Over three special legislative sessions this year, Texas legislators introduced 42 proposed bills that aimed to restrict transgender kids’ access to sports or gender-affirming care. The word “transgender” didn’t appear in any of them.
Texas bills supporters, which brought triple the number of anti-trans billsThis year, more trans people were mentioned than in any other state. Despite the fact that the legislation is about trans kids and what they can and cannot do, it is rarely mentioned during debate. Instead, they use language that categorizes trans boys as girls by using sex assigned at the birth to define gender identity.
In 2021, there were more anti-trans bills in state legislatures than ever before. any previous year on record. The 19th reviewed the text of 94 bills in seven states that were primarily designed to restrict access to sports or gender-affirming care for trans youth, like hormones and puberty blockers, and only seven bills mentioned the word “transgender.” Only eight passed, primarily those focused on sports, although legal battles in several statesMost of the restrictions were lifted before they could be put into effect.
Texas was the state that introduced the most anti-trans legislation, but six other states considered at minimum seven bills. In Iowa (10 bills), and Montana (seven), the word transgender was not mentioned. 12 bills were introduced in Tennessee. only one — which would block state-approved textbooks that mention LGBTQ+ people — acknowledges trans people.
In West Virginia Arkansas: (seven bills). (Seven bills), the only reference that transgender people are to cite a 2019 studyHow gender-affirming treatment affects muscle size in sports competitions Missouri One notable exception is: Two failed bills out of nine in this state referencedTrans women and men.
Lawmakers’ arguments in support of these bills stress that girls must be protected from losing opportunities in sports against “biological men.” That idea displays deep-seated assumptions about gender, as trans women are portrayed as a threat to cisgender girls’ academic and economic opportunities. Trans people and LGBTQ+ activists tell this story, as it has been repeated across the nation. The 19thTheir existence is being challenged.
This approach isn’t new, but advocates say it has evolved in recent years.
2017 Texas’ failed bathroom billIt did not refer to transgender people. anywhere in the textThe legislation was passed, but it was intended to prevent transgender people from using bathrooms that are not compatible with their gender identity. North Carolina’s infamous 2016 bathroom bill, which was passed and subsequently repealed after the Associated Press predictedIt would cost the state more that $3.76 billion to boycott. also never used the word transgender.
Anchorage, Alaska residents were weighed in 2018 a similar measureTo restrict bathroom access. The question needed 2,000 signatures to qualify for the ballot, and the American Civil Liberties Union circulated a competing “decline to sign” in support of trans people.
The ACLU discovered this. 150 voters signed both petitionsMany, unwittingly, told reporters at INTO LGBTQ+ outlet. That was in part because canvassers for the ballot measure asked questions like: “Do you want men in your little girl’s bathrooms in elementary schools?”
LGBTQ+ advocates say the decision to exclude the word “transgender” in policies that directly shape trans lives has been intentional and strategic.
Scott McCoy, the interim deputy legal director of the Southern Poverty Law Center, believes that the decision to avoid the word “transgender” as it was done in Alaska’s bathroom bill is partially a tactic to deceive voters.
“They’re totally mixing the issues. When a trans woman uses the women’s room, that’s not a man going into the women’s room,” he said.
“I think it’s a lot more simple than we want to admit,” said Emmett Schelling, executive director for the Transgender Education Network of Texas. “If we refuse to name, or even recognize the existence of something, then … understanding is negated.”
By not acknowledging transgender people’s existence in legislation or rhetoric that affects them, Schelling said, proponents of these bills make it impossible for them to also acknowledge potential harms.
“Like, ‘I’m not saying that they’re not happening, I’m actually going a step further and I’m saying, ‘You don’t exist, so it can’t happen.’ There is something deeply disturbing about that,” he said.
While most of the bills in Texas didn’t advance, one that became law, House Bill 25, bans K-12 trans kids from playing in sports that match their gender identity. Republican Rep. Valoree Swinson introduced the bill and was subsequently pressed by lawmakersShe denied that the bill was related to trans youth, despite concerns about potential negative consequences. It was. she said, not about gender at all but about “biological sex.”
Swanson referred to transgender women as “biological men” in committee hearings and debates throughout the year’s special sessions. She said in an October 14 hearing that Texas’ regulatory body for high school athletics was unable to provide lawmakers with a current count of trans athletes in the state.
During that hearing on the athletic ban, Rep. Mary González, a Democrat, asked Swanson: “So you’re okay with creating an invisibility which we know creates mental harm of people of different gender identities?”
“We don’t want to cause harm to anyone,” Swanson answered. “We want girls to be able to compete fairly. And the only way we can do that is deciding it by biological sex.”
Similar arguments and language choices seem to play an outsized part in discussions about trans issues on social networks. According to a Facebook survey, the majority (and most) attention to trans issues on Facebook in the last year came from right-leaning news pages and politics pages. new studyMedia Matters for America is a left-leaning watchdog organization.
Within that right-leaning content, words like “biological male,” “women’s sports,” “biological men” and “gender identity” are frequently used to describe trans people — instead of the word transgender. Advocates fear this type of language drives violent and potentially deadly attacksTrans women of color should be resisted
Brennan Suen, Media Matters’ LGBTQ program director and lead researcher for the study, said right-leaning sources dominating content about trans issues on Facebook can spread misinformation that drives people to act.
“They’re creating the ammo to come to legislators,” Suen said.
Trans and LGBTQ+ advocates claim that Texas lawmakers were given the opportunity to learn about the bill’s impact on trans people by groups like Transgender Education Network of Texas or Equality Texas. These advocacy groups lobby for transgender and LGBTQ+ people.
“It’s not that the lawmakers are uneducated, it’s that they’re banking on their constituents to be uneducated,” said Hillary Moore-Embry, who lives in the Houston area with their family, including their transgender son.
TENT has been reaching out to lawmakers to inform them about trans issues and what kind of policy language they’re using since the state’s bathroom bill was considered, Schelling said.
“Yeah, they don’t want to talk to us,” he said of Republican lawmakers backing the bills. “The ones who are trying to fight [anti-trans bills] are the ones who have primarily been wanting to have that conversation.”
The lawmakers have heard testimony about potential effects.
“The only conclusion I can come to is that they are educated. They know. They refuse to acknowledge that trans people exist. They refuse to acknowledge the harms they’re doing. But … there’s no way that they can’t know. Unless they were literally sitting through all of these hearings with earplugs in,” Moore-Embry said.
Rev. Remington Johnson, who testified five times this year at the Texas Capitol against anti-trans bills, said voters who aren’t paying close attention wouldn’t know that trans people are at the center of the debate.
“You simply hear, ‘Save women’s sports, save girls’ sports,’” she said. “They’re not saying, ‘We’re against trans people, we’re against trans kids.’ They’re just removing the language entirely.”
Gillian Branstetter, press secretary for the National Women’s Law Center, believes there has been a shift in the way that opponents of trans rights have framed the conversation over the last decade, especially in recent years.
“Increasingly, over the last five years, you’ve begun to see explicitly religious groups like the Family Research Council on the Alliance Defending Freedom talk about biological sex or biological males,” she said.
Branstetter believes the language truly took hold during the Trump administration, when the Health and Human Services in 2018 led an ultimately unsuccessful effort to define gender “as a biological, immutable condition determined by genitalia at birth,” The New York Times reportedAt the time.
This definition is at odds with the American Medical AssociationThis has been seen in antitrans bills all over the country.
Rachel Gonzales, who has testified against anti-trans legislation in Texas over the past five years, often alongside their 11-year-old daughter Libby, said that messaging around this year’s anti-trans bills has evolved since she testified against the state’s bathroom bill in 2017.
“I think they’ve just really effectively reframed their argument in a way that allows people to have these kinds of transphobic perspectives because they’ve removed the word transgender from all of this, so they’re like, oh, no, but it’s really about boys playing girls.”
The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF), released its 2014 annual report an internal style guide advising against the use of the word “transgender,” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which republished the document in 2018 and labels ADF an anti-LGBTQ+ hate group. Ellie Wittman, spokesperson for ADF, stated that the group does not use this style anymore but declined to comment further.
Still, current actions by the organization suggests it has not changed policy with regards to use of “transgender.” A website sponsored by ADF and other groups to generate anti-trans legislation offers “model” policy that avoids the word.
The ADF was a part of the catalyst for anti-trans legislation. Idaho, where the 2020 deadline was became the first state to enact a ban on trans kids’ sports participation, the lawmaker who spearheaded the bill said the group played a pivotal role in reframing and advancing the legislation.
Idaho Rep. Barbara Ehardt told Imara Jones of Translash MediaWhen she felt stuck when trying to draft the bill she reached out for ADF.
“Then they decided that they were going to get more serious about this legislation. We changed it completely. And this is where you see what, of course, many are using now in these other states,” Ehardt said.
The law was blocked in federal court and never became effective, but Ehardt, who is a Republican, said that it served as a model.
“I’ve been pleased to see how many other states this year have followed and many of them using the exact legislation or maybe slight deviations of what we did here in Idaho,” Ehardt told NPRIn May.
Advocates claim that the rhetoric surrounding these bills is more intense this year, but they also emphasize that trans people have always been against erasure.
Kasey Suffredini is the CEO of the LGBTQ+ alliance Freedom for All Americans. She said that anti-LGBTQ+ activists have used similar tactics against lesbians, and gay people.
“This isn’t a new tactic,” Suffredini said in a statement. “During the freedom to marry fight, opponents of marriage for same-sex couples would avoid referring to lesbian, gay and bisexual people as just that, instead describing them as ‘people with same-sex attraction.’”
Johnson reflected that beyond legislation, trans people have long faced erasure within their relationships — a nearly universal experience that many trans people face even as that same erasure is being codified by the state.
“None of this is new,” Johnson said. “How many of us are erased, attempted to be erased by our family and our friends and our co-workers and the societies in which we live in? This is a thing that we all face day to day.”