An 'absolute onslaught': Indiana GOP targets transgender rights
To advocates like Katie Blair, director of advocacy and public policy at the ACLU of Indiana, it feels like the flood gates have opened.
Last year's legislative session was the first time any transgender-related bills took flight in Indiana, when lawmakers overturned Gov. Eric Holcomb's veto of a law prohibiting transgender girls from playing girls sports in schools. This year, advocates are parsing through what they believe is a record number of bills viewed as harmful to the LGBTQ community, and specifically transgender youth.
"I’ve never seen anything like this before out of the Indiana General Assembly," Blair said, calling it an "absolute onslaught."
Republican lawmakers have filed more than 20 bills this session tackling subjects like gender-transition treatment, school curricula and the ability to change one's gender on identification documents ― triple the highest number of bills seen in any other year, by the ACLU's count.
Indiana is not alone. According to The New York Times, Republican lawmakers have filed an unprecedented barrage of bills targeting transgender youth throughout the country, seeing an opportunity to appeal to angry voters on the right.
Indiana legislature: How Indiana Republican lawmakers changed their sights from gay rights to trans issues
In Indiana, the legislature once focused on making life more difficult for gay and lesbian Hoosiers, most prominently to ban same-sex marriage and to pass the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that critics said would have allowed businesses to discriminate against gay people. The past two years, Republican lawmakers shifted focus in the face of changing public opinion to instead set their sights on the transgender community.
Blair sees this as part of an attempt nationwide to single out and divide the LGBTQ community.
"And we are not gonna stand for that," she said. "It’s gonna take all of us. The entire community is standing behind trans people."
This year, among the most concerning proposals to advocates are bills targeting transgender children. There are four in the Indiana House and one in the Senate seeking to prohibit minors from accessing gender-transition care, from counseling to hormone therapy to surgery. Others would require schools to inform parents if children behave in ways "inconsistent" with their assigned gender at birth, through name or pronoun choice or dress.
Emma Vosicky, who is the executive director of GenderNexus, an Indianapolis-based social services agency that works with gender diverse people, said outing transgender children to families that may not be supportive could be opening them up to violence. And trans youth are already more at risk of violence, bullying, harassment and suicidal ideation than their cisgender peers, according to data from the Trevor Project, which conducts an annual survey of LGBTQ youth nationwide.
Instead of being alarmed by those figures and working on solutions to support LGBTQ kids, Vosicky said the legislature is going after them.
"We’re going to make these kids feel really bad about themselves," said Vosicky, who is a transgender woman. "We’re going to hold them up. We’re going to use children as a way of driving fear and prejudice."
Several Democrats and one Republican lawmaker filed bills that would support the LGBTQ community. It's not often, though, that Democratic bills, especially those dealing with social issues, move through Republican-controlled Indiana Statehouse.
After an intense special session over the summer resulted in a near-total abortion ban in Indiana, House and Senate leaders said at the outset of the 2023 session that they wanted to steer the focus away from social issues toward priorities like education and public health funding.
House Speaker Todd Huston and Senate President Pro Tempore Rodric Bray, both Republicans, said there's no indication or clear consensus yet on what might happen with these transgender-related bills. Neither leader has listed the bills as personal priorities, but it's unclear how far their caucuses are willing to go to target transgender rights.
Even if the bills don't pass, Vosicky said their introduction still hurts the LGBTQ community by pushing a narrative that they're something to fear and vilify.
"I now know that this is what life is in Indiana," she said. "Every January. Here we come."
Restricting gender-transition care
The following bills would make it illegal for a health care professional to perform gender-transition care on a minor, including surgery or medication. Each outlines different consequences:
House Bill 1118, authored by Rep. Lorissa Sweet, R-Wabash, would require those who know about such care being performed to report the physician to the Department of Child Services or their local police.
House Bill 1220, authored by Rep. Michelle Davis, R-Whiteland, says physicians who provide such care could be disciplined by their regulatory board or subject to lawsuits. Senate Bill 480, authored by Sen. Tyler Johnson, R-Leo, with 14 co-authors, is an identical bill in the Senate.
House Bill 1231, authored by Rep. Ryan Lauer, R-Columbus, says physicians who provide such care could be subject to lawsuits; that agencies would not be allowed to give public dollars to entities that perform these procedures; and that insurers would not be allowed to reimburse for these procedures.
House Bill 1525, authored by Rep. Bruce Borders, R-Jasonville, would make such care illegal but doesn't include consequences for physicians.
Two related bills include House Bill 1569, authored by Rep. Peggy Mayfield, R-Martinsville, which would prohibit the Department of Correction from using state money to pay for hormone therapy or gender reassignment surgery; and House Bill 1589, authored by Rep. Julie McGuire, R-Indianapolis, which would allow a person who received gender transition care to bring a malpractice claim up to 15 years after they turned 21 years old.
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Limiting conversation on gender or sex in schools
A number of bills seek to limit the ability of schools and teachers to talk about gender identity or sexual orientation in the classroom.
Senate Bill 413, authored by Sens. Gary Byrne, R-Byrneville, and Blake Doriot, R-Goshen, would prohibit instruction on gender identity or sexual orientation in K-12 schools at any grade level and require schools notify parents of any services their child accesses related to their social emotional, behavioral, mental or physical health. It would also require a school corporation that allows transgender students to use restrooms or locker rooms designated for a gender other than that assigned at birth to notify the parents of every student enrolled in the school of that policy.
House Bill 1608, authored by Rep. Michelle Davis, R-Whiteland, would ban instruction on gender fluidity, gender roles, gender stereotypes, gender identity, gender expression or sexual orientation in grades K-3.
Senate Bill 354, authored by Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond, would require schools notify parents if a student discloses that they have conflicted feelings about their gender identity or request a change in their name, pronouns or clothes in a manner "inconsistent" with their gender assigned at birth.
House Bill 1346, authored by Rep. Jake Teshka, R-South Bend, would prohibit schools from requiring students, teachers and other school employees to use pronouns inconsistent with an individual's gender assigned at birth or a name or nickname that doesn't match a student's birth certificate. To use a different pronoun or name, the student's parent would have to submit a written request and provide documentation from a health care provider.
The following bills would restrict what schools could teach about race and sex, similar to failed efforts last year to limit the teaching of "divisive concepts" over concerns about how schools handle diversity and equity learning.
Senate Bill 386, authored by Sen. Jeff Raatz, R-Richmond.
House Bill 1523, authored by Rep. Bruce Borders, R-Jasonville.
House Bill 1338, authored by Rep. Shane Lindauer, R-Jasper. It would also prohibit public colleges and universities from mandating gender or sexual diversity training or counseling.
The following bills seek to remove K-12 schools and public libraries from the list of entities exempted from the state's "harmful materials" laws. Under the guise of protecting children from pornography, there's been a nationwide wave of efforts to ban books aimed at young people that represent the LGBTQ community.
House Bill 1130, authored by Rep. Becky Cash, R-Zionsville.
Senate Bill 12, authored by Sen. Jim Tomes, R-Wadesville.
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Preventing changes to birth certificates
Senate Bill 351, authored by Sen. Gary Byrne, R-Byrneville, and Sen. Jack Sandlin, R-Indianapolis, would define "sex" on birth certificates as a person's assigned sex at birth, regardless of their gender identity.
House Bill 1524, authored by Rep. Bruce Borders, R-Jasonville, would prevent people from being able to change their gender listed on their birth certificate or permanent record, unless for a clerical error.
Preventing child services from getting involved
The following bills propose that the state cannot take a child away from their parent for refusing to consent to their gender-affirming surgery or counseling, or for referring to the child by their name and sex assigned at birth:
House Bill 1232, authored by Rep. Ryan Lauer, R-Columbus
House Bill 1407, authored by Rep. Dale DeVon, R-Granger. This bill also defines "parental rights" for the first time in Indiana code as "the fundamental right of a parent to direct the upbringing, education, health care, and mental health of the parent's child" and would grant parents the power to sue over violations of these rights.
Legislating gendered prison assignments
Senate Bill 487, authored by Sen. Stacey Donato, R-Logansport, would require the Department of Correction to assign people to prisons based on their assigned sex at birth.
Bills beneficial to the LGBTQ community
Senate Bill 39, authored by Sen. J. D. Ford, D-Indianapolis, would prohibit discrimination in educational settings based on sexual orientation or gender identity, in addition to a list of characteristics already protected in Indiana law: disability, race, color, gender, national origin, religion and ancestry.
Senate Bill 228, authored by Andrea Hunley, D-Indianapolis, and House Bill 1122, authored by Rep. Kyle Miller, D-Fort Wayne, would repeal the existing state statute that says marriage is between a man and a woman, a statute that the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges Supreme Court decision currently overrides. Miller's bill also adds language to specify that same-sex marriages would be legal.
House Bill 1066, authored by Sue Errington, D-Muncie, and House Bill 1566, authored by Rep. Elizabeth Rowray, R-Yorktown, would require schools that provide instruction on human sexuality or STDs to include a "comprehensive sexual health education" that is scientifically accurate and "appropriate" for students of all races, gender identities, sexual orientations, cultural backgrounds, and abilities.
House Bill 1071, authored by Rep. Robin Shackleford, D-Indianapolis, would require nurses and physicians to take implicit-bias training ― education on how unintended biases can affect health outcomes for people of various races, ages, gender identities, sexual orientation or other characteristics ― as a prerequisite for getting their medical license or renewal.
Call IndyStar state government and politics reporter Arika Herron at 317-201-5620 or email her at Arika.Herron@indystar.com. Follow her on Twitter: @ArikaHerron.
Contact IndyStar transportation reporter Kayla Dwyer at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @kayla_dwyer17.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Indiana General Assembly: GOP targets transgender rights