LGBTQIA+ Public Policy in the South; Recent Changes You Should Be Aware Of

Written by: Jess Kimball

In 2022 alone, over 240 anti-LGBTQ bills were filed. This was a massive increase from the 41 bills filed in 2018. These bills aim to restrict LGBTQ issues in school curriculums, permit religious exemptions to discriminate against LGBTQ people, and limit trans people’s ability to play sports, use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity, and receive gender-affirming health care. Simultaneously, LGBTQ rights campaigns have increased. At least 70% of Americans now support gay marriage. Many states are actively campaigning for the protection of LGBTQ rights and protections.

In 2022, six bills were signed excluding transgender youth from athletics in Arizona, South Carolina, South Dakota, Iowa, West Virginia, and Tennessee. Additional school curriculum restrictions were signed in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, and Virginia. Oklahoma has signed a bill restricting access to an accurate ID. South Carolina has signed religious exemption bills that implicate LGBTQ individuals.

The most talked about bill at the moment is Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. Florida’s governor Ron DeSantis, a Republican, signed the controversial “Parental Rights in Education” bill in March 2022 and we are now seeing the impacts. The bill states, “Classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” If the policy is violated a parent can choose to sue the school.

In April of 2023, this bill was expanded to now ban lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity from grades 4-12. An exception can only be made if there are existing state standards stating so or if the curriculum is part of reproductive health instruction that students can choose not to take.

On the same day, the House passed a bill to make it a felony to provide gender-affirming health care to transgender minors, backed by DeSantis as well. Additionally, DeSantis is attempting to ban children from attending adult live performances. DeSantis is also gearing up to run in the next presidential election.

Florida isn’t the only state introducing “Don’t Say Gay” bills. Louisiana recently introduced a similar bill and it is advancing through the legislature. Alabama, Kentucky, and Arkansas have already enacted similar laws and sixteen other states have thirty similar proposals filed, all inspired by Florida’s bill.

Proponents argue that the bill is meant to protect children, but the reality is that these laws cause harm to more children than they would ever possibly protect. 45% of LGBTQ youth seriously considered attempting suicide in the past year. LGBTQ youth who felt high social support from their family reported attempting suicide at less than half the rate of those who felt low or moderate social support. 60% of LGBTQ youth who wanted mental health care in the past year were not able to get it. A 2019 survey showed that 86% of LGBTQ+ youth reported being harassed or assaulted at school. The reality is that these laws offer no protection for LGBTQ youth and instead, exacerbate harm.

These bills are being introduced and pushed through the legislature at high speeds without much public notice given to some of them. It is important that you monitor your state’s bill introductions, reach out to legislation voicing your opinions and the harm these bills will cause, and support organizations advocating for better protection and rights for LGBTQ individuals through public policy.

At Global Foundation for Girls (GFG), we are active thought partners, serving global communities of birthing persons of all sexuality and gender identities in order to advance and support the advocacy movement.

Jess Kimball, AS, CLC, CD, PCD, PMH-C