By Chase Strangio, Staff Attorney, ACLU LGBT & HIV Project
Across the country, before state legislative sessions have even convened, lawmakers are making clear that transgender people will again be the relentless targets of discriminatory legislation.
Last year, lawmakers introduced more than 200 anti-LGBT bills in 34 states. At least 50 of those bills targeted transgender people specifically. We were able to defeat the overwhelming majority of these proposed laws.
The two most sweeping anti-LGBT bills to become law, HB 1523 in Mississippi and HB 2 in North Carolina, we promptly challenged in court. In North Carolina, the passage of HB 2 has resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in lost revenue to the state, costly litigation, and former Gov. Pat McCrory’s defeat at the ballot in November.
But it seems lawmakers are not heeding the lessons of North Carolina.
In Alabama, Texas, South Carolina, South Dakota, Washington, and more, bills have been pre-filed or lawmakers have announced their plans to file bills that target transgender individuals for discrimination. Unconstitutional, unenforceable, and harmful, these bills send the message to trans people that our very existence is a problem for the lawmakers charged with protecting us.
Leading the charge of anti-trans rhetoric is Texas Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who has included anti-trans legislation among his 2017 legislative priorities. While the Texas Association of Business has warned that Patrick’s proposed bill, SB 6, could cost the state $ 8.5 billion, Patrick has dismissed those concerns and doubled down on his discriminatory proposal. His law, as he explained in an interview with the Houston Chronicle, will only expel women who are trans from women’s restrooms and not trans men from men’s restrooms because “men can defend themselves.”
Riddled with constitutional violations, the proposed bill is nonetheless another terrifying attack on an already vulnerable group of people. Patrick and others are playing on fears of trans people — the type of fears that contribute to the epidemic of violence against and suicide within the trans community — to push legislation that will result in expelling trans people from public life.
Women and girls who are trans are frequent targets of harassment in schools, violence on the street, and widespread discrimination in all facets of life. By claiming that discrimination against transgender women is necessary to protect the safety and privacy of “women and girls,” Patrick is reinforcing the idea that women and girls who are trans are not “real” women and girls. These proposals suggest that the very existence of a trans person undermines the privacy of others. This is not true.
The work of combatting these bills and the misinformation that animates them must center the voices and lived experiences of trans people. And what we know from experience is that:
- The existence of trans people does not threaten the privacy of anyone else. We exist. Some people may be uncomfortable with us, but discomfort with difference is not the same as infringement of privacy.
- Trans women and girls are women and girls. Full stop. They are not “biological males” or “men pretending to be women” — no qualifications needed. The same is true for trans men and boys, who are men and boys.
- Extending legal protections to transgender people, including when it comes to using restrooms and locker rooms, does not threaten the safety of anyone else. This has been proven time and time again despite the ongoing rhetoric to the contrary.
- Policing of gender or genitals in restrooms is bad for everyone. There is no way to actually enforce these anti-trans bathroom laws except by exposing us all to intrusive questioning about our bodies, our gender, and our government documents.
- Anti-trans laws are not really about restrooms, locker rooms, safety, or privacy but about expelling trans people from public life. Those most impacted by these laws have been and will always be trans people who are already subject to the most policing and violence — particularly trans women and femmes of color.
From Washington to South Dakota to Texas to North Carolina, the humanity of trans people is being attacked. But in the face of these attacks, trans people have shown our resilience. If what these lawmakers are asking is that we simply not be trans, as writer Imogen Binnie once explained, “most trans people have tried that and it didn’t work.” Our lives and identities are real, and we are not going away.
No matter what lies ahead, the ACLU will be there every step of the way. We will fight to stop discriminatory bills from becoming law, we will keep fighting in court, and we will continue to stand in solidarity with the trans advocates on the front lines.