Republicans Are ‘Running Out of States’ to Pass New Transgender Restrictions

Republicans Are ‘Running Out of States’ to Pass New Transgender Restrictions

State legislatures are ending their sessions this spring with only a handful of new restrictions for transgender people on the books, a departure from the previous two years when passing such legislation became a major focus in Republican-dominated state capitols.

In interviews, conservative strategists and transgender rights advocates offered several reasons for the sudden slowdown. In part, they said, Republican state lawmakers had such a high success rate for bills limiting transgender rights in the earlier years that they had covered a lot of ground already. “We’re running out of states to pass things in,” said Terry Schilling, president of the American Principles Project, a national conservative advocacy group.

The smaller number may reflect an election-year recognition among Republican lawmakers that voters may rank gender identity issues below the economy, inflation and jobs. Republican leaders in the Georgia House of Representatives told reporters this spring that they had chosen to focus on “kitchen table” issues, such as an income-tax cut and funding for prekindergarten programs.

Of 28 states where Republicans control the legislature, 24 now prohibit or restrict medical professionals from providing hormone therapies for gender transition to minors; 24 bar transgender students from participating in sports that align with their gender identity; and 12 bar students from using school bathrooms that do not match their sex assigned at birth, according to the Movement Advance Project, an L.G.B.T.Q. advocacy group that tracks state-level legislation. Most of those laws were passed before this year’s legislative sessions.

In some Republican-led states where such measures had not already passed, lawmakers pushed for them in this year’s sessions. Bans on transition treatments for minors were enacted this year in Wyoming and South Carolina, and Ohio lawmakers overrode Gov. Mike DeWine’s veto of a ban they had passed late last year.

In Idaho, lawmakers made it illegal for school districts to require that teachers use pronouns consistent with a student’s gender identity. A new Tennessee law requires schools to alert parents if their child requests to go by a name or pronoun different from those entered on school forms. And the governors of Louisiana and Idaho signed legislation specifying that the term “sex” in state code refers to “an individual’s biological sex, either male or female” and that “gender identity” should not be considered a synonym for it.

Mississippi, Utah and Louisiana joined the list of states barring transgender students from school bathrooms that match their gender identity. The Utah measure also bars transgender adults from using locker rooms that align with their gender identity in county parks and other government-owned buildings.

“Public backlash from this legislation was completely expected, but at the end of the day, we do what is best for Utah,” said State Representative Kera Birkeland, a Republican who sponsored the bill there.

Opponents of the measures said they were disturbed by those that passed, but also relieved that the number of new laws was comparatively low.

“If you would have come to me in 2020 and told me what 2024 looks like so far, I would have described it as a travesty,” said Gillian Branstetter, a communications strategist at the American Civil Liberties Union, which is challenging the constitutionality of several laws restricting transgender rights in federal courts across the country. “It’s only been a better year relative to some of the most hostile years we’ve seen for trans people in our country’s politics.”

Still, in some Republican-dominated statehouses, measures that were similar to those that had passed in other states stalled this year.

In Georgia, the Legislature adjourned without passing bills barring transgender youth from playing on sports teams and using bathrooms that match their gender identity, as well as one restricting their access to medication to pause puberty. In Kansas, Republicans failed to garner a two-thirds majority needed in the Legislature to overturn Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s veto of a ban on medical transition treatments for minors, despite holding a supermajority in both chambers.

While lawmakers continue to propose bills curbing L.G.B.T.Q. rights in record numbers, “we’re going to have had significantly lower numbers passing this year,” said Cathryn Oakley, legal policy director for the Human Rights Campaign, an L.G.B.T.Q. advocacy group.

A few moderate Republicans have pushed back on what they described as government overreach. Representative Susan Concannon, one of four Republicans who voted to sustain Governor Kelly’s veto of the medical transition-care ban in Kansas, told her colleagues that for decisions about how to treat gender dysphoria in children, “government involvement is not the answer.”

John Dougall, a Republican state auditor in Utah, who is responsible for enforcing the state’s new restrictions on locker rooms, has posted satirical videos on social media that often featuring himself lurking in a bathroom. Mr. Dougall, who is running for the U.S. House of Representatives, said in an interview that the Legislature ought to have had better priorities than “turning my office into a bathroom monitor.”

Some of the bills lost Republican votes this session for the same reason many lawmakers who once opposed to gay marriage reversed themselves: a personal connection to those affected.

A state senator in Arizona, Ken Bennett, blocked passage of a measure that would have given voters the chance to roll back policies allowing transgender students to be called by pronouns and use bathrooms that correspond with their gender identity. He told colleagues that he had family members who would have been affected if they were still in school, according to the Arizona Mirror.

In states where Democrats control the statehouse, at least two, Maine and Maryland, this year enacted laws protecting people who receive or provide medical treatments for gender transition care from legal action by other states. Now, 13 states led by Democrats have such provisions, according to the Movement Advance Project.

Still, in a presidential election year that has focused attention on several battleground states, Mr. Schilling, of the American Principles Project, said he believed that gender identity issues could mobilize a crucial few percent of persuadable voters.

His organization will be spending $15 million on advertising related to the topic in coming months in Georgia, North Carolina, Wisconsin and Arizona, he said, because based on focus groups and previous polling, “the stuff actually moves people from voting Democrat or being undecided to the Republican column.”

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