As state legislatures across America proliferate anti-transgender legislation, a growing crisis is unveiling itself. Transgender individuals and their loved ones are increasingly criminalized by their home states and their care, banned. This is prompting a growing number to seek refuge elsewhere. The scale of this issue remained under wraps until a recent Data For Progress survey brought to light the unsettling reality: hundreds of thousands of transgender people have already left their home states, and more than a million are considering a similar course of action in the coming months. These transgender individuals, frequently accompanied by their families, often sacrifice their jobs and relinquish their stability to reach the sanctuary of states willing to facilitate their care and protect them under the law. Should this trend persist, we may witness the largest domestic migration crisis since the Dust Bowl upheaval of the 1940s.
The numbers are stark. The poll from Data For Progress shows that 8% of all transgender people have already moved out of their community or state as a result of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation. An additional 43% of transgender people are likewise considering moving. Transgender people are between 0.5-1% of the population of the United States, meaning that 130-260,000 transgender people have already fled their home states. An additional million transgender people are considering leaving due to the anti-trans legislation that targets them.
See the Data For Progress results here:
Legislation has increasingly targeted transgender people in every facet of life. In schools, dire consequences await transgender teachers who merely share their pronouns. Students face outright bans from bathrooms of their gender identity. In several states, physicians are criminalized for providing necessary care to their transgender patients. Affirming therapists, vocal coaches, and even parents are also falling victim to new restrictive policies. Bans that prevent transgender people from using bathrooms have returned, an issue we’ve not grappled with since 2016. Florida’s bathroom law is notably severe, threatening imprisonment for up to a year for any transgression. Concurrently, adult trans people in states like Florida and Missouri are being blocked from their medication. Trapped in this increasingly hostile environment, many transgender people are forced to consider one final option: to leave their home states entirely.
Simultaneously, a slew of states have started to enact sanctuary laws, extending assurances of protection from prosecution from other states, and from custody orders that might steal transgender children from their parents for pursuing gender-affirming care. So far, a dozen states have enacted protective legislation for transgender people, their families, and their healthcare providers. Given the considerable push from harsh legislation and extrajudicial threats in states endorsing anti-trans laws, paired with the allure of states actively upholding transgender rights, a perfect storm has emerged. These factors are now driving a significant migration within the United States of not just transgender individuals, but also the broader LGBTQ+ community, their families, and their allies.
The stories of those forced to leave are both heartbreaking and hopeful. One transgender woman, Sheena, left Florida to move to Minnesota. Florida has recently passed extremely harsh legislation targeting the transgender community, and Sheena cited this legislation in her decision to move with her partner, stating that she “had to leave Florida within one month [of the transgender medical ban on adults] to avoid having my care halted.”
When asked what the hardest part of her move was, she stated, “The hardest part has been watching friends of mine and listening to them talk about being stuck there. Most lost access to care. I had people begging me to take them with me when I moved, but I could only accommodate myself and my partner. It was heartbreaking. So many people are completely helpless to get out, even with all the bumps and roadblocks, the fact is I’m still one of the lucky ones.”
Ariel is another transgender woman who left Florida. When she chose to leave to Chicago, she had to wait four months in order to finish up college classes. When asked about the days leading up to her move, she stated, “It was tough because it felt like the world was caving in around me.”
The law that got her to make the final move was the bathroom ban and the medical right to discriminate law. She cited fears of the loss of her medication and the lack of treatment should she ever be hospitalized for anything serious.
She brightens up when speaking of her experiences in Chicago, stating that she feels much safer in the city, “I don’t worry nearly as much just walking around, the attitude has significantly changed.”
She also stated that the hardest part was leaving behind friends who live there, but she knew she had to leave: “I promised myself that I’d move anywhere to keep my access to hormone replacement therapy, because I felt my life depended on it. I was suicidal immediately prior to transition.”
Mary, the parent of a transgender daughter, fled Texas for Colorado in 2022 following Attorney General Ken Paxton’s attempts to investigate and charge the parents of trans youth with child abuse. She knew that the legislative session in Texas would not go well for her family. After carefully weighing her family’s options, she left overnight in an ice storm.
Though her move was chaotic, she has found the move to be the best thing she could do for her family, “We no longer have to worry about my daughter being reported to the state or being bullied for being who she is.”
Anna is a transgender individual who fled Tennessee for Nevada. Tennessee has been one of the sites of some of the worst anti-trans legislation, and is also notable for its anti-trans rallies held by Matt Walsh, one of the lead voices of the anti-trans movement. Nevada, on the other hand, recently passed a ballot initiative enshrining gender identity protections into its constitution.
The move was very difficult for Anna. She struggled financially to find her footing, and she was only able to afford the move after a family member passed away. When asked what lead to her leaving, she stated, “The government hates my existence and I worried if I waited too long, leaving would have been even harder or my transition would progress far enough I couldn’t hide.”
She now makes less money than she did in Tennessee, which she is offsetting by living with roommates. Even with her financial worries, she donates to other struggling trans people when she can.
Dozens of people responded to a request to tell their stories of leaving their home states within a few minutes of soliciting such stories. Virtually all of the respondents came from states in red on the anti-trans legislative risk map, with the majority coming from Florida. Minnesota and Colorado were very popular destinations for those who were forced to leave.
While numerous narratives of families abandoning their home states have surfaced, the true extent of the issue remained underrecognized until Data For Progress illuminated the escalating situation. The numbers are alarming: hundreds of thousands of transgender individuals have already uprooted their lives, and they’re likely joined by an equal number of family members. Coupled with an increasing count of non-transgender LGBTQ+ individuals also opting to leave their home states, it’s evident that the United States is in the throes of a swelling crisis of internally displaced political refugees. Over a million people, themselves contemplating relocation in the coming months, remain in a state of apprehensive vigilance, awaiting the potential signal that they too must bid farewell to their homes. The current trend doesn’t just underline a social trend; it underscores a profound human rights issue unfolding on our soil.
Note: This piece was republished with permission from Erin In The Morning.