GLAAD Media Guide: State Legislation About LGBTQ People

 

2023 is on pace to be a record-setting year for state legislation targeting LGBTQ adults and youth, with legislation that targets healthcare, education, public places and services, and drag performers or entertainment. Each of the previous two years—2022 and 2021—were record-setting years for anti-LGBTQ legislation, and the public rhetoric around these issues has increased since then. 

Reporters covering this trend should note that overwhelmingly, the majority of bills fail to advance or become law. In Texas’ most recent legislative session and special sessions, 76 bills were introduced, only 20 moved, and only one passed (more information is at Equality Texas). Still, there is proven harm in having the bills discussed and a person’s humanity debated, including an increase in mental health distress among young people, per the Trevor Project’s 2022 National Survey on LGBTQ Youth Mental Health.

Additionally, reporters can and must make note of robust efforts to propose bills protecting LGBTQ people, including transgender youth. As of mid-January 2023, pro-equality Texas lawmakers have proposed 36 bills to secure the safety and equal treatment of LGBTQ Texans. A new (2023) law in California shields families of transgender youth from criminal prosecution if they travel to the state for best-practice and often lifesaving healthcare. A bill in Illinois accurately connects efforts to restrict abortion care to transgender healthcare, and upholds protections for patients and providers of both.

Already in early 2023, there are dozens of bills targeting LGBTQ people including bans on transgender healthcare, bans on transgender participation in sports, and bans on drag performances. Other bills ban classroom conversation and books about LGBTQ people under the guise of “parents’ rights” without including the views of LGBTQ parents or parents of LGBTQ students; attempts to control the free speech of corporations looking to ensure more productive working environments for their own employees and recruit a more diverse workforce to better reflect the realities of a multicultural world; some attempt to define “woman” based on a person’s “reproductive potential,” an extremely limited view of who people are and can be that excludes women who cannot or choose not to give birth, as well as the true targets of the legislation, trans women and girls.

This reporter’s guide offers facts, context, and resources to journalists in pursuit of fair and accurate reporting, particularly on legislation that is proposed without evidence and against the expertise of medical, educational, and human rights professionals that would have negative effects on the dignity, equality, and physical wellbeing of LGBTQ people. 

You can track 2023 legislation at Equality Federation’s State Legislation Tracker. Legislation is introduced on a rolling basis and legislative session dates and deadlines vary from state-to-state.

Best Practices

You’ll find specific references and resources on issue-specific legislation below, but all reporting on legislation regarding LGBTQ people should: 

  • Include LGBTQ voices in stories about LGBTQ people and issues. If reporting on a transgender issue specifically, seek a transgender voice. GLAAD can connect you.
  • Elevate expertise over opinion, including facts from experts in relevant fields: healthcare, sports, education, and human rights.
  • Include facts and information from experts and research, rather than repeating inaccurate bill language or analysis verbatim and without challenge.
  • Challenge lawmakers and proponents of legislation to provide evidence and facts to support their assertions.
  • Include interviews with LGBTQ families and parents in discussions about bills about “parents’ rights,” banning books, and curtailing speech in classrooms.
  • Include context about the bills’ impact on vulnerable populations
  • Note how many bills use identical language proposed by national groups with long histories of fighting against LGBTQ equality.
  • Note ties between LGBTQ extremists and other issue areas: abortion access, election denials, anti-Semitism, anti-immigration, teachings banning critical race theory and other teachings about the history of slavery and racism, and efforts to suppress voters and restrict access to elections.

Issue: Healthcare

Before 2020, no state had ever introduced legislation to ban healthcare for transgender Americans, which has been safely prescribed for decades, and has the support of every major medical association and leading health authority. These types of state bills would ban transgender healthcare or even inflict criminal penalties on parents, guardians, and/or medical providers for providing necessary and life-saving healthcare to transgender youth, preventing families and providers from being able to make the best medical decisions for those who are seeking care. 

Efforts to ban and criminalize this care are not based on medical or scientific expertise, or research that shows how this care improves mental health and well-being and reduces suicidal ideation.

Misinformation and disinformation about healthcare for LGBTQIA+ people is spread by extremist politicians and their staff members, whose rhetoric, including the false and harmful accusations of “grooming,” are then repeated on social media platforms whose leaders refuse to take action against the attacks. A 2022 report found that 24 children’s hospitals across 21 states were targeted and received bomb threats from extremists using similar false rhetoric and disinformation campaigns.

State bills also target funding for hospitals that provide healthcare for transgender people, including efforts to redirect federal taxpayer funding if it goes to facilities that provide such care. These efforts are harmful to all patients served at these facilities.

Guidance

Coverage should report expertise over opinion, and include expertise and experience from providers who treat and support transgender people and youth. 

Every story about these bills must accurately include the fact that the care is supported by every major medical association. You may also include statements from these organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Medical Association, American Psychological Association, Endocrine Society, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH).

Media have a responsibility to advance public safety and the safety of all youth by challenging harmful false rhetoric (“groomer” smears and similar) and note when it is inaccurately and harmfully applied to LGBTQ people. Media must either not repeat it, or accurately report it as FALSE.

Seek stories that go beyond a person’s private healthcare or a focus on their bodies. Transgender people, like everyone, deserve to have their voices and experiences heard in all other areas of life.

Resources 

 

Issue: Drag Performances

Drag is an art form that has been performed for centuries and across cultures. In the U.S. RuPaul’s Drag Race has been on the air for 15 seasons, reaching mainstream appeal and critical acclaim. Drag is now widely featured in TV, movies, and advertising with global reach. 

Many of the same lawmakers attempting to ban LGBTQ-inclusive healthcare, books, and curricula are now targeting drag events. The increase in legislation mirrors a shocking rise in protests, threats, and violent, armed threats against drag performers and venues that host them. GLAAD found at least 141 incidents in 2022 of anti-LGBTQ protests and threats targeting specific drag events, and false rhetoric against performers was deployed in campaign ads for the 2022 midterm elections. 

GLAAD’s report shows increasingly violent rhetoric and incidents against drag as 2022 progressed, including white supremacists showing up armed at events in Ohio and Texas, and the firebombing of a Tulsa donut shop that had hosted a drag event in October.

Bills have been introduced aimed at drag as well as any LGBTQ-inclusive space. Some bills look to inaccurately redefine venues that host drag events as sexually-oriented businesses, which would impose expensive burdens on small business owners such as additional taxes, requiring venues to relocate, and other job-killing consequences. Other bills would ban public drag performances such as those that take place at Pride festivals, or ban minors from observing drag performers, including at family-friendly library events for people and children of all ages, such as Drag Story Hour.

Guidance

Coverage of anti-drag bills should note how protests and threats against drag are part of a larger pattern of misinformation and attacks against LGBTQ people, healthcare, and inclusive books and curricula in schools.

Reporters can note how extremist groups, including armed white supremacists and members of hate groups, have threatened and intimidated events for children, while disingenuously claiming they are “protecting” children. Research shows armed protests are six times more likely to turn violent than protests where no weapons are present.

Coverage can include the fact that drag is an art form that’s been performed for centuries, across all forms of media for all ages, sexual orientations, and gender identities (e.g. TV: RuPaul’s Drag Race; movies: Mrs. Doubtfire; animation: Bugs Bunny; as well as in-person brunch, bingo, straight birthday and bachelorette parties, and Pride performances.)

Report how disinformation about drag is elevated and spread on extremist media and social media accounts, and can lead to real life violence. A Media Matters report from June 2022 found that Fox News had devoted more hours to targeting drag queens and transgender people than to coverage of the January 6th insurrection hearings. A Media Matters analysis in November found that disturbing misinformation about drag had ramped up on Fox News and the Daily Wire in the weeks before a Tulsa donut shop that hosted a drag-inclusive event was firebombed and the Daily Wire calling on police to “break down the doors” of LGBTQ clubs and arrest drag queens. 

Research and report lawmakers’ previous efforts against LGBTQ people, including attempts to ban books, access to school sports, marriage equality and adoption, and false rhetoric aimed at drag events. Report connections to known anti-LGBTQ extremist hate groups, including funding received, testimony provided to legislative committees and additional support by The Heritage Foundation, ADF, and others.

Challenge and add context to quotes from anyone using “groomer” or similar language associated with child abuse to plainly state this charge is false, or do not repeat or report.

Drag shows have always included performers of a variety of genders, including cisgender, transgender, and nonbinary people. See GLAAD’s Media Reference Guide for additional details on reporting on drag events and transgender people, and follow recommended best practices including asking interviewees how they describe themselves as well as names and pronouns, and use in your reporting.

Resources 

 

Issue: Censorship in Education

The efforts to ban books about LGBTQ people and race and racism have expanded to bills that censor conversation in school classrooms about LGBTQ people or issues at all.

Many bills are reminiscent of long-ago fights against LGBTQ educators and LGBTQ-inclusive books, using false claims that LGBTQ content is “obscene.” Many bills are misleadingly titled “Parents’ Rights” bills, when they are more accurately and exclusively about targeting LGBTQ people, parents, students, teachers and allies.

Five states have passed “Don’t Say Gay/Trans” bills (the best known being Florida’s, which was signed into law in March 2022) prohibiting conversations in schools about sexual orientation and gender identity. Proponents have sought to expand government overreach, including efforts to weaponize law enforcement tactics against teachers for discussing these topics and against librarians for allowing students to borrow books a community member finds objectionable.

From January to September 2022, the American Library Association documented 681 attempts to ban or restrict library resources as well as targeting of 1,651 titles, the most attempted book bans since ALA began compiling these lists more than 20 years ago. ALA has noted threats against library workers, with “violence, threats of violence and other acts of intimidation” largely targeting books by or about “gay, queer, transgender, Black, Indigenous, persons of color, those with disabilities and religious minorities.”

PEN America noted that more than 2,500 books were challenged or banned September 2021 to September 2022; the majority about LGBTQ characters. Many books have been returned to library shelves after challenges, and a review of the books’ literary and social merit, though tracking the outcomes of book ban efforts is often limited. 

Guidance

Coverage should note that the removal of books from school libraries based on personal opposition to their content is illegal, per a Supreme Court ruling that said a Long Island school district violated students’ constitutional rights under the First Amendment when it banned a selection of books. 

Coverage should center and elevate LGBTQ and other marginalized community voices and include the voices of LGBTQ students, authors, parents, teachers, and advocates in any story about a challenge to books, or a so-called “parental rights” bill. 

Include interviews from librarians, educators, publishers and booksellers, and racial and social justice advocates who can explain procedures for challenged books and legal precedent to protect student access to books.

Where possible and known, report when book challenges fail and books return to shelves.

Avoid the false framing of book bans as a “parents’ rights” issue. Many parents want a more fair and inclusive education for their children, and value free expression and access to books. Parents are also Black, LGBTQ, and parents of LGBTQ children, and have the same rights as any other group of parents to see themselves and their families reflected in literature and resources available at libraries.

Think critically about whether the same claims of inappropriateness or obscenity are applied only to LGBTQ books, or whether those same claims are applied to books that refer to heterosexual relationships or sexuality.

Coverage should include context about the activists and elected officials proposing book and curriculum bans, including history of anti-LGBTQ activism. Reporters should research the small but vocal number of groups organizing these bans and report connections to longtime national anti-LGBTQ groups. 

Check for other targets included in bills such as critical race theory and sex education, or encouraging vouchers over public schools and religious exemption. Many bills targeting LGBTQ curriculum or books also seek restrictions on discussion of race and racism, sexual health, and sex and gender equality. 

The American Library Association opposes widespread efforts to censor books in U.S. schools and libraries. The National Coalition Against Censorship and GLAAD organized a statement that was signed by 600 groups and individuals urgeing access to books that reflect experiences of all people, including those from underrepresented and marginalized communities. 

Resources 

 

Issue: Transgender Student Participation in School Sports

LGBTQ people are increasingly visible and playing sports at all levels. Yet U.S. state legislators have targeted transgender young people with legislation to ban them from participating on school sports teams that align with their gender identity, despite lack of evidence that inclusion is an issue or problem, and against support for inclusion from the International Olympic Committee (IOC), the National College Athletics Association (NCAA), as well as the Women’s Sports Foundation (WSF).

IOC guidelines call for a fully inclusive, evidence-based approach that protects athletes from discrimination and harassment and recommends that no athlete should be excluded from competition based on “unverified, alleged, or perceived unfair competition advantage.” Principle 5: No Presumption of Advantage clearly states that no athlete has an inherent advantage over another due to their gender identity, sex variations, or appearance.

There are no reported instances of transgender students “taking scholarships” from other students. Anyone claiming this should be asked for evidence.

There is no evidence that transgender youth who play sports are dominating competition at any level. Stories or sources that use specific athletes as examples for a need for blanket bans should include facts such as policies already in place, and adhered to, by those athletes, their sports and associations to ensure fair participation and competition. 

Guidance

When writing about transgender youth and sports, do not let your piece be centered around uninformed, non-expert commentary. Use up-to-date athletic, legal, human rights and medical knowledge about transgender people and include the voices of transgender athletes, their coaches, and their teammates. 

Challenge critics to provide evidence of alleged problems from transgender inclusion. Lawmakers proposing such bills are frequently unable to cite a single instance of a problem in their states.

Note that Republican governors and other lawmakers have rejected sports exclusion bills because of the lack of evidence, need, cruelty and unnecessary burden the bills place on states and sports governing bodies. 

Take care to write about transgender students and sports in a holistic way—not simply focusing on clinical debates about their bodies.

Research from states with transgender-inclusive policies for youth sports suggests that girls’ sports participation may even increase with inclusive policies. Consider investigating proven inequities and lack of fairness in women and girls’ sports, including athletes’ pay, access to quality coaching and facilities, merchandising, and media time for women’s games. Note how some bills’ enforcement mechanisms, including invasive anatomy screening and other medical exams, harm all girls.

Journalists must note the history of anti-LGBTQ legal groups (many classified as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center) supporting these bills, often with identical language and inaccurate testimony state to state, including from Save Women’s Sports, Alliance Defending Freedom, Family Research Council, Liberty Council, and the Heritage Foundation. 

Coverage should include the fact that professional, collegiate, and youth sports advocates support transgender inclusion, and seek voices including well-known advocates for equity and inclusion such as Billie Jean King, Megan Rapinoe, and athletes who have competed against trans athletes and support their right to participate. Coverage should include statements from medical associations that support trans healthcare and sports participation as an important part of all children’s physical, social, and emotional growth.

Coverage of individual transgender athletes should include facts such as guidelines they followed to ensure fair participation. Include coverage of transgender athletes already participating without incident on their teams, and the longstanding transgender-inclusive policies that have been in place in many school districts. 

Resources 

 

The Big Picture: It’s Not All Bad News

The mere existence of anti-LGBTQ bills, whether signed into law or not, is proven to constitute harm against LGBTQ people. A 2023 survey from The Trevor Project, a leading crisis and suicide prevention organization serving LGBTQ youth, showed 86% of transgender and nonbinary youth report declining mental health due to proposed state bills restricting or debating the rights of transgender people. 

However, this wave of proposed anti-LGBTQ legislation at the state level comes in the face of a rising tide of acceptance and progress for LGBTQ people at both the state and federal level. The Respect for Marriage Act, a landmark bill that codifies federal protections for same-sex and interracial couples, was passed with bipartisan support in Congress, and was signed into law by President Biden in December 2022. And a supermajority of Americans—71%—support marriage equality according to a 2022 Gallup poll.

Voters in the 2022 midterm elections rejected Senate and gubernatorial candidates who attacked trans young people (Kansas, Michigan, Maine), instead voting for governors who vetoed or opposed legislation targeting transgender people and their access to everyday life—in Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Maine, Pennsylvania—and elected out LGBTQ candidates to office in record numbers. Independent analysis shows disinformation campaigns and other attacks on LGBTQ people backfired and motivated voters to vote for candidates who promise to protect LGBTQ rights. 

And despite the troubling groundswell of proposals in 2022, the success of anti-LGBTQ state bills remains small and unsustained. Reporting can include the failure rate of these efforts—of more than 220 bills that were introduced overall, only about 25 passed in 2022. Of 121 bills targeting transgender youth in 2021, only nine sports bans passed, 93% failed. Bills passed into law are being accurately challenged as unconstitutional. 

Media should continue to note these bills are actively causing harm—whether passed or not—including increased suicide, crisis contacts, and families in crisis forced to move from states targeting their children. Debating a person’s rights is dangerous and documented.

Failing at most attempts to legalize discrimination has not stopped lawmakers and opponents of LGBTQ equality from continuing to try. These efforts are led by longtime anti-LGBTQ activist groups, who tried and failed to legalize discrimination against LGBTQ workers, have repeatedly failed to ban trans people and children from bathrooms, and failed to stop marriage equality, now at its highest approval rating in history. Coverage of any state bill in 2023 should be informed by this history and alert readers and viewers to it.

 

GLAAD Accountability Project 

Members of the new U.S. House of Representatives majority have proposed federal legislation modeled after harmful state bills. The GLAAD Accountability Project has documented the records of lawmakers proposing anti-LGBTQ bills and espousing harmful rhetoric, and the anti-LGBTQ organizations that fund and support them. View their entries for context before interviewing or repeating their anti-LGBTQ views and claims, and challenge them on their evidence for the need for bills that seek to marginalize or harm LGBTQ people. 

Some examples of elected officials in the GLAAD Accountability Project include:

  • Rep. Lauren Boebert of Colorado continues to attack and spread misinformation about drag performers and trans people, even after the deadly mass shooting at an LGBTQ club in her state.
  • Rep. Paul Gosar of Arizona tried to ban trans people from using the restroom in federal buildings. He’s also accused of organizing the January 6th rally, and has appeared with white supremacist Nick Fuentes. 
  • Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona is also accused of inciting the deadly riot at the Capital. He vetoed COVID-19 relief because it included provisions for same-sex relationships.
  • Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene was kicked off of committees for promoting violence against her colleagues, and has used foul and false “groomer” rhetoric to attack LGBTQ people and promote baseless legislation. 

 

GLAAD’s Media Reference Guide

The Media Reference Guide offers education and guidance on telling LGBTQ people’s stories in ways that bring out the best in journalism. The Guide includes glossaries of LGBTQ terms, Transgender terms, and resources in these areas:  

About GLAAD: GLAAD rewrites the script for LGBTQ acceptance. As a dynamic media force, GLAAD tackles tough issues to shape the narrative and provoke dialogue that leads to cultural change. GLAAD protects all that has been accomplished and creates a world where everyone can live the life they love.

January 24, 2023

(SOURCE) https://www.glaad.org/state-legislation

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