Dr Andy Kaladelfos (they/them) is an Australian Human Rights Institute Associate, a UNSW Gender Equity Co-Champion and Vice President of Trans Pride Australia. Professor Lucas Lixinski (he/him) is an Australian Human Rights Institute Associate and a UNSW LGBTIQ+ Champion.
What types of law changes are being proposed in the anti-trans bills currently sweeping through conservative American states?
There are two-pronged anti-LGBTIQ+ bills sweeping the United States. The first are ‘anti-drag’ laws that target cultural events, and books and materials written by LGBTIQ+ people. The second are specific anti-trans laws working their way through many states (more than 400 bills, according to Erin Reed, a trans activist who is doing excellent work in tracking all these movements).
In most states, these measures seek to prevent gender affirmation care (hormone treatments and surgeries being the most common types) at least for minors, sometimes for adults. These bills, many of which are passing at least one of the houses in each of these states, also seek to order the cessation of current ongoing gender affirmation treatments, effectively forcing trans and gender diverse (TGD) people to de-transition and be denied their very right to exist.
In some cases, medical professionals are the target, being sanctioned (by losing their licenses, or even being criminally prosecuted). In Texas, parents of TGD children can be targeted by child protection for prosecution for supporting their child’s gender-affirmation.
At the same time, some of these bills force medical professionals to perform non-consensual medical interventions on intersex children, with a view of “correcting” those with undefined sexual characteristics to become either female- or male-presenting.
In some of these states, TGD-supporting legislators, such as in Missouri and Nebraska, have been engaged in very long filibusters (prolonged debate to delay or hinder passage of legislation) to attempt to defeat these bills. Elsewhere, the Democratic governor of Kansas has made it clear she will veto continued attempts at a trans athlete ban by the Republican-controlled legislature.
By contrast, other states, like Minnesota, have strengthened protections and become effectively sanctuary states. For instance, health workers are refusing to share medical information about people who travel into Minnesota from other states seeking gender-affirming care. However, these initiatives are limited; they apply only to people who can afford to travel interstate to obtain medical care.
There appears to be a coordinated campaign against trans rights in the United States. Why has this issue suddenly galvanised conservative lawmakers?
Despite countless polls showing Americans support LGBTQI+ equality, Republican-dominated states continue to focus on anti-LGBTQI+ legislation, in part to drive evangelicals to vote.
A recent release of 2600 emails have shown that anti-trans bills are part of a coordinated strategy born from alliances of conservative lawmakers and powerful lobby groups, including anti-trans medical misinformation groups.
The campaign against TGD people has also become a convenient battleground because the numbers of TGD people are smaller than other parts of the LGBTIQ+ community.
TGD people have, sadly, been forced to draw the short straw before in the selection of LGBTIQ+ causes. After marriage equality passes in most developed countries, for instance, it is well-documented that philanthropic funding for LGBTIQ+ organisations drops significantly.
Trans rights are the canary in the coalmine of LGBTIQ+ rights. It is often the key battleground for rights-gaining and -losing for queer people everywhere.
What are the projections for the passage of these anti-trans bills in US state legislatures?
Under international law, a concerted campaign with the clear intention to eliminate a group is the legal definition of genocide. By forcing de-transitioning and preventing new transitions as some of this legislation attempts to do, the TGD community are open to the threat of “serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group” and the group suffering from deliberately inflicted “conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.
Responding to this charge of genocide, anti-trans campaigners claim that a TGD identity was never a “real” identity in the first place, so there is nothing to destroy. Medical and historical consensus, not to mention TGD people themselves, strongly disagree.
In a historic first, the United Nations (on behalf of a cross-regional group led by Argentina) called for states to “develop and implement laws and policies that allow the recognition of gender identity based on self-identification" in the face of growing anti-trans disinformation and violence globally.
How does Australia compare with its protections for TGD people and access to gender-affirming healthcare?
Recent protests in Melbourne and Sydney have seen an escalation of tensions over trans rights and may be an indication of a new battleground over LGBTIQ+ rights after the drawn out campaign to achieve marriage equality .
According to a key trans rights organisation in Australia, TransHub, there is still a lot to be done to strengthen anti-discrimination laws and to reduce the stigma experienced by TGD people.
In terms of legal recognition, every state aside from NSW now has or is in the process of developing gender-affirming identification laws. Soon NSW will remain the sole Australian jurisdiction that not only requires a surgical intervention to legally affirm one’s gender, but that that surgery is effectively one of sterilisation.
It's hoped the UN’s call, which was supported by Australian delegates, will push ahead much needed reforms in NSW.
In terms of gender-affirming healthcare, some of it is publicly funded or subsidised via Medicare rebate, but not always.
While Australia does better than some of its comparators, there's more work to be done, especially on combatting trans disinformation. Rights activism must continue not only to prevent retrograde steps to take away trans rights, but also to expand rights for TGD people, including the right to be recognised by law as the person you are.