On the surface, Americans and their lawmakers are more accepting and understanding of LGBTQ+ people today than they were a decade ago. The Supreme Court’s 2015 decision to legalize same-sex marriage is considered one of the most tangible and significant victories for LGBTQ+ rights – but the 2015 ruling directly protected only cisgender lesbians, gays and bisexuals.
In 2016, at least 19 states were considering restroom laws, laws that would force every person to use a gender-segregated restroom that corresponds to the gender listed on their birth certificate. North Carolina passed this law, which sparked debate across the country and gave lawmakers the opportunity to draft similar bills in other states. However, the sister laws have struggled to pass, and even North Carolina has since repealed its bathroom law.
Several members of Congress have turned to gender legislation to target a new group: transgender youth.
Stacker took a look at state-by-state data on sexual orientation and gender identity policies affecting transgender youth from the Transgender Law Center.
All 50 states and Washington DC were then ranked by their overall “policy record” (number of laws and policies promoting equality for LGBTQ+ people), with #51 being the most restrictive state and #1 being the state with the most protections for trans youth. Negative numbers mean that there are more discrimination laws than protective laws.
TLC’s policy record only considers passed laws and does not take into account the activism efforts, attitudes and feelings of the people of the state, or the implementation of those laws. TLC’s core categories considered revolve around relationships and parental recognition, non-discrimination, religious exemptions, LGBTQ+ youth, healthcare, criminal justice, and identification documents.
TLC’s findings capture how transgender youth remain protected or at risk under the law, but legislation is flexible and lawmakers are constantly introducing new bills. One category of these rankings only captures laws related to sexuality, as there is significant overlap within the queer community and within legislation. Many lesbian, gay, or bisexual people also identify as transgender, nonbinary, or gender nonconforming, meaning LGBTQ+ people may identify with more than one queer identity.
Since 2020, anti-trans youth laws that purport to protect children began appearing in state legislatures with increasing frequency and entered the mainstream lexicon in 2021. In the first three months of 2022, lawmakers filed around 240 anti-LGBTQ+ bills, most of which targeted transgender people.
Tennessee, the top state for anti-transgender youth legislation, signed a bill in 2017 banning transgender children from receiving gender-affirming care. It was the fifth anti-trans bill passed in the state. Bills like this one claim to protect parents and children, but Tennessee lawmakers are also considering a bill that would establish common-law marriages in the state between “one man and one woman” while removing marriage age restrictions.
While anti-trans youth laws outnumber laws protecting trans youth, several states have enacted or are considering laws protecting trans youth. California has even gone so far as to introduce a bill to accommodate families who escape anti-trans youth legislation. Colorado – formerly known as the “hate state” for passing anti-LGBTQ+ laws in the 1990s – has passed a law banning conversion therapy, banning bullying based on LGBTQ+ identities and discriminating against LGBTQ+ families having children adopt, finished. Hawaii passed a law in March that would require health insurance companies to pay for gender-affirming care — but not until 2060.
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