This Week in Statehouse Action: Marching Orders edition

This Week in Statehouse Action: Marching Orders edition

… get it? Because it’s March?

But also because the coordinated attacks by GOP state lawmakers on everything from gay and transgender kids and women who need abortion services to democracy itself are being carried out across the country with, if not military precision, military relentlessness.

A lot of big, bad things have been hitting headlines in recent weeks—the Don’t Say Gay bill in Florida, outrageous new anti-abortion proposals in Missouri, a new surge of measures targeting transgender youth for discrimination, bullying, and mistreatment, just to name a few—and it can be hard to take in all the horrible things happening on our own country when an actual war has broken out on another continent.

But the bad things happening Over There don’t obviate the bad things happening Right Here (and vice versa, of course), and its essential that GOP statehouse antics don’t get lost in the larger news narrative.

In fact, that’s part of Republicans’ strategy.

Flood the zone? Check.

Campaign Action

Take advantage of an electorate distracted and exhausted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, rising gas and food prices, and a pandemic that’s still definitely not over? Check.

Look back at past attempts to pass bigoted and otherwise reprehensible legislation and realize that gerrymandering ensures that Republicans won’t face negative consequences at the ballot box? Check.

Take, for instance, a new spate of bills that would criminalize gender-affirming medical treatment for transgender youth, prohibit transgender students from competing in gendered sports reflecting their identity, and otherwise discriminate against transgender kids.

Six years ago (to the month!), the GOP-controlled North Carolina legislature passed the notorious HB 2, a drastic and discriminatory response to a local ordinance in Charlotte that permitted transgender folks to use the bathroom corresponding with their gender identity (and also established nondiscrimination protections for the LGBTQ community).

  • National backlash was swift and broad.
    • Famous musicians, the NBA, and the NCAA all refused to hold or rescheduled massive events in the state.
    • Several large corporations that had been considering expansions in North Carolina abandoned their plans.
    • Over a dozen states banned taxpayer-funded travel there.
  • Correspondingly, the economic toll of HB 2 was enormous.
    • The Tar Heel State lost out on more than 2,900 jobs that went elsewhere.
    • Cancelled events alone cost the state over $196 million.
    • By the end of 2017, lost business was estimated to cost the state $525 million.
  • Eight months after signing the bill, McCrory lost reelection to Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, but Republicans still dominated the legislature.
    • The GOP was anxious about all that lost money but was only willing to walk HB 2 back but so far.
      • In March 2017, Republicans passed a lousy compromise bill that sought to “appease” LGBTQ advocates on the bathroom issue but included a provision that prohibited localities from passing their own anti-discrimination ordinances until just over a year ago. 

Opponents of transgender rights took a little bit of a breather during the Trump administration, which was sympathetic to their brand of oppression.

Republicans also faced a long string of Democratic electoral successes during this period, which made “culture war” issues like LGBTQ+ rights less appealing targets as they fought to protect and shore up majorities in various states.

But the advent of the Biden administration (plus another mostly GOP-controlled round of state legislative redistricting) resulted in … let’s call it “experimental” round of anti-transgender legislation last year.

The vast majority of these measures took the form of “athletic bans”—that is, legislation prohibiting anyone not assigned female at birth from playing women’s sports.

… which was literally the first time any of these GOP lawmakers gave two shits about women’s sports

But that was last year—i.e., a political eternity ago.

A fair number of transgender sports bans got signed into law last year (specifically in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee, Texas, West Virginia, plus an executive order in South Dakota), but that was just the warm-up act.

Don’t get me wrong—transgender sports bans are moving through the GOP-controlled legislatures in Arizona, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee, and Utah even as I type this.

But those measures were just the beginning.

A testing of the waters, if you will.

Now multiple states are moving to criminalize gender-affirming medical treatment for anyone under 18, usually by characterizing it as some kind of “child abuse” (NB: IT’S NOT).

Texas did an end-run around actual legislation by simply expanding the definition of “child abuse” to include gender-affirming care (which almost never involves surgery for minors, sometimes involves hormonal therapy, and most often is about “social transition”—allowing a child to express their gender they way they want to), but other GOP-controlled legislatures are moving to enshrine this abhorrent mischaracterization of legitimate medical treatment in state law, including

  • Alabama
  • Arizona
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Missouri
  • Oklahoma
  • South Carolina
  • Tennessee
  • Utah
  • Wisconsin

And because it’s just so au courant these days for Republican legislatures to dictate that public schools only teach white, hetero, cisgender propaganda in place of actual history, some states are trying to prohibit the mere mention of anything LGBTQ-related.

You’ve probably heard about Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which forces teachers of grades K-3 to pretend that homosexuality doesn’t exist and creates nebulous restrictions of “age-appropriate” instruction on such matters for higher grades.

The measure has fully passed the legislature and merely awaits Gov. Ron DeSantis’ signature.

The bill is fully in line with other anti-education legislation in Florida, specifically House Bill 7, which would outlaw teaching and training that includes “divisive concepts” like “racism is bad.”

Whether these measures are meant to be tandem attempts at indoctrinating our kids with bigotry and prejudice or sprouted totally separately is a question only the GOP lawmakers who introduced them can answer, but I have to wonder:

Is the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, as legitimately outrageous as it is, intended to distract from the pro-white supremacy propaganda bill that passed the Florida House last month and is currently quietly creeping through the state Senate?

Also, this proposal isn’t new.

It’s been tried twice before in Tennessee, first 11 years ago, and then again nine years ago.

But when same-sex marriage became legal nationwide, homophobic legislation died down a smidge, however briefly.

But the GOP struggles to succeed electorally if they can’t convince their voters that there’s something to be afraid of—something that only elected Republicans can protect them from.

And Glenn Youngkin’s victory in Virginia’s 2021 gubernatorial race convinced them that targeting kids and schools was their best path to continued political power.

Hence the spate of bills designed to terrorize transgender kids, and now the return of So Don’t Say Gay bills—and not just in Florida.

A measure in Tennessee would ban textbook and instructional materials that “promote, normalize, support, or address lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender (LGBT) lifestyles” in schools.

A bill in Kansas would amend the state’s obscenity law to make using classroom materials depicting “homosexuality” an actual crime (specifically, a Class B misdemeanor).

A proposal in Indiana would bar educators from discussing “sexual orientation,” “transgenderism” or “gender identity” without permission from parents.

Two bills in Oklahoma would prohibit teachers and librarians from distributing materials on or discussing “any form of non-procreative sex,” gender identity, and “lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender issues.” Another would ban public schools from employing anyone who “promotes positions in the classroom or at any function of the public school that is in opposition to closely held religious beliefs of students.”

Republicans in legislatures across the country are actively working to undo decades of progress on civil and LGBTQ+ rights.

And who’s going to stop them?

A GOP-majority state supreme court?

The conservative-majority U.S. Supreme Court?

Maybe backlash from corporate interests will give them pause, a la the quaint North Carolina “bathroom bill” days.

For the good of the nation, I hope so, but how fucking sad is that? Relying on Disney and Amazon to preserve the rights of marginalized Americans is … problematic, to say the least.

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