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New laws targeting transgender rights face little backlash

by The Associated Press | April 28, 2021 at 4:12 a.m.
FILE - In this Tuesday, March 30, 2021 file photo, demonstrators in support of transgender rights hold flags during a rally outside the Alabama State House in Montgomery, Ala. Five states have passed laws or implemented executive orders this year limiting the ability of transgender youths to play sports or receive certain medical treatment. There’s been a vehement outcry from supporters of transgender rights – but little in the way of tangible repercussions for those states. (Jake Crandall/The Montgomery Advertiser via AP)

Five states have passed laws or implemented executive orders this year limiting the ability of transgender youths to play sports or receive certain medical treatment.

There's been a vehement outcry from supporters of transgender rights, but little in the way of tangible repercussions for those states.

It's a striking contrast to the fate of North Carolina a few years ago. When its Legislature passed a bill in March 2016 limiting which public restrooms transgender people could use, there was a swift and powerful backlash. The NBA and NCAA relocated events; some companies scrapped expansion plans. By March 2017, the bill's bathroom provisions were repealed.

So far this year, there's been nothing comparable. Not even lawsuits, although activists predict some of the measures eventually will be challenged in court.

Rodrigo Heng-Lehtinen, deputy executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, says he's surprised by the lack of backlash, but believes it will materialize as more people learn details about the legislation being approved.

"A lot of Americans are still getting to know trans people and they're learning about these issues for the first time," he said. "Over time, they get to know their trans neighbors, they get outraged by these bans, and corporations respond ... It's just a matter of time."

Alphonso David, president of the Human Rights Campaign, a major national LGBTQ-rights organizations, attributed the lack of backlash to lack of awareness about the potential harm that these laws could cause to transgender young people.

"Some people in this country have not come to terms with treating trans people like human beings," David said. "It's now coming to a head."

One batch of bills seeks to ban transgender girls from competing on girls' sports teams in public schools. Such measures have been enacted in Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi and Tennessee, and implemented by an executive order from Gov. Kristi Noem in South Dakota.

Another batch of bills seeks to ban gender-affirming medical treatments for trans minors -- including the use of puberty blockers and hormone therapy. Arkansas legislators approved such a measure over the veto of Republican Gov. Asa Hutchinson, and similar measures are pending in Alabama, Tennessee and Texas.

Echoing concerns of major medical associations, Dr. Michele Hutchison -- who runs a transgender medicine clinic at Arkansas Children's hospital -- says the ban in her state is raising the risk of suicide among some of her patients and forcing some families to wonder if they should move to another state.

More than 400 companies -- including Tesla, Pfizer, Delta Air Lines and Amazon -- have signed on to support civil rights legislation for LGBTQ people that is moving through Congress, advocates said Tuesday.

And last week, the Human Rights Campaign took out a full-page ad in The New York Times appealing to corporations to denounce the anti-transgender bills that have proliferated in Republican-controlled legislatures.

[Video not showing up above? Click here to watch » https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S6EIapTfPgc]

The letter, signed by David, urged corporate leaders "to take action now by publicly denouncing state legislation that discriminates against people, refusing to advance new business in states that are hostile to corporate values and refusing to support sporting events where transgender athletes are banned."

More than 85 companies have signed a statement drafted by the Human Rights Campaign -- including Amazon, American Airlines, Apple, AT&T, Facebook, IBM, Microsoft, PepsiCo, Pfizer and Union Pacific. In polite language, the statement implies a threat: "As we make complex decisions about where to invest and grow, these issues can influence our decisions."

Overall, the corporate response remains "insufficient," David said. "But I think we are seeing a turning of the tide as we put more pressure on companies."

Information for this article was contributed by Iris Samuels and Jonathan Mattise of The Associated Press.

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