With contributions from Fran Hutchins.

In recent years, the legislative landscape for LGBTQ+ rights, particularly those of transgender individuals, has been met with challenges unparalleled in modern history. The 2023 legislative session marked one of the most daunting periods for transgender rights. Equality Federation monitored 575 bills that posed a threat to LGBTQ+ communities across 49 states. Of these bills, nearly 20% successfully passed, with approximately 15% being enacted into law. The top five states with the highest number of anti-LGBTQ+ laws passed were Tennessee (10 bills), Arkansas (9 bills), Arizona (9 bills), North Dakota (9 bills), and Montana (8 bills).

Moreover, approximately 72% of the anti-LGBTQ+ bills tracked explicitly targeted or included language concerning transgender and nonbinary communities. The most prevalent anti-trans bills introduced this year were focused on young people in educational settings.

In 2023, the educational environment was a focal point for harmful legislation affecting LGBTQ+ communities. Equality Federation tracked harmful legislation introduced in 46 states. Among these states, the most common types of bills were related to athletic bans for transgender minors, bills compelling school administrators and teachers to disclose LGBTQ+ youths’ identities to their parents, and bills granting non-affirming parents greater influence over the curriculum within school environments. 

At least 15 states enacted new harmful laws for LGBTQ+ students in educational settings in 2023. Seven states passed new laws banning transgender youth from participating in sports aligned with their gender identity, bringing the total number of states with such bans to 23. States like Alabama and Texas followed Tennessee’s example from 2022 by extending these laws beyond K-12 environments to college-level sports. Additionally, states including North Dakota, Arkansas, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Montana passed legislation permitting teachers to misgender transgender students or mandating school administrators to disclose LGBTQ+ students’ identities to parents.

There was also a resurgence of bills targeting gender-segregated spaces, such as restroom facilities and programs designed to serve single-gender clients. While such bills had been introduced in recent years, only a few had passed. However, in 2023, five states (North Dakota, Florida, Arkansas, Idaho, and Arizona) enacted such legislation. These bills primarily targeted schools, but also extended their reach to public spaces, workplaces, shelters, and correctional facilities.

These bills – whether related to sports, respect for people’s gender identity and privacy, or access to safe spaces –  make it harder for all young people to excel in educational settings.

In 2023, 36 states introduced legislation to limit or outright prevent transgender and nonbinary youth from accessing gender-affirming care. Among these states, 20 enacted healthcare bans, bringing the total number of states with such bans to 22. Additionally, there was an escalation in the use of criminal penalties and family policing to prevent trans youth from accessing gender-affirming care. Four states introduced felony penalties for healthcare providers offering gender-affirming care to trans and nonbinary youth, bringing the total number of states with felony provisions to five. Florida also passed a law allowing the state to take custody of children who had received gender-affirming care. 

The impact of bills signed into law and the dehumanizing discourse advanced in legislative hearings and in the media is devastating for transgender youth and their families, deeply impacting mental health.

While there were SO MANY anti-LGBTQ+ bills in 2023, there were also some positive, pro-LGBTQ+ bills introduced. At least 49 states introduced legislation to provide various benefits to LGBTQ+ communities. These bills covered a wide range of topics, including improving data collection, prohibiting harmful practices such as conversion therapy, ensuring protections for gender-affirming care, requiring gender-neutral facilities, fostering safe and inclusive educational environments, funding for LGBTQ+ specific programs and businesses, and expanding nondiscrimination provisions. Notably, at least 27 states successfully passed and signed into law legislation benefiting LGBTQ+ communities.

In educational settings. At least 25 state legislatures introduced legislation with positive implications for LGBTQ+ students in educational environments. The most common types pertained to creating more inclusive curriculum content, addressing and preventing bullying in schools, and repealing explicitly anti-LGBTQ+ laws (e.g., “no promo homo” laws, athlete bans, etc.).

However, only five of these states – California, Nevada, Maryland, Connecticut, and Hawaii –  enacted laws providing such protections. Hawaii ensured Title IX and diversity training for school administrators and provided students with reproductive healthcare, regardless of their gender identity or sexual orientation. Connecticut countered laws banning books related to race, sexual orientation, and gender identity by limiting local libraries’ authority to ban specific books. 

In healthcare settings. While some states escalated the criminalization of gender-affirming and reproductive healthcare, others sought innovative ways to protect access to this life-saving care. In 2023, nine states enacted “shield” legislation designed to safeguard transgender and nonbinary youth and their families who traveled to these states seeking gender-affirming care.

These laws varied in scope but often revolved around legally protecting healthcare information, ensuring that details about receiving gender-affirming care could not be disclosed to states seeking to prosecute or penalize families or providers. Other mechanisms included allowing doctors who had lost their licenses in other states for providing gender-affirming care to continue practicing in states with shield laws. As of October 2023, 14 states and the District of Columbia had “shield” protections in place, either through legislation or executive orders. 

In Minnesota and Oregon, governors enacted trans shield laws in response to the wave of bans on gender-affirming care to ensure that as states around the country limit access, trans people, supportive families, and care providers have necessary protections in a rapidly shifting national landscape. These laws legally protect patients and providers from lawsuits originating in states with restrictions on gender-affirming care.

While these laws are meant to protect those seeking care, they can only do so much. Initial shield laws and executive orders were created as an emergency step to protect transgender people and their families from the threat of prosecution, but states are not prepared for the influx of patients seeking care. There are only so many providers of gender-affirming care and only so many patients they can see in a day. On top of this, only those with financial privilege can afford to move or travel to these states to receive care, limiting care to only those at certain socioeconomic levels.

We can’t treat these as separate issues. Policies that harm LGBTQ+ young people harm all young people, and vice versa. According to the CDC, when schools implement supportive policies and practices for LGBTQ+ youth, all students experience less emotional distress, violence, and harassment and fewer suicidal thoughts and behaviors.

No matter our gender, what we look like, or where we come from, we all want what’s best for our kids—and that’s to feel accepted and supported. Political attacks make our kids less safe, especially LGBTQ+ kids. According to data from the Trevor Project, 7 out of 10 LGBTQ+ youth say state laws targeting them negatively affect their mental health. 

LGBTQ+ youth, like all youth, deserve access to safe schools, quality health care, and opportunities to play and be happy. Schools are required to treat all students fairly and must not allow discrimination. It is not fair or appropriate for some parents to use discriminatory school policies to impose their beliefs on public schools that serve all of our children  Policies that limit rights for LGBTQ+ youth and families are inequitable, harming all of our communities.

I would argue that all of these issues impact LGBTQ+ people, whether or not they are specifically LGBTQ+ policies. LGBTQ+ people experience greater structural and interpersonal discrimination than non-LGBTQ people, which adversely affects their well-being and drives disparate outcomes across crucial areas of life. 

LGBTQ+ people face greater economic barriers to all types of healthcare, so any policies that restrict access to medical care impact LGBTQ+ people even more. For example, reproductive care is essential for everyone, including LGBTQ+ people. LGBTQ+ people have abortions for many reasons and need access to care.  Family creation often takes intentional planning for LGBTQ+ folks, and bans on reproductive care limit our ability to make medical decisions based on what’s best for our families.

LGBTQ+ people are disproportionately impacted by policies that affect access to equitable education, healthcare, housing, and employment. Student loan forgiveness policies even impact LGBTQ+ people, as they are more likely to have federal student loans than non-LGBTQ adults.

Seeing the increase in anti-trans legislation over the past few years, Equality Federation has deepened our support for state partners to help them push back against these harmful policies during legislative sessions. We supported our state partners with direct cash grants, rapid response constituent mobilization through calls and texts, and messaging and communications toolkits and support to combat anti-trans attacks.

Folks on the ground are doing all they can to push back against anti-LGBTQ policies, like showing up to testify at hearings, mobilizing their supporters to contact their lawmakers, and organizing to elect pro-equality candidates so they have more champions during session. We have also moved resources to assist with the support, wellness, and healing for young people and their families who are speaking out against these laws and telling their stories of joy, resistance, and love. 

In states where the defensive fights are not as difficult, state partners are able to push proactive policies like HIV decriminalization, bans on conversion therapy, and legislation benefiting LGBTQ+ students by ensuring Title IX and diversity training for school administrators and providing students with reproductive healthcare, regardless of gender identity or sexual orientation.

Foundations can focus on funding as close to the ground as possible, such as the LGBTQ+ organizations already working on the front lines in their communities —this is where the most impact occurs and is also severely underfunded. These groups are often small-staffed and do LGBTQ+ advocacy work for the whole state. If foundations are already funding local and state organizations that are not LGBTQ+-focused, include in their grants the need to build relationships with LGBTQ+ organizations to start broadening coalitions. Beyond direct funds to organizations, foundations can fund studies and reports that show the impact of anti-LGBTQ+ policies on children and their families.

LGBTQ+ people are everywhere; include us in the process from the beginning. For example, create an inclusion policy for grantmaking that concentrates on funding organizations actively serving LGBTQ+ communities. Create advisory boards of community members to get insight into the needs LGBTQ+ people have in their city or state. Uplift LGBTQ+ voices and stories. Finally, look at all communications with an equity lens — does the website include photos of diverse families?

You can learn more about LGBTQ+ legislation nationwide at Equality Federation’s legislative tracker: https://www.equalityfederation.org/state-legislation

Our team also conducts quarterly funder updates to give an overview of work being done in the states. A great place to get information is from folks on the ground: subscribe to the newsletters of state partners or have informational interviews.

Funders for LGBTQ Issues is a great resource hub for those interested in working together to improve the lives of LGBTQ+ communities.