Rebeca Ibarra: You're listening to the Takeaway. I'm Rebeca Ibarra in for Tanzina. Recently, the House of Representatives passed the Equality Act, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual orientation. While President Biden has voiced his support for the bill, it will need 60 votes in the Senate, but across the country, there are more than 70 anti-trans bills pending in state legislators. At the same time, a new coalition called A Promise to America's Children is drafting model legislation for keeping trans kids from participating in sports and receiving medical care.
The coalition includes organizations like the Alliance Defending Freedom, which has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. Conservative groups, including the Heritage Foundation and the Family Policy Alliance are also involved. With us to talk about why we're seeing this renewed push for anti-trans legislation is Kate Sosin LGBTQ+ reporter at the 19th, a nonprofit newsroom reporting on gender, politics, and policy. Kate, welcome back to the Takeaway.
Kate Sosin: Thanks for having me.
Rebeca Ibarra: Can you tell us a bit more about this coalition pushing anti-trans legislation, what kinds of groups are part of it?
Kate Sosin: This is made up of anti-LGBTQ organizations that are both national and local states and they've been involved in pushing this legislation for years now but it's the first time that we've seen them very take up this so boldly and offer to write model legislation via an online forum. They have a website, and you can go on, as if you were going to join a mailing list and say, "I'm from this district and this is the kind of bill that I want, please send me an anti-trans sports bill." To give you a sense of who the Alliance Defending Freedom is, they have argued for the forced sterilization of transgender people in the European Court of Human Rights. They have repeatedly called gay people pedophiles. They're the farthest extreme in terms of anti-LGBTQ stands that you can get, which is why they have been labeled a hate group.
Rebeca Ibarra: Kate, describe what the model legislation aims to do.
Kate Sosin: We're looking at two main bills this year in terms of regulating transgender children. One is a transgender medical ban. This would prevent transgender children from accessing the care that the medical community has deemed necessary for trans kids and that's mostly what we call puberty blockers. If you're a transgender child, a lot of times you'll go to your doctor and they'll say, "Look, you're not old enough to know if you want to transition medically or not but if you go through puberty, you're probably going to experience severe mental duress."
We'll give you a puberty blocker just pauses puberty, until you're old enough to decide with your parents, with your medical providers, if you want to medically transition. This would make that illegal for kids to obtain puberty blockers. The other bill that we're seeing which are getting a lot of attention, are these trans sports bills which target particularly trans girls who want to play on their scholastic teams with other girls, which basically categorize them as males and then prevent them from playing sports.
Rebeca Ibarra: Another goal of this coalition is to fight the Equality Act. Can you explain some of the specifics of the Equality Act and where it stands in Congress?
Kate Sosin: The Equality Act is the most substantial LGBTQ civil rights legislation that we've ever seen. I think a lot of us aren't aware of the fact that in most states, it's still legal to discriminate against an LGBTQ person. You can deny service to someone because they're gay, or transgender, you can tell them that they can't rent an apartment, or you can deny them services and we think that because it's wrong, just intrinsically we know that. These protections haven't been passed in most states. The Equality Act takes this patchwork of protections states and cities have passed and sews them all together.
They're opposed to the Equality Act. A lot of them say because there are not enough religious exemptions. Now the issue with this is what the Equality Act does is it looks at other civil rights legislation which protects people of color, immigrants, and it extends those protections to LGBTQ people. When we think about religious exemptions, we don't have a religious exemption that says, "My deeply held religious faith makes it okay for me to turn away a Black person seeking service in a restaurant." LGBTQ advocates and some of these religious conservative groups are really going to hit a sticking point on this because does your sincerely held religious belief make it okay for you to turn away an LGBTQ person, the way that you would not be able to another protected class?
Rebeca Ibarra: Has there been any national polling around support for legislation like the Equality Act?
Kate Sosin: Yes, there has been a number of polls, and overwhelmingly, people support it time and again, and this is not just progressive people, it's also conservative people. The country seems to really have an appetite for this. That seems to be because, one, we already think that this is law, right? Most of us think that it's illegal to fire an LGBTQ person, to turn away someone from services because they are LGBTQ. Most of us at this point know a gay person, a transgender person, a bisexual person, we have queer people in our families. Among most of us in the country, this is non-controversial. It gets controversial when we take it into policy.
Rebeca Ibarra: Kate, compared to past years, how does this year look so far in terms of anti-trans and anti-LGBTQ bills?
Kate Sosin: This year is on track to be what LGBTQ advocates say is the worst year in terms of bills filed against LGBTQ people. 2020 there were more than 200 anti-LGBTQ bills filed and that was what was called a banner year for anti-LGBTQ legislation and the pandemic actually halted those bills by closing statehouses. The Human Rights Campaign reported yesterday that they think within the week, we will eclipse that number with more bills being filed every single day.
Rebeca Ibarra: Have any state successfully passed these types of bills in the past?
Kate Sosin: Yes, last year, Idaho actually passed two anti-trans bills. One was a ban on birth certificates, transgender people being able to update their birth certificates, and an anti-trans sports bill. The courts blocked both of them. One, the birth certificate bill, actually, Lambda Legal, and LGBTQ legal organization had already litigated that ao a judge threw it out. Then the sports bill, a judge found it unconstitutional and has blocked that from going into effect. The feeling overwhelmingly, actually is that these bills legally don't have a lot of ground. The country is changing, the courts are changing and in June of last year, the Supreme Court ruled that current civil rights law actually makes it illegal to fire someone because they're LGBTQ, and that laid the groundwork that a lot of people think is going to extend to protections for LGBTQ people in all areas of life and might undercut a lot of these bills.
Rebeca Ibarra: Kate, does this kind of legislation have impacts even if it fails to pass?
Kate Sosin: There are two impacts, one is that we have a six-three Conservative Supreme Court and so a flood of these bills-- if one of these bills hits the right circuit, and gets elevated, which is for sure a strategy, it seems like these groups and these lawmakers feel like they might have a real chance of actually changing the law. We've seen justices on the Supreme Court have said that they have an interest in overturning marriage equality so there does seem to be an appetite at the Supreme Court to take up some of these issues.
Then the other piece of this is raising a legitimate question about the dignity and humanity of trans people. South Dakota has been the testing ground for a lot of these bills. I went to South Dakota last January when a trans medical band was being considered. I interviewed the children there who were being asked to testify and this 16-year-old trans kid just told me, he said, "I wish that I wasn't trans." He said, "I don't actually want to do this. I just want to be a teenager." I think when we're talking about these bills, we're thinking about them in a big picture way about transgender rights, and history, and the arc of the country. We don't often consider when we're debating these things, we're actually asking children to go to their lawmakers and ask for really basic things like healthcare, or the ability to participate in after-school activities. The message that they're getting back for lawmakers is, "We wish you weren't who you are."
Rebeca Ibarra: Finally, Kate Sosin, last week, confirmation hearings were held for Rachel Levine President Biden's nominee for Assistant Secretary of Health. Levine would be the first openly transgender federal official confirmed by the Senate. What does her appointment mean for transgender rights nationwide?
Kate Sosin: Dr. Levine's appointment would be incredibly significant for a lot of transgender people, most especially because it's to HHS. Over the last four years, a lot of what we're seeing as attacks on transgender people happened in HHS. Healthcare, in particular, became really fraught for transgender people and the rulemaking changes in regards to the Affordable Care Act, the anti-discrimination protections for transgender people happened at HHS. A lot of the rollbacks for LGBTQ people that the Trump administration undertook happened, via executive order, and the Biden administration is already rolling them back.
The most significant and sticking changes that the Trump administration overtook happened via this lengthy rulemaking process where the public had to weigh in. Those happened through HHS, and it was really seen as an agency that was weaponized against transgender people, and because healthcare is so sacred to all of us, and especially to transgender individuals, that agency really holds a lot of power. To send a transgender person there, really put an exclamation point, I think, for a lot of people on the fact that this new administration is thinking about the needs of this community.
Rebeca Ibarra: Kate Sosin is LGBTQ plus reporter at the 19th. Kate, thanks so much for coming on the show.
Kate Sosin: Thanks so much for having me.
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