In recent years, the battles around LGBT rights seemed to fade from the American political scene.
The Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage in 2015, and most Americans supported the decision. In recent national campaigns, most Republican politicians — including Donald Trump, who claimed to be a friend of the gay community — have largely ignored LGBT issues. One of Trump’s appointees to the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch, even wrote the opinion in a 2020 case that protected gay and transgender workers from workplace discrimination.
But the brief political truce over LGBT rights appears to be over. In more than a dozen states, Republicans have recently passed laws restricting these rights. In the Senate, Republicans used Ketanji Brown Jackson’s confirmation hearing to draw attention to some of the same issues covered by the new laws, even though Jackson’s criminal record had virtually no connection to them. . (The Senate confirmed it yesterday.)
What explains the change? Today’s bulletin offers two explanations and also provides an overview of recent LGBT-related laws across the country.
A new audacity
After Barack Obama’s re-election in 2012, the conventional wisdom on both the right and left was that the Republican Party needed to moderate its approach to social issues to win over young voters in a country that was rapidly diversifying.
Trump’s 2016 campaign rejected that advice. He instead moved left on economic issues, such as trade and social security. On some burning cultural issues, like crime and immigration, he has gone more to the right. On others, he showed relatively little interest – but promised cultural and religious conservatives he would defer to them once in the White House.
“Trump’s view was, ‘Give ’em what they want,'” said our colleague Jeremy Peters, who writes about the story in his recent book ‘Insurgency’. “He understood that if he did that, especially by filling the federal justice system with conservatives, they would continue to be the cornerstone of his base.” As president, Trump also backtracked on his pro-LGBT rhetoric and restricted transgender rights.
This approach has emboldened cultural conservatives on multiple issues, including abortion, gun rights, affirmative action, and voting rights. As Stuart Stevens, a longtime Republican strategist and Trump critic, told us, “A lot of party members see that they don’t have to pretend anymore and can go back to expressing what they truly believe.”
The new conservative aggressiveness is the primary factor that helps explain the recent wave of laws restricting LGBT rights. The second factor is the political opportunity that some Republicans now see: they recognize that public opinion on gender identity and transgender rights is more conservative than on same-sex marriage.
Some of these gender identity issues are also inevitably vexing, involving conflicts between the rights of one person and those of another. For example, should transgender girls still be allowed to play women’s sports, even though male puberty has given them physical strength that gives them a competitive edge? (Some feminists and female athletes say no, and some transgender women are torn.) When should schools start teaching kids about gender identity? Should schools be required to notify parents if a child changes gender identity at school?
On many of these issues, Republicans see an opportunity to view Democrats as out of touch. “The right uses trans identity in children as a wedge,” says our colleague Emily Bazelon, who writes on legal issues.
Bazelon points out that this political strategy is partly based on lies that seem intended to stir up fear and hatred. In Florida, for example, some Republicans have mistakenly suggested that sex classes in schools are actually an attempt to “groom” students.
Our summary of recent laws follows.
“Don’t Say Gay”
In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill last week banning the teaching of sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. The bill also contains vague language that opponents say could lead to broader restrictions, effectively trying to erase LGBT Americans from school lessons.
An example: the preamble of the law calls for “prohibiting discussions in class on sexual orientation or gender identity”. This sentence led to the nickname of the law’s opponents: “Don’t say gay”.
Alabama lawmakers are considering a similar law.
Three states — Arkansas, Arizona and Texas — have policies limiting gender-affirming treatments (which can involve surgery, hormones, speech therapy and other steps) for children.
In Texas, Governor Greg Abbott has required teachers and other adults to report parents they suspect of providing such care to their children. Abbott has also ordered state officials to investigate parents for child abuse in these cases, though a judge has blocked the order for now.
The Alabama legislature passed a similar bill yesterday. If the governor signs it, the law would threaten doctors and nurses with up to 10 years in prison.
The American Medical Association has described these measures as “a dangerous intrusion into the practice of medicine”. Azeen Ghorayshi explained some of the tough choices facing families and doctors in a recent Times article.
In the past three years, governors of 13 states — including Arizona, Iowa, Montana and West Virginia — have enacted laws banning transgender women and girls from playing women’s sports in public schools. . In several states, however, governors — Republicans and Democrats — have vetoed such laws.
One was Utah Governor Spencer Cox, a Republican, who said the law unfairly targets a small number of transgender children “seeking to find a sense of connection and community” through sports. Most could compete without causing injustice to other athletes, he added. For the rare cases with legitimate questions about safety or fairness, Cox favored the creation of a commission to make decisions.
The Utah legislature overruled its veto last month and signed the law into law. After the original bill passed the state Senate, Cox appeared on television and spoke directly to transgender children. “Listen, we care about you,” he said. “We love you. It’ll be okay.”
Note on programming: I will be away until Tuesday April 19 and my colleagues will write The Morning while I am away. —David Leonhardt
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