans youth, making it illegal to provide transgender care to a minor in the state, including an emancipated minor. This bill didn’t just include surgery but also hormone treatments and puberty blockers. If this passed, a medical professional aiding a minor would have committed a Class 4 felony, mandating 10 years of prison and an optional fine of $30,000.

Appallingly, the bill did offer one exception: medical intervention would have been perfectly fine under HB 1057 if the child is intersex, an issue intersex activists have fought against for years.

Finally, State Representative Tony Randolph introduced a sweeping bill — House Bill 1215 — that attacks the whole of the LGBTQ community. It once again attempts to strike down marriage equality in South Dakota, but also disallows antidiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people, the banning of conversion therapy and pronoun changes and halts “drag queen storytimes.”

While South Dakota is the hottest spot for these bills, it is far from the only one. Bills similar to HB 1057, for example, have also been introduced in Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina. The Florida bill, H-1365 has died, while the others are still under consideration.

There’s more: Arizona wants to require school staff to use pronouns not consistent with one’s identity and mandate sex education that focuses on biological sex rather than “gender identities.” Kentucky wants to allow students to sue schools that let trans youth use a restroom that matches their identity, echoing attempts in South Dakota and elsewhere in 2019.

Finally, Alabama, Tennessee and New Hampshire have taken yet another page from South Dakota’s 2019 legislation, pushing to keep trans students from participating as themselves in school sports.

The legislative year is still young. We can expect even more.

It’s no coincidence that all these bills are out there. For one, this is an election year with a widely unpopular Republican president and a lot of animus towards the GOP. Attacking transgender people is just the sort of “social issue” the Republican Party uses to fire up their base. All of the old anti-queer language they touted for decades has now been edited — crossing out the word “homosexual” and writing in the word “transgender” in crayon.

Many of these bills are being pushed by the same “religious rights” organizations that have pushed anti-gay bills for decades. Still stinging from losses over marriage equality, these organizations seek to turn transgender people into their newest target, allowing their coffers to be full of donations.

Not helping matters is the rightward push of the courts, including the Supreme Court, where many of these bills may eventually end up should they pass out of their respective state governments. We’re already facing a huge challenge to trans rights from SCOTUS this year as it is, with R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes v EEOC & Aimee Stephens being decided later this year. No matter how that goes, the court will ignite far more attacks on trans rights going forward.

I’m truly very sorry. This is not great news, aside from a few victories. 

Right now may be the most challenging time to be transgender in more than half a century. For better or ill, we live in a time when being transgender or nonbinary and existing is a radical act.

I’ve said it before, but now is the time when we simply must rely on each other, raise each other up and look out for each other every step of the way. We need to show up, be visible and loud in ways that may scare us and may make things more difficult for us, at least for a while.

Furthermore, the American Civil Liberties Union is currently working on or has worked on the above cases. ACLU is an invaluable resource if you want to understand every bill that comes forward to harm trans rights. If you have the option, please consider supporting them, or perhaps your local trans and LGBTQ rights’ organizations.

If that’s not an option, then it’s time to be present for yourself and trans and nonbinary siblings in our community who are in need right now. This year is pivotal for trans rights. No matter what happens, we need to be there for each other. 

Every bill sends a message that those in positions of power want us destroyed and forgotten. It is up to every single one of us to stand up and say, “no, we will not be erased.”
Gwen Smith isn’t good at staying quiet. You’ll find her at www.gwensmith.com