Five U.S. states passed laws or implemented executive orders this year that restrict the ability of transgender youth to play sports or receive certain medical treatment. There has been a vehement outcry from advocates of transgender rights, but little in the way of tangible repercussions for those states.
It is in stark contrast to the fate of North Carolina a few years ago. When his legislature passed a bill in March 2016 that restricted public restrooms that transgender people could use, there was a quick and powerful reaction. The NBA and NCAA have moved events; some companies have abandoned their expansion plans. By March 2017, the bathroom provisions of the bill were repealed.
So far this year there has been nothing comparable. Not even the lawsuits, although activists predict that some of the measures will eventually be challenged in court.
Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, says he is surprised by the lack of backlash, but believes it will materialize as more people learn the details about the legislation pending.
“Many Americans are still learning about trans people and are learning about these problems for the first time,” he said. “Over time, they get to know their trans neighbors, are outraged by these bans and companies respond … It’s just a matter of time.”
The president of a leading national LGBTQ rights organization, Alphonso David of the Human Rights Campaign, attributed the lack of backlash to a lack of awareness of the potential harm these laws could cause to transgender youth.
“Some people in this country haven’t come to terms with treating trans people as human beings,” David said. “Now it’s coming to a head.”
Appeal to corporate pressure
A series of bills aim to ban transgender girls from competing in women’s sports teams in public schools. These measures were enacted in Alabama, Arkansas, Tennessee and Mississippi, and implemented by an executive order from Gov. Kristi Noem in South Dakota.
Another batch of bills seeks to ban gender-affirming medical treatments for trans minors, including the use of puberty blockers and hormone therapy. Arkansas lawmakers approved such a measure on the Republican government’s veto. Asa Hutchinson and similar measures are pending in Alabama, Tennessee and Texas.
Echoing concerns from major medical associations, Dr. Michele Hutchison – who runs a transgender medicine clinic at Arkansas Children’s Hospital – says the ban in his state increases the risk of suicide among some of his patients and coerces some families. wondering if they should move. in another state.
More than 400 companies – including Tesla, Pfizer, Delta Air Lines and Amazon – have signed up to support civil rights legislation for LGBTQ people moving through Congress, supporters said Tuesday.
And last week, the Human Rights Campaign ran a full-page ad in the New York Times calling on corporations to denounce anti-trans laws that have proliferated in Republican-controlled legislatures.
The letter, signed by David, urged business leaders “to act now by publicly denouncing state legislation that discriminates against people, refusing to conduct new business in states that are hostile to corporate values, and refusing to support sporting events where transgender athletes are banned. “
More than 85 companies have signed an HRC-drafted statement, including Amazon, American Airlines, Apple, AT&T, Facebook, IBM, Microsoft, PepsiCo, Pfizer, and Union Pacific. In polite language, the statement implies a threat: “As we make complex decisions about where to invest and grow, these issues can influence our decisions.”
Overall, the corporate response remains “insufficient,” David said. “But I think we are seeing a turnaround as we increase the pressure on companies.”
“Divisive, not necessary”
One of the companies that signed the HRC statement is technology giant Oracle Corp., which plans to bring 8,500 jobs and a US $ 1.2 billion investment to Nashville over the next decade. Joe Woolley, head of the Nashville LGBT Chamber of Commerce, expressed hope that Oracle – which has not threatened to cancel its plans – could use its leverage to urge a reconsideration of Tennessee’s anti-transgender legislation.
Woolley also says organizers of at least three conventions are considering withdrawing those events from Nashville due to the bills, even though she declined to identify them.
So far, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has signaled that any criticism from the business community will not affect him.
“Organizations have the opportunity to weigh on the legislative process but ultimately, the Tennesses, through their elected representatives, determine the law in our state,” said Casey Black, a spokesperson for Lee.
In Texas, a coalition called Texas Competes released on April 19 a letter signed by more than 40 companies and chambers of commerce in the state denouncing a batch of pending bills as “divisive, useless and economically dangerous.”
Specifically, the letter denounced “efforts to exclude transgender youth from full participation in their communities”.
Eyes on the NCAA response
In Montana, where a transgender sports ban gained initial approval from the Republican-controlled House and Senate, lawmakers added an amendment that said the measure would be overturned if the federal government denied funds for the education to the state because of politics.
The concern stems from an executive order signed by President Joe Biden banning discrimination based on gender. Universities in Montana receive approximately $ 350 million annually in federal funding, including $ 250 million in student loans and scholarships to cover tuition costs – money university officials say could be at risk if the administration considers the sporting ban to be unacceptable.
The extent of any emerging backlash to anti-trans laws will depend in part on the NCAA, which played a pivotal role in the North Carolina case.
On April 12, the NCAA board of directors released a statement expressing strong support for the inclusion of transgender athletes.
“In determining where championships will be held, NCAA policy stipulates that only locations where hosts can commit to providing a safe, healthy, and discrimination-free environment should be selected,” the statement said. “We will continue to monitor these situations closely to determine if the NCAA Championships can be conducted in ways that are welcoming and respectful of all participants.”
David said the human rights campaign welcomed the statement, but wanted an even tougher stance from the NCAA, with explicit warnings that the events would not be held in states with anti-trans laws.
“The time for concrete action is now,” he said Monday in a letter to NCCA leaders. “This is a national crisis and requires united action, including by the NCAA.”