This legislative session has not been an easy one here for the FFRF Action Fund. We’re already tracking over 1,000 bills nationwide and are hard at work advocating for the continued separation of state and church in legislatures across the country.
LGBTQIA+ rights have been one of the most heavily attacked areas, with transgender people becoming the latest political boogeyman for religious politicians, supported by the usual suspects of Christian nationalism: the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Eagle Forum. Thanks to the tireless efforts of legislative researchers and advocates Erin Reed, Alejandra Caraballo and Allison Chapman, we know that there have been over 400 anti-LGBTQIA+ bills introduced across the country this year — smashing the previous record of 300-plus bills introduced in 2022.
These bills are terrifying for not only LGBTQIA+ families and individuals who are rapidly having to make increasingly dire decisions about where we can safely live, but also those concerned about the overwhelming rise of laws being passed based on religious fear-mongering instead of democracy, science and compassion.
The late, great Fred Rogers once said: “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.” While things in the news are certainly scary right now, there are also plenty of helpers if you know where to look.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer recently signed new anti-discrimination protections on the basis of sexuality and gender orientation into law — a law FFRF voiced early support for. In Minnesota, Gov. Tim Walz issued an executive order protecting the rights of transgender Minnesotans to receive gender affirming care, and bans on conversion therapy, along with legislation to make Minnesota a refuge state for LGBTQIA+ families. States such as Illinois, New York and Vermont are positioning themselves to become safe places for LGBTQIA+ individuals and families to land, with “Safe State” laws being introduced in at least nine states. These laws are more critical than ever, with many transgender people, same-sex parents and parents of transgender children beginning to flee their home states due to the increasingly draconian laws being introduced.
Even more states have introduced laws protecting the right to change your birth certificate, be identified on your death certificate and grave marker by the name you used in life, access housing and education, establish inclusive bathrooms in public buildings, and have gender-affirming care covered by your health care provider.
It’s clear that across the country, some state legislatures are stepping up and speaking out to protect LGBTQIA+ communities across the country. While it’s easy to get tied up in the negative headlines and video clips of state legislative hearings, it’s incredibly important to remember that for every state legislature bent on eliminating LGBTQIA+ people from public life, there are just as many standing up for the American principle of equality. Similarly, while it is easy to want to give up on states like Texas and Florida, where some of the most egregious bills have been introduced, it’s important to remember that there are lawmakers, activists, and organizers fighting the good fight there, too, who need our help.
In every single state where anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation has been considered, crowds of protesters have gathered to make their voices heard. In Florida and Arkansas, amid rising violence and dangerous rhetoric against gay and trans people, bills have been introduced to eliminate the horrific Gay/Trans Panic Defense. This potential defense to a violent crime has been used historically to lessen the charges of defendants who threaten, assault and murder LGBTQIA+ people on the basis that they were somehow provoked by the existence of a gay or trans person. In Texas, bills have been introduced that would ban conversion therapy and protect people from housing discrimination on the basis of gender identity or sexual orientation.
While these bills are less likely to pass, that does not mean we should give up on those states — and on the people fighting to protect themselves, their friends, their families and their communities. After all, the bill that just passed in Michigan was first introduced 50 years ago. If folks had given up on Michigan then, we wouldn’t have those protections now.
According to polling done by the Trevor Project, the majority of voters in Florida are generally opposed to anti-LGBTQIA+ policies, and a majority of Texans believe in protecting the rights of trans youth to socially transition. Many of the states where the most terrifying laws are being proposed have also long been home to beautiful and diverse progressive communities whose political influence has been consistently diminished by continuous gerrymandering efforts. Deeming these states as lost causes and blaming those hurt by these laws for not leaving does nothing but further fan the flames of theocracy by giving these lawmakers (and the hate groups backing them) exactly what they want. This is not an issue that can be fixed by a single election, but by a long-term concerted effort that will require commitment from people both inside and outside of these states.
Social media feeds and news app algorithms designed to keep us doom-scrolling make it easy to drown in despair. But we only lose when there are no more helpers and, trust me, there are plenty to go around.