The attack on dignity and freedom for LGBTQ+ Americans has accelerated quickly in 2024, with nearly 400 anti-LGBTQ+ bills proposed in the month of January alone. Proposed bills include those that would ban and restrict gender-affirming medical care, restrict the freedom of LGBTQ+ youth in schools, ban diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts in schools and private businesses, restrict access to restrooms for transgender people, legally redefine sex in a way that erases transgender people, and more.
Despite how quickly some of these bills are moving in statehouses, the Campaign for Southern Equality team encourages LGBTQ+ folks and allies to not lose hope in the face of these attacks. There is an entire movement of individuals and groups across the region who are here to fight these bills. This is an admittedly scary time, but please know that you are not alone and that you are loved, supported, and affirmed by so many.
This is the first of many regular legislative updates the Campaign for Southern Equality will be releasing in an effort to provide you with up to date and accurate information about the progression of anti-LGBTQ+ bills in the South. While we recognize that anti-LGBTQ+ bills are advancing across the U.S., these updates will focus on the Southern states in which our organization works, including Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. These updates will focus on bills that have moved beyond being introduced and are actively being considered by state lawmakers. Information about bills is gathered from the ACLU’s webpage “Mapping Attacks on LGBTQ Rights in U.S. State Legislatures in 2024,” as well as other sources.
Here’s a look at movement on LGBTQ-related bills in Southern states:
Gender-Affirming Medical Care Bans and Restrictions
Gender-affirming care is currently banned or restricted in the majority of Southern states. Policies differ from state to state; however, most ban the provision of puberty-delaying medications, hormone replacement therapy, and surgery for transgender youth. Most bills provide exceptions for intersex youth. The penalties associated with violating the bans also vary from state to state, ranging from taking away providers’ medical licenses to lawsuits, and criminal penalties.
Over time, gender-affirming medical care bans have grown in scope and extremism. Some bans are expanding their scope to include restrictions on adult care, including banning state funds from being used to cover the cost of gender-affirming medical care for youth and adults, banning private insurance coverage, or allowing insurance providers to refuse coverage for gender-affirming care.
As of January 2024, new policies banning or restricting gender-affirming care are advancing in multiple Southern states, including West Virginia, Virginia, South Carolina and Mississippi. Notably, the majority of these states have already passed some form of a gender-affirming care ban and are now expanding and refining these laws. Here’s a look at several specific states:
- In Mississippi, where gender-affirming care for youth is already banned, a new policy (S.B. 2029) aims to prohibit Medicaid from being used to cover gender-affirming care for adults.
- In South Carolina, one of the few Southern states that has yet to pass a gender-affirming care ban, a ban has passed in the House (H. 4624). Advocacy groups, including SC United for Justice & Equality, are imploring the State Senate to reject the bill. In the words of Rhys Chambers, a leader at South Carolina United, “This ban will cause so much anguish, chaos, and confusion for trans youth, their family members, and their loved ones, all while the legality of these bans is being adjudicated in many other states. There is no reason to pass this bill, and it is imperative that the Senate now reject it.”
- In Ohio, a gender-affirming care ban passed this month, and will go into effect on April 24 of this year. The new law greatly impacts transgender youth living in the South, as many Southern trans youth are traveling to clinics in Ohio to get gender-affirming medical care. The law bans the initiation of gender-affirming care for people under the age of 18, including puberty-delaying medication, hormone therapy, and surgery. The bill provides an exception for youth under the age of 18 who have been residents of Ohio since the bill’s effective date and started receiving gender-affirming care in Ohio prior to that effective date. These youth can continue to receive hormone replacement therapy and puberty-delaying medication from a provider in Ohio. The Campaign for Southern Equality, alongside our partners at Equality Ohio, the Kaleidoscope Youth Center, and TransOhio, expanded the Southern Trans Youth Emergency Project to families in Ohio. Learn more here.
“Don’t Say LGBTQ+” Curriculum Restriction Bills
We define “Don’t Say LGBTQ+” laws as policies that create a hostile learning environment for LGBTQ+ students by erasing LGBTQ+ identity from curriculum, classrooms, and libraries. “Don’t Say LGBTQ+” policies can include:
- LGBTQ+ curricular laws, which restrict or ban mention of LGBTQ+ identity in school curriculum, curricular materials, and even school library books. This includes outright bans of LGBTQ-related curriculum and materials, as well as policies allowing parents or community members to review curriculum and have it removed from the school if it includes mention of LGBTQ+ topics. It can also include policies that allow parents to opt their children in or out of LGBTQ-related curriculum.
- “Forced outing” policies, which require school staff to notify parents about changes in the name or pronoun used for a student at school, or a policy that prevents all school personnel and students from using the pronouns that align with their gender identity.
- Policies that require parental permission for students to participate in after school activities, specifically targeting Gender & Sexuality Alliances (GSAs)
- Policies that remove anti-bullying and harassment protections for LGBTQ+ students.
- Policies that allow school personnel who create a supportive environment for LGBTQ+ students and violate “Don’t Say LGBTQ+” policies to be sued or fired.
- States pulling out of national school survey efforts, or policies allowing students to opt out, simply because the survey allows students to identify as LGBTQ+
As of January 2024, “Don’t Say LGBTQ+”curriculum restriction bills are advancing in multiple Southern states, including Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia, and South Carolina. The purpose of these laws, to discriminate against LGBTQ+ students, is made very clear by bills like Tennessee’s H.B. 1634, which explicitly removes “sexual orientation” and “family, social, or cultural background” from the list of groups protected from discrimination in schools. It also removes the trans-inclusive definition of “gender identity” from Tennessee’s sexual education curriculum. Many states that are currently considering “Don’t Say LGBTQ+” policies have already passed similar policies, but are seeking to put even more restrictions on students’ freedoms in school. Kentucky, for example, is considering, H.B. 304, a policy that builds on the already extremely harmful “Don’t Say LGBTQ+” policy Kentucky passed in 2023.
Forced outing policies, which are often included in “Don’t Say LGBTQ+” bills, are unfortunately spreading quickly this year. These policies typically require school staff to notify parents about changes in the name or pronoun used for a student at school. However, they can go so far as to prevent all school personnel and students from using the name and pronouns that align with their gender identity, as is the case with Florida’s H.B. 1069. Currently, forced outing policies are advancing in the following Southern States: Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, West Virginia, Virginia, and South Carolina.
Bans on Transgender People Using Facilities that Align with Their Gender Identity
“Bans on transgender people using facilities that align with their gender identity” are laws that prevent a person from using bathrooms or other facilities (like locker rooms) that align with their gender identity. Under these laws, trans women are disallowed from using the women’s facilities, trans men are disallowed from using the men’s facilities, and nonbinary and other gender diverse people may be disallowed from using the facilities they feel the most safe and comfortable using, if it does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth.
These laws often apply to schools; however, some apply to all public buildings. Some states have even attempted to expand these bans to private businesses. For example, the state of Tennessee attempted to require all private businesses to post “warning notices” on their public restrooms if they allowed transgender patrons to use the facilities that align with their gender identity. This law was overturned by a federal judge.
As of January 2024, these bans are advancing in three Southern states South Carolina, Virginia, and West Virginia. South Carolina’s bill, H. 4535, is one of the most extreme, as it restricts bathroom and locker room access in all public buildings, not just schools.
Bans on Transgender Youth Playing on Sports Teams that Align with Their Gender Identity
These bans include any law that prevents a student from playing on the school sports team that aligns with their gender identity. The laws say that people must play on the team that correlates with the sex they were assigned at birth. Therefore, trans women and girls are disallowed from playing on the women’s team, trans men and boys are disallowed from playing on the men’s facilities, and nonbinary people and other gender diverse people may be disallowed from playing on the team on which feel the most safe and comfortable, if it does not align with the sex they were assigned at birth. These laws typically apply to all schools that receive state funding, including institutions of higher education. As of January 2024, bans on transgender youth playing on sports teams that align with their gender identity are advancing in one Southern state, Virginia. These bans are already law in 23 states across the U.S. – including most recently in Ohio, which passed HB68 when the legislature voted to override Gov. Mike DeWine’s veto of the legislation.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Bans
Policies regulating diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) efforts at institutions of higher education, and in some cases private businesses, are fairly new. These policies restrict or ban DEI trainings and programs, and can require that university diversity offices be shut down entirely. DEI programs are often a lifeline for LGBTQ+ students. Not only do they provide an opportunity for the entire student body to learn about LGBTQ+ experiences, they often fund spaces for LGBTQ+ students, like LGBTQ+ resource centers and student clubs.
Texas was one of the first states to pass a DEI ban last year. As a result, diversity offices on college campuses across the state will soon close. Florida also passed a DEI ban last year, and last week Florida’s Board of Education moved forward with a rule to ban colleges and universities from using public funds for DEI programs.
Currently, DEI bans are being considered in Florida, Kentucky, and South Carolina. These bills vary in their scope, with the Kentucky bill (S.B. 93) applying only to schools, the South Carolina bill (H. 4663) applying to schools and state government offices, and the Florida bill (S.B. 1382) applying to schools, government offices, government contractors, and nonprofit organizations.
Pride Flag Bans
This year, multiple state legislatures are considering policies that ban the display of certain flags, including LGBTQ+ Pride flags. Such bills are advancing in the following Southern states: Florida, Tennessee, and Alabama. The Florida (S.B. 1120) and Alabama (S.B. 4) bills would ban the display of pride flags at government buildings and schools. Meanwhile, in Tennessee, H.B. 1605 applies to schools only. It would prohibit schools from displaying any flag other than the U.S. flag and the Tennessee state flag.
Drag bans are laws that prohibit individuals who are dressed in drag, or who have a gender presentation that does not align with their sex assigned at birth, from being in certain public spaces. Last year, drag bans that passed in states like Tennessee, Florida, and Texas were blocked by courts due to their unconstitutionality, and others, like the bill in Arkansas, were weakened to restrict “adult performances” without explicitly targeting drag performances.
Anti-Trans Definition of Sex Bills
New laws seek to define “sex” and “gender” in ways that erase transgender and gender diverse people. They define “sex” as sex assigned at birth and gender as either male or female. Although the implications of these bills are so far unclear, they have potential to impact transgender and gender diverse people’s access to correct gender markers on state IDs, access to bathrooms, and more. Further, such bills could eliminate transgender and gender diverse people’s right to federal discrimination protection on the basis of sex and gender. These bills could also jeopardize a significant amount of federal funding for states, as definitions of sex and gender that exclude transgender and intersex identity conflict with the inclusive definition the federal government holds. Such threats to funding have been seen in other states that have passed laws defining sex in this way, like Tennessee.
Bills Creating Barriers to Accurate IDs for Transgender People
Bills defining sex in a way that excludes and erases transgender and gender diverse people likely pose a barrier to people’s ability to obtain ID documents that reflect their gender accurately. However, there is also a history of bills that explicitly target the ability of transgender and gender diverse people to obtain accurate ID documents. Such policies restrict someone’s ability to update their drivers license or birth certificate, or to change their name. Some policies require proof of gender surgery, a court order, or amended birth certificate in order to update documents, while others simply do not allow documents to be updated at all.
In Florida this week, the Department of Motor Vehicles quietly implemented a policy banning gender marker changes on state drivers licenses. The change mirrors the bill moving through the Florida state legislature, but bypasses the legislative process.
Religious Exemption Bills
There is a long history of anti-LGBTQ+ bills that allow people, churches, non-profit organizations, and sometimes private businesses to refuse to serve people due to their personal religious beliefs or conscience. This can and has resulted in LGBTQ+ people being excluded and refused service.
In 2024, multiple states have advanced policies that allow medical providers, and in some instances insurance companies, to refuse to provide or pay for services and procedures that violate their religious beliefs or conscience. Many of these bills specifically name the provision of gender-affirming care. Four Southern states have advanced such bills in 2024, including Kentucky, Virginia, West Virginia, and South Carolina. In South Carolina, S. 0975 allows pharmacists to refuse to fill prescriptions due to religious, moral, or ethical reasons. This could clearly be used to allow pharmacists to refuse to fill gender-affirming care prescriptions like hormones and puberty-delaying medications.
Tennessee is considering a religious exemption bill (SB1738/HB2169) that would allow adoptive and foster parents to refuse to support policies or participate in programming aimed at making the adoption and foster care systems more accepting and welcoming for LGBTQ+ children. Tennessee is also considering a policy (S.B. 0596/H.B. 0878) that would allow a person to refuse to solemnize a marriage if doing so conflicts with their conscience or religious belief, clearly targeting LGBTQ+ marriages.
Kentucky is considering H.B. 304, which allows parents to request that their child be exempted from learning about certain topics for religious or moral reasons. This policy could be used to prevent students from learning about LGBTQ+ topics and people.