Image Source: Ted Eytan, Creative Commons
Content warning: the following article contains descriptions of anti-transgender legislation and transphobic rhetoric.
We are only five months into 2021, but it has officially been declared a record-breaking year for anti-transgender legislation. Over 82 bills have been filed countrywide attempting to single out trans people in one way or another, surpassing the 2020 total of 79. These bills aim to alienate trans people through exclusion in school sports and bans on gender-affirming care, amidst other measures.
Some states such as Florida have even gone so far as to permit genital inspections for children to prevent transgender people from participating in sports, despite the overwhelming lack of evidence that they possess any sort of physical advantage over cis people. In Arkansas, state lawmakers overturned Gov. Asa Hutchinson’s veto on HB1570, a bill blocking gender-affirming care medical care for children under 18, which has historically led to suicides. Overall, 2021 has been an extremely dangerous year for trans people in conservative states.
But why have the legislative attacks against trans people become so much more violent and frequent over the past few months? 1.8% of Gen Z has been found to identify as transgender, which is significantly more than ever before, and it seems as though the public’s general sentiment towards trans people is improving, as found by a series of Gallup polls. So why are conservatives fighting to restrict trans rights now, on a legislative level?
Many have begun calling the onslaught against trans people part of a newfound culture war — a struggle for dominance between progress and tradition, staged on a battlefield of LGBT lives. Trans athletes have been allowed to compete in school sports for years, and gender-affirming medical care has long been available for those under 18. However, conservative lawmakers, in response to their political failures in 2018 and 2020, have decided to target trans people in the name of morality. In Tennessee, HB2576 would charge parents with child abuse for allowing their child to transition. In Florida, HB1475 blocks transgender girls from competing in school sports to allow for cis girls to reach more scholarships and opportunities. Donald Trump, a newfound feminist, claimed in his speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference that the presence of trans women “destroy[s] women’s sport.”
These lawmakers are politicizing an issue that is extremely private and medical, completely disregarding the lives they are destroying solely to gain political traction. Not only will this culture war take advantage of existing ignorance for conservative gain, but will also create a new widespread base of aggressive transphobes who otherwise wouldn’t have cared about the issue at all.
Trans people are now the latest excuse for conservative and right-wing politicians to continue to divide and conquer: they are building new prejudices that previously did not exist. As previously stated, trans people have been receiving medical care and participating in school sports in these states for years, yet Republicans have only begun to push against their existence after failing in the polls. This wave is incredibly reminiscent of the political attacks on homosexuality in the early 2000s: as general societal acceptance of gay people increased, conservative states adopted more anti-marriage equality bans to remain in control.
This is not to say that transphobia does not exist within society and is solely used as a political tool. American society is still violently transphobic, with anti-trans hate crimes rising 20% in 2020. But even some conservatives are capable of admitting that these laws are particularly uncompassionate and violent. It is clear that these laws, as well as the uptick in hate crimes, stem from a place of extremism — which simply does not represent the majority of the population. A new poll found ⅔ of Americans oppose the increase of anti-trans bills, with opposition including “majorities of every political ideology […] and every age group.”
This culture war, despite being fought more out of retaliation towards the Democrats than out of true concern, tragically aims to strip trans people of their humanity and alienate them. The goal is to create a new, threatening category of “other” to then legislate out of existence to appear as the saviors of young cis people. Trans people are no longer referred to as trans people. They are “the trans question,” — and this rhetoric is genocidal.
It seems as though transgender rights always lag several years behind LGB rights. Hopefully, we know this story will end eventually because we have seen it played out before. Tragically, thousands of trans people across multiple conservative states will have to sustain the burden of it.