It has been seven years since North Carolina made headlines for enacting a “bathroom bill” – legislation intended to prevent transgender people from using restrooms that align with their gender identity.
After boycotts threatened to cost the state more than US$3.7 billion, legislators repealed the law in 2017. Since then, however, religious and political conservatives have successfully spread an anti-trans moral panic, or irrational fear, across the United States.
As far back as 2001, Republican lawmakers proposed the first of what are now nearly 900 anti-LGBTQ+ bills. More than 500 of these were introduced in 49 state legislatures and the U.S. Congress during the first five months of 2023. To date, at least 79 have passed.
Many of these anti-trans laws are written and financed by a group of far-right interest groups, including the Alliance Defending Freedom, the Family Research Council, the Liberty Counsel and the American Principles Project.
These groups claim their proposed laws would protect cisgender women and girls – those whose gender identity matches the sex they were assigned at birth – from the sorts of violent trans people that are often depicted in movies and other media.
But as criminologists, we know these claims are without merit. No reliable data supports the argument that transgender people commit violent crimes at higher rates than cisgender men and women. In fact, transgender people are more than four times as likely to be the victim of a crime as cisgender people.
Anti-trans laws like the one enacted in Kansas over the governor’s veto reach beyond restrooms to limit access to many sex-segregated spaces, including “locker rooms, prisons, domestic violence shelters and rape crisis centers,” based on the sex assigned at birth to a person who seeks to use those spaces.
As of the end of May 2023, at least 18 states had enacted laws within the preceding 12 months that limit medically age-appropriate gender-affirming health care for trans minors, with similar bills pending in 14 more states. And Florida’s barrage of anti-LGBTQ+ regulations even prohibits the mere discussion of sexuality and gender identity in schools through the 12th grade. Journalist Adam Rhodes called these efforts a “centrally coordinated attack on transgender existence.”
We believe these laws and bills illustrate the increasingly hostile legislative landscape for LGBTQ+ people despite polls showing that most people in the United States want trans people to be protected from discrimination in public spaces on the basis of their gender.
A variety of myths, false narratives, bad science, misconceptions and outright misrepresentations undergird anti-trans laws. The reality, however, is that trans-exclusionary laws do not protect cisgender women and girls from harassment or violence. Rather, they result in dramatic increases in violent victimization for transgender and gender-nonconforming adults and children.