LGBTQ+ rights are still facing serious threats – How can brands help?
Research Director, Quantitative Research
Happy Pride Month!
Last year at this time, in-person Pride festivities were getting canceled, and events were pivoting to online due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now a year later, and with the number of vaccinated people quickly growing, many in-person events are back, and it seems everyone is eager to celebrate. And many brands are ready to celebrate Pride too – suddenly, rainbow logos are everywhere!
However, as we celebrate, it’s important to remember that LGBTQ+ rights are still facing serious threats. Marriage equality passed in 2015, but there are so many equal rights the LGBTQ+ community is still fighting for. Check out this interactive map of the USA to see how LGBTQ+ equality varies by state; you can also look at any state’s detailed policy snapshot or look at how states differ on a particular LGBTQ+ policy issue. And policies are changing all the time. For example, as I’m writing this, there have been a record-setting 82 anti-transgender bills introduced just this year in state legislative sessions. Many of these bills are around healthcare rights and are designed to prevent young people from accessing appropriate gender-affirming medical care. This includes banning hormone treatments and surgeries, sometimes up to age 21. Still, shockingly, in some states, it also includes banning care, such as therapy, to alleviate the distress associated with gender dysphoria, sometimes going as far as considering such treatments to be child abuse. These types of attacks are not new, but now many of them are also coupled with anti-trans sports bans.
You may have heard about these bills – recently, transgender celebrities such as Elliot Page have spoken up about how harmful they are. These bills require that sports teams must be based on biological sex, banning trans athletes from participating in sports teams that align with their gender identity. Those who support these bills say they are necessary to protect girl’s and women’s sports; they argue that without these laws, biological males could claim to be transgender to compete in women’s sports, which would give them an unfair advantage and hurt cisgender (which refers to anyone who’s gender identity corresponds to the sex they were assigned a birth) women’s opportunities in sports. Of course, these laws are primarily focused on banning transwomen from women’s sports and are silent about transmen, revealing their underlining sexist assumptions that transmen could not possibly be competitive in men’s sports. Worse, there is no evidence to support their claims. For example, West Virgina recently passed through its legislature a law that bans transgender girls and women from competing on secondary and college sports teams on the basis that it will prevent male students from unfairly trying to compete in women’s sports. Still, there have not been any claims of students trying to take advantage of the system.
The idea of banning transwomen to protect cisgender women should sound familiar – it’s the exact same logic that was used to fuel the bathroom bills that were popular a few years ago. And that’s not a coincidence! While these sports bills have popped up across different states, they all have very similar language because most of them were ghost-written by the same group, who also ghost-wrote many of the bathroom bills – the Alliance Defending Freedom. The Alliance Defending Freedom is an anti-LGBTQ+ organization that the Southern Poverty Law Center designated as a hate group. Their claims about trying to protect cisgender women (from an imaginary threat) are just a cover for their larger goal of stripping away rights for all LGBTQ+ people. The closer you look at these bills, the more apparent that becomes.
For example, in early April, North Carolina introduced an act to prohibit gender-affirming healthcare for kids under 21. This law would also require that schools report students experiencing gender dysphoria or “gender non-conformity,” but that isn’t limited to just transgender children. That’s broad enough to include any queer kid (or straight kid) whose gender identity or presentation isn’t as masculine or feminine as people expect. These bills are really just one of many attempts to chip away at the freedoms the LGBTQ+ community has fought so hard for. And if these sports bills pass, it means that anyone can challenge the gender of any athlete and force them to undergo sex verification, which in some cases includes a genital examination. That’s an incredibly drastic reaction to something no one has even been able to prove is a problem!
So far, nine states have passed these bills into law while others are being struck down as extreme and overreaching, but that’s only part of the battle. Most of the bathroom bills that were so common a few years ago never passed at the state level. However, plenty of school districts implemented versions of them at a more local level, and that’s just as dangerous; there is less national visibility to help fight against them, and it specifically targets queer children – the most vulnerable population of the LGBTQ+ community. Striking down these new state sports bans is certainly important, but we also need to prevent these anti-trans policies from being adopted in our local communities.
A few years ago, when the bathroom debate was in full swing, Target took a strong stance by announcing that they support transgender people using the bathroom that fits with their gender identity. They showed their loyalty to the LGBTQ+ community, and the LGBTQ+ community has continued to show their loyalty to Target in return. Target still consistently scores as a top retailer that LGBTQ+ people intentionally shop at due to their support of the community. Of course, Target does many other things to support the community as well, but this just shows one way a company saw an issue that negatively impacted the community, made a change in their stores to support LGBTQ+ people, and what an impact that can have.
Now it’s your turn. During Pride month, many brands show their support by adding a rainbow flag on their products, but you can do more with this serious threat to the community. Take a stance against the sports and anti-trans healthcare bills. Donate money to LGBTQ+ organizations that are fighting against these bills. Sponsor a local sports team in your community that welcomes transgender athletes. Offer your employees healthcare benefits that include gender-affirming surgeries and therapy. And then proudly share with the LGBTQ+ community how you’re working to be a better ally – LGBTQ+ people want to hear about it and would much rather give their money to companies that support them!