In the United States, the 2010s saw a variety of social issues re-emerge into the political discourse — some coming to the fore as new issues, while others have been a part of partisan debate for decades. The dual societal upheavals of the COVID-19 pandemic and the deeply divisive 2020 presidential election likely exacerbated tensions around cultural and social policies.
One of these issues, LGBTQ rights, has emerged as a renewed focal point of debate and legislative action across the country, particularly in state policymaking.
The Rise of LGBTQ Policy in the United States
In 2021, debate surfaced in the political arena around parental rights in education, the current state of the public education system, and how certain social and cultural issues are approached in the classroom. What began as a discussion around what is often labeled as “critical race theory” — a complex legal theory typically associated with higher education rather than K-12 — has now morphed into a national debate around gender, sexuality, education, and parental rights in these matters.
Fast-forward to 2023, and proposed bills around these issues have become more commonplace. Such legislation often serves to require schools to notify parents of controversial and mature curricula, receive parental approval for coursework that pertains to sexuality or gender, and notify parents of gender identity issues in their children. Furthermore, these bills aim to regulate transgender students' participation in sports that don't align with their sex assigned at birth. They also cover teachers’ ability to discuss gender and sex in the classroom, among other measures.
Bills restricting gender-affirming care also gained traction in 2023. Since 2020, bills of this nature have become increasingly widespread nationally and frequently introduced, with virtually every state in the country touched by the debate.
Year in Review: Significant LGBTQ Policy in 2023
Texas Senate Bill 14
On June 2, TX SB 14 passed, banning gender-affirming care for minors. The bill revokes physicians’ medical licenses as a penalty for providing such care.
The 201st Judicial District Court of Travis County, Texas granted an injunction on August 25, to bar the bill’s provisions from going into effect on September 1. The attorney general’s office then filed an appeal with the Texas Supreme Court, pausing the injunction. Following ensuing legal appeals, the law has been in effect since September 1.
TX SB 14 is among several bills enacted in Texas that limit LGBTQ rights. Others include TX SB 15, which regulates participation in collegiate athletics for trans students, and TX SB 12, which classifies some drag shows under “sexual conduct.”
Florida Senate Bill 254
FL SB 254 was signed into law on May 17. Like its Texas counterpart, this bill bans gender-affirming care for minors. It also prohibits nonphysicians, such as nurse practitioners, from providing such care to adults. The law also classifies the provision of gender-affirming care as a felony offense for medical professionals and potentially impacts child custody decisions if a child receives such care.
Similar to the Texas bill, an injunction was filed on June 6 allowing some youths to continue receiving puberty blockers. The state has appealed the injunction.
Earlier this year, the Florida State Board of Education approved an expansion of House Bill 1557 (also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill). This expansion prohibits any classroom instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity from fourth grade onward. The bill previously only restricted such instruction up to grade three.
Other bills passed in Florida this year include the “Protection of Children Act” which imposes penalties on businesses for hosting drag shows and other “adult live performances” when children are present, and the “Safety in Private Spaces Act,” which sanctions transgender people for using bathroom facilities that don’t align with their gender assigned at birth.
On the other side of the issue, California recently passed a suite of laws that support LGBTQ rights. Such bills include CA AB 5, the “Safe and Supportive Schools Act,” which promotes LGBTQ cultural competency training for school faculty, taking effect for the 2025 academic year.
CA AB 223, effective January 1, 2024, seals petitions from minors to receive a legal gender or sex change in identifiers on government documents, aiming to protect their privacy.
CA SB 760 provides for accessible, all-gender bathrooms in K-12 schools, while CA SB 857 establishes an LGBTQ advisory task force for schools, which will report its findings by January 1, 2026.
Staying Ahead of LGBTQ Policy in 2024
With the 2024 legislative session approaching in just a few months, the discussion over LGBTQ policy will certainly continue into next year.
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