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WV Saw a Flurry of Anti-Trans Bills in 2024. Now, Most of Those Bills Are Dead.

Is this a genuine shift away from targeting LGBTQ people, or are lawmakers pausing their attacks ahead of the elections?

The West Virginia Capitol is pictured in Charleston, West Virginia.

At midnight on Saturday, more than 20 anti-LGBTQ+ bills died in West Virginia after the legislature adjourned sine die. Bills that did not pass included the misleadingly named “Women’s Bill of Rights,” which would have ended legal recognition for transgender people in the state, as well as a bill that would have prohibited gender-affirming care for all transgender youth. West Virginia is the second state in a week hinting that anti-transgender legislative attacks are encountering resistance. Last week, Florida’s legislature also adjourned, effectively killing dozens of anti-transgender bills.

One bill that failed to pass as the West Virginia legislature adjourned was House Bill 5243, also known as the misleadingly-named “Women’s Bill of Rights” by its proponents. The bill primarily aimed to exclude transgender individuals from all legal gender protections in the state. Riley Gaines, who heavily promoted the bill, joined Governor Jim Justice at a press conference where it was announced as a major policy priority. The proposed legislation would have led to bathroom restrictions, prohibitions on driver’s license and ID changes, and the elimination of legal recognition for transgender people’s gender identities. Despite frantic, last-minute efforts by some Republicans to pass it, Democratic lawmakers countered by proposing dozens of amendments for debate. As a result, Republicans placed it at the bottom of the calendar.

“HB 5243 offered no real tangible protections for cisgender women, all while punching down on another marginalized community, and sought to erase protections for transgender West Virginians,” says Ash Orr, a trans organizer in West Virginia, “Essentially, it amounted to yet another culture war bill designed to divert attention from genuine issues affecting all residents of West Virginia.”

Another bill that did not pass in West Virginia was House Bill 5297, which sought to entirely prohibit gender-affirming care for all transgender youth. The state had previously enacted a ban on gender-affirming care, but it included an exception for transgender youth experiencing “severe dysphoria.” HB 5297 aimed to eliminate that exception. More than 400 health care providers signed a letter opposing the bill, describing gender-affirming care as lifesaving and urging the legislature to reject it. The bill failed to pass before the legislature adjourned, meaning that at least some transgender youth in the state will continue to be able to receive care, making it one of the few red states where this is still the case.

The state is the latest in a series of developments suggesting that the anti-transgender panic gripping the GOP may be diminishing in the lead-up to the 2024 elections. Florida also recently adjourned without passing numerous anti-transgender and anti-LGBTQ+ bills. Recent elections have raised questions about the effectiveness of anti-transgender policies in driving voter turnout. In 2023, more than 70% of Moms for Liberty candidates were defeated. The Virginia legislature shifted to Democratic control, despite Governor Youngkin’s efforts to campaign for Republicans by emphasizing anti-transgender politics as a policy priority. Governor Andy Beshear was reelected in Kentucky despite substantial ad expenditures attacking him for vetoing anti-transgender legislation.

When asked about the failure of these to pass, Orr stated, “The truth is, transgender people of all ages are living happy, complete, and beautiful lives – this contradicts the false narrative created around our community by anti-transgender politicians.”

The only bill that did pass in the state was a bill that would stop non-binary gender markers on birth certificates, though it is unclear what effect the legislation would have given that the state did not have a history of issuing such birth certificates.

Although these bills are failing to pass in states that have historically targeted transgender individuals, it remains unclear whether their failure signifies a genuine shift away from targeting LGBTQ+ people or merely a pause in anticipation of the 2024 election outcomes. The threat remains significant in many areas, with a few extreme bills being enacted this year, including a gender-affirming care ban in Wyoming and an adult bathroom ban in Utah. Additionally, some new states have witnessed the successful advancement of anti-trans legislation, such as a “Parents Rights in Education” bill in Washington, which could lead to forced outings, and a bill in New Hampshire that permits sports and bathroom bans. The national budget debate also includes anti-trans provisions that are still under negotiation.

Nevertheless, activists in states that have experienced the most severe attacks see reasons for celebration and hope. The failure of dozens of bills targeting the LGBTQ+ community means that residents in these states will have another year to prepare and strategize. If the 2024 elections yield unfavorable results for Republicans who have advocated anti-transgender legislation, similar to the outcomes in 2022 and 2023, it could further argue against the political viability of making these bills a policy priority. Most importantly, transgender individuals in these states are granted the valuable gift of time to catch their breath following the relentless barrage of legislative efforts that have dominated political discourse over the past five years.

This piece was republished with permission from Erin In The Morning.

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