A National Wave of Anti-Trans Bills

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S1: Kate Sosin isn’t especially conflicted about being trans, being trans to me is my favorite thing about myself.

S2: I love being trans. It’s like the best like you. I mean, you just see the world in such a better way.

S1: I think Kate’s a reporter with the 19th goes by day them pronouns. And Kate’s got this great way of talking about being non binary.

S2: So many of us, without realizing it, are like sitting on a conveyor belt like of gender, like we put on the clothes that are in the aisles that we’re told to walk through. Right. Like, I just love the ways that being trans is open the world. To me, its gender is so, such a rigid social construct. Right. Like men have been denied access to their emotions. You know, women have been denied the right to work or get paid fairly. When you are no ordinary trans like I am, you don’t have to operate from all of those set of prescriptions.

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S1: But as much as Kate loves who they are, they acknowledge it’s a pretty weird time to be a trans reporter. Kate covers law making around LGBTQ plus issues. And just last week, Kate watched as Donald Trump did an extended riff on the dangers of trans kids in sports at the Conservative Political Action Conference. And this was just after the first trans person to have a Senate confirmation hearing got grilled by Republicans. Now Kate’s tracking the way state legislatures are trying to spin this animus into rules around who’s allowed to do what in this country. Kate says The funny thing is, while plenty of politicians are talking about people like them, very few politicians are talking to people like them.

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S2: I have in the past talked to Republican lawmakers in state legislatures about these kinds of bills. And they’ve just been. A little bit awkward, to be honest, I think it’s a really strange thing for people to have these conversations with the realization for the first time that they’re talking to someone in mainstream media who is transgender because all of the sudden it it’s no longer this fringe issue.

S1: Kate keeps showing up in these state legislatures. Anyway, showing up is important. Kate realized that last year when South Dakota took up bills that would limit the kind of health care trans kids could get and the kind of sports they could play.

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S2: So these kids basically got on a bus with their parents and went to the Capitol to talk to their lawmakers before this committee hearing. And I flew to South Dakota and I got on the bus with them and I went and there was a 16 year old who was traveling alone in Elliot.

S1: Elliot was trans and he knew his representatives supported these kinds of bills. So when he got off the bus, he tracked his senator down.

S2: You know, those big lawmakers just sitting at his desk being like, well, thank you for coming to talk to me. And it’s like that ended up being what killed the bill.

S1: And this sounds like a success. But he could see this advocacy came at a cost. At one point, Eliot told Kate, I wish I wasn’t trans.

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S2: And he was like, it’s just like, I don’t want to be here. Like, I don’t want to have to do this.

S3: Like I it’s hard enough to be a teenager and to see a trans kid because of this be like, I wish I wasn’t who I am. It just really. That bill failed. But it also succeeded in really harming these kids and there’s there are more anti Tranz bills again this year in South Dakota, like it’s not over for these kids. Right? They’re doing this year after year after year. Today on the show all around the country, anti Tranz legislation is spreading and kids like Elliot are having to show up and try to stop it. So where are these bills coming from and do any of them stand a chance of succeeding? I’m Mary Harris. You’re listening to what next? Stick with us.

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S1: By Kate’s count this year, there are 184 anti LGBTQ measures in statehouses across the country. Sixty five of those are anti trans bills. They’re showing up in places like Alabama, Montana, Georgia. Many of the lawmakers behind these bills have taken a two pronged approach in case one bill goes down.

S2: Oftentimes what we’ll see in legislatures is these two bills. One will be a trans youth health care ban and the other will be the sports bill. In most of these states, you know, we’re seeing like this dual pursuit is so hard to keep up with both of them because there’s just so many of them. Right. And and so you’ll see one fail and then you’re like, OK, that’s fine. And then another one pops up or a more extreme version pops up. For example, like Alabama now has one that actually criminalizes kids for playing on sports. Yikes. So they would be potentially jailed like 13 year olds for playing on a sports team.

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S1: A lot of these bills have a single source, a legal advocacy group called the Alliance Defending Freedom.

S2: So the Alliance Defending Freedom is a long standing extreme anti LGBTQ group. They’re labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. And to give you a sense of why for a number of years, they claim that LGBTQ people are pedophiles and they’ve advocated for the forced sterilization of transgender people in the European Court of Human Rights in 2015, they are probably as extreme in their stance on queer people as you can get, and they often are behind a lot of these bills.

S1: You’ve pointed out that they actually created a website where you can just point and click and out pops a bill.

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S2: Yeah. So they have teamed up with the Heritage Foundation Family Policy Alliance, also anti LGBTQ groups and like statewide groups. And you can actually just enter as if you were to like, you know, sign up for a mailing list, like I want anti trans legislation. Here’s my name, here’s my district. You know, send me a bill on sports and they will generate a bill for you.

S1: To me, when I look at these bills, they seem like nonsense, but. It’s interesting to look at the arguments that anti trans groups are making and sort of see the DNA of previous movements, movements that have been more successful, like I look at these sports bills, which are sort of the newest iteration of anti trans legislation. And they really tap into this zero sum dynamic, this idea that a trans person could replace your child on the sports team. It reminds me of the argument that an immigrant could come take your job.

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S2: Yeah, it’s so easy to fear that we don’t know. Right. Like, I thought about this so much when we saw Rand Paul questioning Dr. Rachel Levine for her confirmation hearing to HHS.

S1: Dr. Rachel Levine would be the first trans person appointed to HHS, right?

S2: Yes. To a Senate approved anywhere is historic. And and he asked her, like, do you support, you know, basically giving children hormones to transition? Dr. Levine, do you believe that minors are capable of making such a life changing decision? Is changing one sex?

S4: Well, Senator, thank you for your interest in this question. Transgender medicine is a very complex and nuanced field with robust research and standards of care that have been developed. And if I am fortunate enough to be confirmed as the assistant secretary of health, I look forward to working with you and your office and coming to your office and discussing the particulars of the standards of care for transgender.

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S2: The specific question was about and she was like, I will talk to you about the best medical practices around transition because you clearly don’t understand them.

S1: She was trying to not say that you don’t get it.

S2: Yeah, but like, he just kept driving home this point. And a lot of people will do that. They’ll say, like, you’re helping kids transition when it’s the opposite is true, right? Like you just give kids puberty blockers and then you’re like, OK, just we’re just we’re going to prevent you from going through puberty. Because if you if you go through puberty, like the chances that you’re going to feel extreme mental duress are very high, you might become suicidal. So we just give you this. You write it out. And then when you’re old enough, you make the decision with your health care providers like. Right. And we leave it at that.

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S1: And we should be pretty clear that there is good research showing that giving puberty blockers decreases the risk of suicide and trans kids.

S2: Yeah, it does. But when you’re thinking if you don’t know the facts and you’re saying we’re giving all this medication to children, we’re transitioning children. And like, if that’s what people are telling you, that sounds scary and weird, right? Like we don’t we don’t know. Like, we only know what we know. And so it’s really easy, right? If you’ve never looked a trans kid in the face like that is. It’s hard to imagine what does a transgender child look like? It’s like, oh, they look like a child or just like a cute kid in Montana.

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S1: I was watching this testimony from a woman named Barbara Erhart, who had come in from Idaho, and she seemed. Really passionate about the idea of keeping trans kids out of sports.

S5: I grew up in the 70s and as I was growing up, opportunities for girls and women were very much limited. People have asked me, what is it that you want to do when you grow up? And what I told everybody I wanted to do is I said I wanted to play sports and I literally was told that’s not what girls do.

S1: And it was it was interesting to watch or just to sort of see the language she used. You know, she didn’t use words like trans girl or trans woman. She was talking about biological males, which it was just she was just hammering that home in pursuing this dream.

S5: I know first hand the hand of the things of which I speak. There is an absolute difference between men and women. And, you know, one of the things I’ve noticed as we’ve been talking about this subject has become very myopic has been this idea that, you know, gosh, by allowing a biological male to participate on a girls team, let’s take a high school girls basketball team where we have, say, 12 spots that we’re only displacing one young lady. But you have to understand that I think is far more than that because of the advantages that women gain by participating in sports.

S1: And she was sort of dressing up these conservative ideas as somehow feminist where, you know, she was talking about how as a woman, you know, she benefits from the advancement that she’s had and this could somehow set people like her back.

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S2: That’s been a talking point for a really long time. In fact, I went to Anchorage, Alaska, in goodness, it would have been 2018 now. And they were passing an anti trans they were trying to get an anti trans ballot measure passed by popular vote and when they were approaching people to sign. Their petition for it, they actually weren’t even asking people about trans people at all, they were asking people, do you want to keep biological males out of girls dressing rooms and bathrooms? Huh? And a lot of people we found in looking at this had signed both the ballot measure to support trans people and the ballot measure to keep biological males out of girls dressing rooms because they didn’t know that the two issues were. It’s like a trick competing. Right. The reality is like biological males is not a scientific term. Like it doesn’t it doesn’t mean anything. It’s not accurate. Part of that is because sex is actually a spectrum. Right. We have intersex people and. People can physically transition, right, medically transition, so that’s it’s an inaccurate term, but it’s also deeply disrespectful. Like to miss someone.

S1: Yeah. And then I wonder, like, how would you enforce some kind of trans ban with kids in sports? Like, are you going to check biology at the door? Like who even wants that?

S2: Like who does that help in setting up these sort of sex testing scenarios is that you actually end up borrowing a lot of cis gender women from competition also, if that is your goal. It’s really medically invasive to sex test children, right? To subject kids to that kind of testing and a lot of people argue it’s it’s actually very traumatizing to put a kid through that in order to play sports or I think a lot of kids would rather not. So are you going to start banning kids who are not transgender or kids who are intersex but may not know it from playing sports? Like where do you draw the line? Gender and sex is not as binary as we would like to think. I think a lot of us grew up with those notions. But if you’re going to get into the medical divide of that, it’s not that simple. Right. And so that’s a really fraught concept, if that is truly what you’re trying to achieve.

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S6: When we come back, why the path to success for these anti trans bills is so narrow?

S1: Amid this rash of intense anti trans laws, Kate does see a little bit of hope. They say the reason these laws keep appearing is because of the increased visibility of the trans community, and that creates a push and pull is confident that public opinion is turning in favor of trans Americans.

S2: The Human Rights Campaign did a lot of polling right around the election and found that in swing states among Trump voters, they overwhelmingly supported LGBTQ rights and even when it came to trans issues and some of these issues like allowing transgender people to, you know, live freely and openly and access affirming medical care, and they asked, you know, do trans athletics like rank for you is as a campaign issue. And pretty much everyone was like, no. And so the data shows that for the most part, conservative voters aren’t too concerned about regulating transgender people. So there is a question about why are all these bills, you know, being used to sort of galvanize the Republican Party at this moment? Bills like this are just generally unpopular. And so they’ve historically been very unsuccessful. North Carolina passed an anti trans bathroom measure in 2016 and faced enormous economic losses. And they had to quickly repeal it because the writing was on the wall so quickly. And ever since then, people have been really hesitant to pass another anti LGBTQ bill because they know that the country is going to punish them for it.

S1: So you made a good case for the fact that there is a ton of anti trans legislation out there, but then at the same time. A lot of it isn’t succeeding, so it’s becoming this. Weird thing that exists, but it’s really unclear to me is this becoming mainstream Republican orthodoxy now or something else?

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S2: There is a real reason why this is happening. I mean, one is, yeah, there are these extreme anti LGBTQ groups who are gonna fight this no matter what. This is something that they believe in. They’re going to push it into state legislatures. They have a lot of money and a lot of power. The other piece of this is Democrats control Congress and the White House. But the Supreme Court is a six three conservative court. And so if one of these bills now, you know, the Idaho bills were were challenged in court and didn’t go anywhere. But if one of these bills, you know, gets elevated to the right circuit, these groups, I think, feel like they have a real shot of doing some real damage on on LGBTQ rights laws. And and I think that’s a real possibility. So so this is not like, you know, this is a total waste of time. And whatever I think there is, there’s a real strategy here to to flood the courts and to see what can happen now that there’s a six three conservative Supreme Court. You know, we saw statements from justices that they wanted to overturn marriage equality. So there is there is for sure a strategy. And it’s not just a culture war.

S1: Hmm. It seems like a dangerous strategy, though. Like I remember reading an article last year about the gubernatorial election in Kentucky and how it was being used as a test case for anti trans advertising. The argument they were making was the Democrat, Andy Beshir, wanted boys to be able to compete on girls’ sports teams and ton of ads went out and then the Democrat won. So it just made me wonder, like, OK, you could get this to the Supreme Court, but do you want to do that? Do you want to give people a reason to not vote for you?

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S2: Yeah, I think that I mean, it is inevitable. The country is is changing on this. People have a less and less tolerance for entertaining these kinds of bills in these kinds of policies, because more and more, we we just know trans people. And like I said, the medical community is just really rock solid and established on this. There’s not you know, we can say all day long this is up for debate and this is controversial as the media becomes comfortable with that and understands that it’s just a matter of time before this kind of becomes passé.

S1: Yeah, I feel like you can see it in what’s happening to these bills. Like I was I was reading about what happened in Utah where the Republican governor basically quashed an anti trans bill. He’s like, I’m not signing this thing.

S7: These kids are. They’re just trying to stay alive. You know, there’s a reason none of them are playing sports, and so it’s I just I just think there’s a better way and I hope that there will be enough grace in in our state to to find to find a better solution. I don’t understand.

S1: And it was interesting to listen to the lawmakers there, because you could hear them struggling aloud with this major change that’s happening in a social dynamic that they’ve grown up with and sort of struggling with thinking about. Is the law the right way to address it? You know, there was one lawmaker who said, you know, I hate the bill. I know people who are trans family members, friends of mine.

S7: I have people I know who are trans family members, friends of mine, who I desperately love. And yet I have this biological understanding of human development that throws that into stark contrast. And I don’t know how to reconcile the two.

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S1: And I thought at least this lawmaker is being honest about where they’re at, which is a moment of huge change.

S2: Yeah, I mean, the truth is, like as we get into. Professional athletics. Certainly there’s a question we had, like, you know, I’m a non binary trans person and I think, goodness, I have no interest in sports for myself, but like more and more of us identify as non binary, like sports are segregated by narrowly. Like there is a question about, you know, how do you have teams as the world, you know, expands for people of all kinds of genders? Like that’s a question that that sports are going to have to grapple with. And that’s real. And like there’s going to have to be conversations about that. And and they’re going to be difficult conversations that we can’t run away from. But like, if we were to assume the humanity of each one of us and embrace the humanity of each one of us, I would just be a lot better off.

S8: Kate Sosin, thank you so much for joining me. Thank you so much for having me, Kate. Zen is a reporter at the 19th. You can check out their reporting at 19th News blog. And that’s the show What Next is produced by Daniel Hewitt, Elena Schwartz, Davis Land, Mary Wilson and Carmel Dilshad, Allison Benedikt and Alicia Montgomery are the conductors on this train. And I am Mary Harris. You can see the groundhog that lives in my backyard on Twitter at Mary’s Desk. And if that’s not your jam or even if it is, I will catch you back here tomorrow.