(CTN News) – In 2023, the United States witnessed an alarming surge in the introduction of anti-LGBTQ bills, surpassing any previous year in history.
The Movement Advancement Project (MAP), an independent non-profit think tank, estimated that more than 700 bills were proposed, aiming to strip rights and protections from the LGBTQ community.
Shockingly, over 75 of these bills were successfully passed into law. Among them were restrictions on trans youth athletes’ participation in school sports and unprecedented laws limiting public drag performances.
The 2023 legislative session saw a concerning trend, with most bills targeting transgender youth. Notably, 15 states enacted restrictions on gender-affirming medical care for trans minors under 18, including Georgia, Missouri, Nebraska, and West Virginia.
This shift in focus marks a stark departure from eight years ago when most anti-LGBTQ bills centered around “religious freedom” laws responding to same-sex couples’ fight for marriage rights.
Logan Casey, a senior policy researcher for MAP, attributed the shift in anti-LGBTQ laws to changing electoral politics and the concerted efforts of well-funded, far-right extremist groups and lobbyists.
These groups have been working together for years, adopting a trial-and-error approach to see what messaging resonates with the public. Their strategies have ranged from bathroom bans to sports bans to religious exemptions.
The rise of anti-equality legislation in the past five years has highlighted certain states that have become leaders in targeting LGBTQ Americans for discrimination. Based on data provided by MAP and the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), we can identify the states most aggressively targeting their LGBTQ communities.
Both HRC and MAP documented 11 and 8 anti-LGBTQ laws, respectively, passed in Montana. The state gained attention when it censured its only openly trans politician, Rep. Zooey Zephyr (D), for opposing a bill restricting gender-affirming medical care for trans minors.
Despite protests, Gov. Greg Gianforte (R) signed the legislation into law in April, making Montana one of 20 states with such restrictions.
Montana also passed three anti-LGBTQ bills in May 2021, targeting trans sports participation, birth certificate corrections, and LGBTQ-inclusive school curriculum. Subsequent bills have further restricted public drag performances and defined “sex” as exclusively male or female in state code.
Florida had 11 anti-LGBTQ laws according to HRC and 8 according to MAP. In May, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a particularly extreme law, criminalizing trans people’s use of gender-congruent restrooms in certain facilities.
He also approved bills making it a felony for doctors to prescribe gender-affirming care to minors and expanding the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” law to the eighth grade.
Florida, once considered progressive on LGBTQ issues, experienced a significant shift, with 22 anti-LGBTQ bills filed in a single session. LGBTQ advocates are concerned that DeSantis’s potential presidential campaign may lead to further attacks on equality.
North Dakota emerged as a surprising leader in introducing 11 anti-LGBTQ laws, a substantial increase due to the absence of targeted bills in previous years. Advocacy groups were taken aback by the wide range of bills, including requiring teachers to misgender trans students, restricting gender-affirming medical care, and banning trans people from using gender-congruent restrooms in colleges and prisons.
Arkansas passed 13 anti-LGBTQ laws, becoming the first state to restrict gender-affirming medical care for trans youth in 2021. Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) initially vetoed the bill, but the legislature quickly overturned his decision.
Hutchinson also signed laws allowing healthcare workers to refuse treatment to LGBTQ patients based on religious beliefs and banning trans girls from participating in women’s athletics. Although Arkansas enacted its own drag ban, it was modified following backlash.
Tennessee led with an astonishing 18 anti-LGBTQ laws, far ahead of other states. It has been at the forefront of anti-LGBTQ policy experimentation, testing various measures early on.
The state has implemented four laws limiting trans youth’s participation in sports, the highest among all states. Tennessee’s status as an “innovator” in anti-LGBTQ legislation has made it a significant battleground for civil rights advocacy.
These states’ aggressive targeting of LGBTQ communities reflects a disturbing trend in the United States, driven by changing political landscapes and the coordinated efforts of far-right extremist groups. Despite the challenges, advocates continue to fight for equality and protection of LGBTQ rights across the nation.