There’s a Long Fight Ahead for Transgender Equality

But the battles are being won.
May 1, 2017, 6:00pmUpdated on May 1, 2017, 4:30pm
Photo via Flickr user Mayor McGinn

This is an opinion piece by the National Center for Transgender Equality.

Since the first anti-transgender "bathroom ban" bill was introduced in Arizona in 2013, the transgender community has been fighting off discriminatory legislation. TheNational Center for Transgender Equality has been working with state partners and other national organizations to kill such legislation all around the country, and we've been incredibly successful.

Of over 100 anti-transgender bills that were filed all over the United States in the last two years, only two have ever passed -- both in North Carolina. In March 2016, the state legislature rushed HB2 to former governor Pat McCrory's desk in less than 12 hours. The governor's signature made North Carolina the first state to make discrimination against transgender people part of its state law, restricting restroom access according to the gender listed on a person's birth certificate and banning individual cities from passing their own ordinances to ensure equal treatment for transgender people.

Just over a year later, the North Carolina legislature passed another bill that claimed to repeal HB2. Instead, it simply doubled down on discrimination against transgender people, leaving the ban against city-level nondiscrimination ordinances in place and adding more local restrictions. State-sanctioned bias remains the law in North Carolina, and regional advocates and national partners -- including NCTE -- will continue our work to make sure discrimination against transgender people is truly repealed there.

In the rest of the country, however, lawmakers who want to use transgender people as political scapegoats continue to fail. Increased awareness of who transgender people really are has helped lawmakers realize that discriminatory laws have incredibly painful impacts on real people's lives. And North Carolina, where the state's economy has lost millions of dollars and its reputation has been damaged beyond measure, is not an example that most other states want to follow.

About 50 anti-transgender bills have been introduced around the nation in 2017. Outside of North Carolina, none have passed. As most states' legislative sessions draw to a close, there is only one state still seriously considering anti-transgender bills: Texas, where lawmakers have until late May to get bills to the governor's desk.

A number of prominent politicians in Texas remain determined to advance their anti-LGBTQ agenda and ignore the actual needs of their constituents, regardless of the consequences.

For example, after the HB2-like SB6 in Texas drew economic threats from corporations and sports associations, Texas lawmakers introduced yet another anti-transgender bill, House Bill 2899. It was written to be more palatable to business interests while still pushing discrimination into state law. Two other Texan bills explicitly target vulnerable transgender children--one by restricting access to school restrooms, the other by banning school officials from withholding certain types of information from parents, potentially forcing teachers or administrators to reveal a student's transgender identity to an unsupportive family.

There remain a number of battles to fight in Texas, but if other state legislatures are any indication, the anti-transgender bills there will also fail to become law.

Unfortunately, legislation is not the only type of anti-transgender actions being taken. Several months ago, opponents of transgender equality in Washington state filed an initiative, known as I-1552, that will appear on the state's ballot in November 2018. A coalition of non-profit organizations, businesses, and individuals has come together to form the Washington Won't Discriminate campaign to fight back against the initiative.

The 2018 election will also bring a ballot measure in Massachusetts. After Gov. Charlie Baker signed a law ensuring equal treatment for transgender people in public accommodations last year, opponents of the law gathered enough signatures to place a question about it on the November 2018 ballot. If a majority of voters indicate that they disapprove of the anti-discrimination measure, it will be reversed. The Freedom Massachusetts campaign has already begun work to make sure that transgender people in Massachusetts continue to be fully protected under the law.

So far, Washington and Massachusetts are the only states facing ballot initiatives, ensuring that supporters of transgender equality can throw our support behind these campaigns. In addition, the city of Anchorage, Alaska, is facing a similar ballot initiative in reaction to a two-year-old nondiscrimination ordinance.

We have come so far. Advocacy and education efforts have helped us defeat over 100 pieces of anti-transgender legislation across the country. We still have many battles to fight. Aside from challenges in state houses and at the ballot box, many transgender people continue to face huge obstacles in basic parts of their daily lives, including while trying to get a job, obtain housing, or go to school.

As we go forward, we must remember our past successes, care for those in our communities who are most vulnerable to attacks on our rights, and keep fighting to win equality for all transgender people.