A drive by Texas lawmakers to restrict transgender participation in sports is the latest signal of pushback in Republican-led states as President Joe Biden champions expanded LGBTQ rights.
While the two Texas bills are stuck because of a walkout by the state’s House Democrats, they’re part of a growing trend of more than 250 anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in 33 states this year. Of those, 25 were signed into law, according to the Human Rights Campaign — the most in a year since the group began tracking the figures in 2015.
In Texas, the number of bills introduced to limit transgender rights has more than doubled to almost 50 this year, including 17 proposals offered during a 30-day special session that ended Wednesday, all of them dealing with transgender people competing in sports, according to Equality Texas, an advocacy group.
“This constitutes a national emergency,” said Ricardo Martinez, the group’s chief executive officer. “And we don’t have to wait for these bills to be passed for them to cause harm.”
By contrast, Biden has issued executive orders to advance the LGBTQ rights. He lifted the ban on transgender service in the U.S. military and the State Department has ended requirements for medical certification for passports if a person’s self-selected gender doesn’t match the gender on their identity documents.
The Democratic-led U.S. House in February passed the Equality Act, which would amend federal civil rights laws, including the Civil Rights Act of 1964, to extend protections to cover sexual orientation and gender identity in the workforce, public places and government programs. The measure is stalled in the 50-50 Senate, where many Republicans argue it infringes on religious freedom.
The risk is a patchwork of rules so anyone moving across state lines will “literally have your legal rights change multiple times,” said Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “These issues certainly should be resolved at the federal level.”
That prospect is clouded by Senate rules that require at least 60 votes to advance most legislation. Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat who’s the author of the Senate version of the Equality Act, has been lobbying Republicans to support the legislation, but there’s no sign of imminent action.
Merkey said in an email that he’s “hopeful that we will continue to build on the Equality Act’s momentum, by getting this bill across the finish line in the Senate and onto President Biden’s desk to be signed into law.”
School sports have become the latest battleground on LGBTQ rights. This week’s special session of the Texas legislature called by Gov. Greg Abbott brought state Senate approval of two measures — SB 2 and SB 32 — that would require transgender student athletes to compete on sports teams based on their gender assigned at birth.
Texas Sen. Charles Perry, who wrote both bills, argued that the differences in body mass and makeup between men and women would make competition unfair.
“It is not OK to destroy the dreams of one for the benefit of another,” he said during a committee hearing on Monday.
Nine states ban transgender students from participating in school sports with their gender identity, according to the Movement Advancement Project.
Several medical associations including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health have issued statements in support of gender affirming care for transgender youth and their participation in sports.
A Gallup poll released in May found that 66% of Americans favor allowing transgender Americans to serve in the military. When it came to sports, 62% of respondents to the poll said they believe that transgender athletes should play on sports teams that match their gender assigned at birth. Still, 53% of respondents in the Gallup poll said they think new civil rights laws are needed to reduce discrimination against LGBTQ individuals.
Next week, the Tokyo Games will provide a spotlight, featuring the first transgender athletes who qualified since the International Olympic Committee allowed their participation in 2004.
“The same fringe groups who fought and lost against marriage equality and bathroom access continue to use misinformation and false claims to target LGBTQ people and kids across the country,” said Sarah Kate Ellis, president of GLAAD, the LGBTQ advocacy group.