As state legislatures across the nation come back into session in the new year, many of them are pushing forward on fill-in-the-blank, copy-cat style bills attacking transgender people's health care and access to public spaces. Emboldened by a Donald Trump presidency, a Republican-controlled Congress, and an open seat on the Supreme Court, state lawmakers clearly feel they have a stronger chance of avoiding their heinous legislation being overturned by the courts.
With Congress back in session for the new year, and while America’s eyes are largely fixed on the White House and its impending occupants, numerous state legislators across the country are making good on their threats to curtail civil rights protections and to implement state-sanctioned bigotry toward LGBT Americans, and particularly transgender citizens.
Texas Republican Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick, with help from the Texas state Senate, is looking to pass a version of North Carolina’s infamous “bathroom bill,” which failed to be repealed despite an elaborate deal between outgoing Republican Governor Pat McCrory and the city of Charlotte.
Similar bills have also been proposed or put forth in Virginia and Kentucky, as well as my own home state of South Dakota, where the Heritage Family Alliance is working to bring back a “bathroom bill” despite the fact that “in a surprise move, Governor Dennis Daugaard vetoed the measure [last year] after meeting with several transgender students and advocates through the Center for Equality.”
The existence of these kinds of bills is certainly nothing new, and chipping away at rights on the state level in hopes of rendering federal protections into empty statutes is a long-time conservative strategy.
But with the incoming Trump administration, state lawmakers are now moving forward on these laws with gusto. They see the election as a validation of their socially conservative, anti-woman, anti-LGBT positions. Frank Cannon, president of the American Principles Project, said that the 2016 election was evidence that a campaign of “elite corporations and celebrities” had “clearly backfired” on the left after they went after North Carolina for passing their anti-transgender “bathroom bill.”
Furthermore, state lawmakers are convinced that a Republican-controlled federal government signals federal backing for their state-level restrictions. In the Obama administration, the federal government has often responded to state laws by issuing federal decrees. A pledge to no longer engage in a federal defense of the Defense of Marriage Act, for example, was widely viewed as a domino in the undermining of state rights to set social policy.
Under a Trump presidency, however, lawmakers can move forward with reassurance that the federal government will not move to quash or contradict their bigoted, dangerous actions.
And it is likely that many state legislators are also now hoping to avoid the massive media disasters with which advancement of such bills were met during the Obama era. With a radical president in the White House constantly commanding media attention, state lawmakers can safely bet their homophobic and transphobic legislation will not garner the type of national attention as, for example, Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s Indiana did after the passage of the so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
There have been many important gains in the continued battle for LGBT rights, but looking ahead to the new administration, it clearly remains crucial to keep pressure on legislators across all levels, from local to state to federal. The resurgence of “bathroom bills” in the first week of the new legislative sessions points to this need for continued, amplified vigilance in the quest for civil rights.