What Drives the Debates over LGBTQ Issues?
Political battles over the rights of the LGBTQ community are one of the most charged social issues today. State legislatures across the country are both passing and introducing laws that put restrictions on this community. What is really happening and why?
In this year’s legislative session, almost five hundred bills affecting LGBTQ rights have been put forward in states across the country. These legislative efforts aim to restrict or outright ban LGBTQ elements from medicine, education, and broader parts of society, with transgender individuals being a particular focus in recent months. While not every bill will become a law, many already have. Here are some examples:
- Nine states have passed laws variously prohibiting transgender people from using public facilities aligning with their gender identity in schools or government-owned buildings (this kind of legislation is commonly referred to as “bathroom bills”).
- Nine states also place burdensome requirements for supporting documentation or outright ban updating gender markers on state documents like drivers’ licenses.
- Twenty-two states have enacted bans on transgender athletes from participating in sports that align with their gender identities.
- At least fifteen states have proposed bills to ban certain aspects of discussion and education about gender identity and orientation in school, following Florida’s 2022 passage of the Parental Rights in Education bill that banned classroom instruction on these subjects from kindergarten to third grade
- Twenty states have passed legislation banning or restricting gender-affirming care for minors, and many bills governing access to such care are under consideration. Gender-affirming care includes mental health care, medical care, and social services that help transgender people address gender dysphoria, the clinical distress caused by discrepancy between their gender identity and the gender given to them when born. This care often takes the form of hormonal treatments, puberty blockers, surgery, or counseling. It has been deemed safe and supported by major health organizations including the American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Psychiatric Association.
What’s Behind These Efforts?
Much of this legislation seems to be motivated by fear, a continuation of the historical trend of marginalized groups or people outside the dominant societal norm being cast as dangerous or threatening to the status quo. Proponents of these bills have referred to transgender concepts as “evil,” and seemingly believe in misconceptions about the LGBTQ community, including that LGBTQ people are more likely to pose a threat of sexual molestation to children or that people become gay because of exposure to homosexuality by people around them.
These ideas don’t match up with evidence. A review of multiple studies found no evidence that homosexual individuals were more likely to commit sexual abuse than heterosexual people. Not only that, but research has also found that LGBTQ people are often the victims of sexual abuse themselves. There are also no scientifically sound studies that can link a person’s sexual orientation with a parenting model of sexual orientation. Some of the most recent extensive research into human sexuality has found that sexual orientation, while partially explainable by some genetic factors, is based on a complex mix of influences including biological, genetic, environmental, and more.
What is the Impact?
These bills have real impacts on the lives of LGBTQ people. Restrictions on gender-affirming care are forcing trans people to choose between moving away from their homes or giving up their treatment, while reducing the number of doctors who can provide the services is creating waitlists of a year or more and further restricting access to care. Doctors and hospitals who continue to provide care in states that have not restricted it reported increased levels of harassment, threats of litigation, and even death threats.
More broadly, these restrictive laws create serious psychological and mental health problems for LGBTQ people: a 2023 national survey found one in five trans people attempted suicide in the last year, and almost a third of surveyed LGBTQ youths said these policies leave their mental health poor most of the time or always. Youths who were denied access to gender-neutral bathrooms and gender-affirming clothes also suffered higher rates of attempted suicide than people who did have access to these things.
Realizing that they have questions about their gender identity or sexual orientation can be an incredibly difficult challenge. In fact, 81% of LGBTQ youths want access to mental health services. Those living in homes who respect and use their correct pronouns are only half as likely to attempt suicide as those who don’t live in such homes. The causes may be complex, but what evidence we have suggests that sexuality is far too complex to be attributed to an external influence. Legislation related to the LGBTQ community should not be motivated by personal religious beliefs, but what is best for the mental and physical health of those affected.
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