Anti-Transgender Legislation: Frequently Asked Questions

April 16, 2021

No person should be subject to discrimination because of who they are, including their sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.

Yet between January and early April of 2021 alone, legislation has been introduced in more than 20 states targeting transgender people — especially transgender youth.

Here are ADL’s responses to some of the most frequently asked questions surrounding these bills and their implementation:

What does the legislation do?

The overwhelming majority of these bills target transgender youth by preventing them from participating in athletics or making it illegal for them to access gender-affirming medical care. Other bills would make it difficult or impossible to change one’s sex designation on a birth certificate or require schools to inform parents and guardians of students’ gender identities. Mississippi, Arkansas, and Tennessee have already enacted these bills into law. South Dakota governor Kristi Noem has signed two executive orders banning transgender girls from participating in sports according to their gender.

What’s the history behind this effort?

These bills are rooted in a long history of policing the participation of Black and LGBTQ+ people in public life, and the strategies being used to advance them are similar to those that were used to fight school integration. For example, a statewide law in New York prohibiting people perceived as male from “impersonating a female” could have been the basis for arrest and criminal charges as recently as 2011 - and routine police raids of gay bars in the 1960s included arrests for violating the so-called “three articles” rule forbidding the wearing of clothing that does not conform to one’s gender assigned at birth. One such raid in 1969 resulted in the Stonewall uprising.

What is ADL’s view?

ADL opposes all legislation that discriminates against transgender people because it is contrary to our mission and core values as an organization. We remain committed to building a just and inclusive society that treats all of its members with fairness and dignity. Hate and discrimination have no place in our society, and certainly no place being enshrined in law.

Why is the proposed legislation harmful?

The reality and existence of transgender and nonbinary people is not subject to debate. They are part of the fabric of our communities.

Whether or not these bills become law, and whether or not they survive legal challenges, at their core they are not only about discrimination. They convey the troubling message that transgender and nonbinary people do not really exist and that people who identify as transgender and/or nonbinary are wrong about their own sense of self. Those who support the legislation are therefore willing to prioritize the values and comfort of anti-trans cisgender people over the rights and survival of transgender and nonbinary people.

The bills also send a clear and dangerous message: that those in power are invested in policing and enforcing a gender binary rooted in inaccurate, outdated gender and sex stereotypes.

This is particularly toxic in a world where anti-trans hate and bias remain commonplace and where trans and nonbinary peopleespecially transgender and nonbinary people of color — are all too often the targets of police and civilian violence alike. The American Psychiatric Association finds a direct connection between the discrimination that transgender and nonbinary people face, their lack of equitable civil rights, and the harmful impact that these realities have on their mental health.

This wave of bills is particularly dangerous because it takes aim at an especially vulnerable population: young trans people. The Trevor Project’s 2020 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health found that 21% of transgender and nonbinary youth have attempted suicide, and 52% have seriously considered it.

Studies find that this can be countered. Even the simple act of consistently using a transgender or nonbinary youth’s chosen[1] name directly results in lower suicidal ideation and lower suicidal behavior, with the effect growing stronger with each additional context where their name is used (home, school, work, and friends). Similarly, gender-affirming hormone therapy (GAHT) has been shown to significantly decrease suicidality among transgender youth. Gender-affirming care, including social, medical, and legal aspects, has been shown to improve the overall mental health of transgender and nonbinary people. It bears reiterating and emphasizing, as many others have said, that gender-affirming care saves young people’s lives.

The goal for all young people should be that they not only survive but thrive, and sports is one way they can do so. Sports participation is associated with improved academic performance, stronger feelings of school connectedness and school-based social support, and better and broader community connectedness. Transgender and nonbinary youth who participate in sports report better grades than those who do not.

Preventing transgender and nonbinary young people from receiving necessary medical care or being themselves in sports participation moves society in precisely the wrong direction — and threatens to compound the harms these youth already experience.  It solidifies the wrongful message for them, their peers, and the adults around them that transgender and nonbinary youth are not worthy of the care, protection, and support they deserve.

How Can Individuals Help Fight These Bills?

These laws are biased, harmful, and dangerous. It is important to learn about them and be ready to challenge them when states continue to propose and pass them in the future. Here are some things that can be done to fight them:

[1] Some people who are transgender and/or nonbinary change their names. Referring to them by their previous names is called “deadnaming” and, as this study shows, has real and harmful consequences.