A Cultural Response to Anti-Trans Legislation

A person holds a sign at a march that reads "Trans rights are human rights."

In recent years, there has been a wave of anti-trans legislation passed in state legislatures across the country. These laws target transgender youth, specifically transgender girls, and seek to limit their access to gender-affirming care, participation in sports, and recognition of their gender identity.

Gender identity: One’s innermost concept of self as male, female, a blend of both, or neither.

Some of these laws, such as the laws passed in Arkansas and Alabama, ban gender-affirming care for transgender youth. These laws would make it illegal for doctors to provide transgender youth with puberty blockers, hormone therapy, or gender-confirmation surgery. This legislation is based on the false and harmful idea that transgender youth should not be able to affirm their gender identity at any age and that they should be forced to identify with, and live in alignment with, the gender typically associated with the sex they were assigned at birth.

Transgender: When our sex assigned at birth doesn’t match our gender identity

Other laws attempt to limit access for transgender youth to physical spaces. Legislation like that passed in Idaho and Florida bans transgender girls from participating in girls’ sports. Laws like those in Texas and Tennessee would allow parents to sue schools that allow transgender students to use the bathroom or locker room that corresponds with their gender identity. The result is a climate of fear and intimidation for transgender students that makes it difficult to show up at school as their authentic selves and denies the very foundation of who they are.

These bills are based on inaccurate and outdated stereotypes about gender. They ignore the fact that gender is a spectrum and that people’s gender identity can be different from their sex assigned at birth. They also ignore the fact that transgender and non-binary people have been around for all of human history and that they are a part of many cultures around the world.

Non-binary: A gender identity that reflects people who exist between or beyond the man-woman binary construct of gender.

Note: It’s important to acknowledge that the conversation on anti-trans legislation often excludes intersex people, who are born with components of what are stereotypically viewed as both “male” and “female” anatomy or with sexual anatomy that is considered neither. Intersex is a natural variation in humans, and it’s estimated that 1-2 in 100 people in the U.S. are born intersex. It’s crucial to include intersex people in these conversations because doctors will typically assign a legal sex for the child at birth which may not align with their gender identity as they grow up, meaning they too are affected by anti-trans legislation.

The Impact

Transgender and non-binary people are part of our communities and deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. Legislation that seeks to discriminate against them is harmful and dangerous. This legislation sends the message that transgender and non-binary people are not worthy of the care, protection, and support they deserve.

Transgender people have existed throughout human history and at times have held revered positions in their society because of their transgender identities

Even more than that, this is a crucial and life-altering issue that puts transgender and non-binary youth in danger. We know that gender-affirming care saves lives. A 2022 report by The Trevor Project found that 50% of transgender and non-binary youth have seriously considered suicide in the past year and 20% have attempted suicide, compared to 33% of cisgender LGBTQ+ youth who have considered suicide and 10% of cisgender LGBTQ+ youth who have attempted suicide. However, numerous research studies have found that gender-affirming care can lead to improved mental health outcomes among transgender and non-binary youth.

When youth are allowed to implement social interventions, even those that are reversable, such as using a new name, using new pronouns, dressing in different clothing, engaging in new activities that they connect with (even if they are not with youth that share their assigned sex), they have reported lower rates of depression and anxiety.

In short, every person deserves to be allowed to live as their authentic selves, especially our most vulnerable youth. Allowing youth to affirm their gender identity in all environments, including schools, is a life changing act with known positive impact. Denying youth their gender identity, as new legislation intends to do, will result in harm to transgender and non-binary youths’ health.

Moving Forward

To exclude any one population from aspects of society is an attack on all aspects of inclusion and leaves populations with identities outside the majority to wonder if they might be targeted next. So what can we do to support LGBTQ+ colleagues and foster a culture of belonging in the workplace?

Creating Safe Spaces and Areas of Empowerment

Employee Resource Groups (ERGs)—also called Business Resources Groups (BRGs) and Affinity Groups—help cultivate a culture of growth and development where employees who share a social identity (e.g., race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or another affinity based on similar sets of experiences) can easily and regularly connect with peers and allies and provide valuable input to an employer.

According to the 2022 McKinsey ERG Report, 83% of employees who rate their ERGs as effective also report higher positive inclusion scores. By employees and for employees, purposeful ERGs promote engagement and inclusion by creating a welcoming environment where employees can be their best and most authentic selves.

One way to take a first step: LCW offers tailored support for our partners and client organizations looking to begin, grow, or reinvigorate their work with ERGs and BRGs.

Bystander Intervention Training

Bystander intervention training is another way to help educate and empower allies to help so that the burden doesn’t fall on historically marginalized communities. The training shows bystanders how they can insert themselves indirectly and directly into violent and nonviolent situations.

One way to take a first step: Right To Be, a New York nonprofit, offers free bystander trainings online.

Reclaiming Wokeness

The word “woke” originated in African American Vernacular English in the 1940s, then gained mainstream popularity in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Added to the Oxford English Dictionary in 2017, the term is defined as “well-informed” or “alert to racial or social discrimination and injustice.”

It’s more important than ever to remember that “woke” is not a bad word and that its controversy is meant to distract us from its original intent—having understanding and empathy for an individual’s lived experience, especially when it comes to experiences around marginalization. Reclaiming wokeness allows individuals to question existing systems and speak out about their needs, empowers allies to use their privilege to help historically marginalized communities, and provides a platform for brave conversations that can spark positive change.

One way to take a first step: Organization-wide training, learning, and development offers a key opportunity for organizations looking to navigate difficult conversations, establish shared language, and ensure capacity to navigate difference and uphold structures that promote understanding, empathy, and protection of basic human rights.

While state legislation may sometimes feel bigger than us, there are ways to promote equity, inclusion, and belonging in our workplaces and personal lives: voting; joining, donating to, and volunteering at organizations working to remove harmful legislation; re-evaluating our own perspectives and potential bias; ensuring safe spaces where everyone has a platform to speak; and leveraging privilege in the face of harassment. Supporting LGBTQ+ colleagues and community members must become an everyday commitment embedded in our policies, cultures, and mindsets.


Additional resources for you and your team:

See other related posts

Skip to content