'War' on LGBTQ existence: 8 ways the record onslaught of 650 bills targets the community

LGBTQ people are under siege by a staggering number of bills across the U.S. with a deliberate aim, a new report says: to expunge the community.

So far in 2023, lawmakers in 46 states have introduced more than 650 anti-LGBTQ bills, according to a report by the Movement Advancement Project, or MAP, a think tank that researches LGBTQ issues and laws.

Young people, particularly those who are transgender, are being targeted, MAP's research shows: More than 160 anti-LGBTQ school-specific bills were unveiled in state legislatures in just the first two months of the year.

"It’s clear that we are in a disturbing new era of attacks on our communities, and especially on transgender people," Logan Casey, MAP's senior policy researcher and adviser, told USA TODAY. "This dramatic rise in political attacks clearly illustrates how emboldened anti-LGBTQ activists seem to feel. Over the years we’ve seen many attacks on LGBTQ communities, but this moment is very different and frankly terrifying for many people."

The report has a blunt warning not to view 2023 as a time of progress, marred by setbacks. "In reality, this is a war against LGBTQ people in America and their very right and ability to openly exist," the report says.

A goal 'to force LGBTQ people out of public life'

The legislative escalation has been unparalleled in the past two years, advocates say.

A record number of hostile bills – 315 – were introduced in state legislatures in 2022 despite nearly 80% of Americans saying they support nondiscrimination protections for LGBTQ people. Now, in just the first few months of 2023, there have been more anti-LGBTQ bills introduced than in all of 2012-2015 combined, MAP's report says.

MAP's analysis points to eight distinct legislative fronts that put the community in the crosshairs from school policies on transgender youths to the elimination of harassment protections to book bans. When a bill makes progress in one state, copycat language and similar bills quickly crop up in other states, the report notes, citing coordinated efforts by far-right lobbyists and extremist groups. 

"There are a range of reasons for the rise in these political attacks, including a deliberate misinformation campaign seeking political gain, which exploits the fact that many people are still learning what it means to be transgender," Casey said.

The impact of even just discussion of these bills is dangerous, Casey said: In a recent Trevor Project poll, 86% of transgender and nonbinary youths said debates about anti-transgender bills have negatively impacted their mental health.

The report notes the increasing use of inflammatory rhetoric around some of these bills, depicting LGBTQ people as "predators" and "groomers,"  false and troubling narratives, advocates say.

The goal is to "force LGBTQ people out of public life," said Naomi Goldberg, MAP's deputy director. "If LGBTQ youth are unmentionable in school, if government cannot collect survey information about LGBTQ people’s lives, and if transgender youth must be called by their old names and pronouns, it will be as if LGBTQ people no longer exist.”

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Advocates who oppose a bill that would restrict where certain drag shows could take place rally outside the Tennessee Capitol in Nashville on Feb. 14.

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Here are the eight ways that MAP says LGBTQ people are being targeted:

Censoring discussions of LGBTQ people in schools

The original “don’t say gay/trans bills” surfaced in the 1980s, MAP says, but states began to repeal those laws in the mid-2000s – until last year. Now, in 2023 all 50 state legislatures have weighed bills to censor what schools can say about LGBTQ people and issues, and the number of bills quadrupled from 2020 to 2022.

Enacting school policies that target trans youths

In 2019, there were no state laws banning transgender youths from participating in school sports; in 2023 there are bans in 19 states. About 27 states have weighed 67 bills so far this year.

In seven states, trans students are not allowed to use bathrooms that match their gender identity.

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Eliminating bullying, harassment protections

The MAP report notes that several states are attempting to repeal protections within policies already on the books. For example, The Florida Department of Education sent a letter in July to schools in the state encouraging them to ignore federal non-discrimination protections for LGBTQ students.  

Outlawing, criminalizing supportive school environments

Several states, including Iowa and Missouri, are weighing bills that would require schools to notify a parent if their child uses a different name or pronoun or if a student changes their gender expression, without regard to student safety, the report says.

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Protecting educators who don't use correct pronouns

Some states are considering bills that would create explicit protections for teachers who refuse to use a student’s preferred name and pronoun. Others would require teachers to use incorrect pronouns, even when teachers want to respect what the student wants, the report says.

Nixing school survey efforts

States such as Florida are refusing to participate in data collection surveys, such as the Youth Risk Behavior System survey, which tracks information on the well-being of LGBTQ young people.

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Putting a bulls-eye on libraries

The number of attempts to ban books from libraries documented by the American Library Association from January to August of last year broke the previous record set in 2021 for the entire year. And half of the top 10 most challenged books in 2021 were flagged because of LGBTQ content, according to the report.

Regulating drag shows

At least 47 bills introduced in 17 states target drag performances. The bills’ broad wording leads to concerns that any transgender person who would perform in a play or speak publicly could be deemed in violation of the law, the report notes.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: 650+ anti-LGBTQ bills introduced in 'disturbing new era of attacks'