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These recently elected transgender lawmakers say anti-LGBTQ bills inspired their candidacy

Zooey Zephyr, the first transgender woman elected to the Montana legislature, was urged to run for office after her state passed three laws targeting the LGBTQ community.

One bill passed last year would allow parents to exclude their children from sex education classes that deal with LGBTQ issues, and another would allow transgender students to respond to their “biological gender.” A third bill requires Montana residents to show evidence. “Surgically changed your gender” before updating your gender marker on your birth certificate. A third bill he could have blocked with one vote in the Montana Senate.

“My goal is always to be in the room where my voice can be most effective,” the Democrat told NBC News after winning earlier this month.

Zephyr said he had been working with the city of Missoula to draft a human rights bill, but had concluded that any real changes would need to be made at the state level.

“It became clear that that was where the majority of the attacks and damage happened. It was the room that was most worth being in,” she said.

Zooey Zephyr of Montana.
Zooey Zephyr in Montana.Courtesy Victory Fund

According to the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy group, at least 340 anti-LGBTQ bills have been introduced in state legislatures across the country so far this year, more than 140 of which specifically target transgender rights. increase.

Gabriele Magni, assistant professor of political science at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles and founding director of the university’s LGBTQ+ political research initiative, said the bill’s wave has led to an increase in queer candidates running “to defend LGBTQ rights.” said to have influenced

“If there are more candidates, some of them will be strong candidates,” he added.

The historic number of bills targeting LGBTQ rights matched a record number of political candidates who came out as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer. At least 1,065 of her LGBTQ people ran for office this year, with an estimated 416 running for state legislative seats. In her October report from her LGBTQ Victory Fund, an organization that helps queer people running for office. Of these 416 candidates, 281 advanced to the general election and 185 won. He had a 66% win rate on Election Day.

The success of these candidates means more openly LGBTQ people, including more transgender and non-binary people, will hold public office in our state legislatures than ever before. Nine transgender state legislators nationwide (up from eight this year) and nine nonbinary states, according to the group’s research arm, the LGBTQ Victory Institute, once all newly elected representatives are seated. A member of parliament will be born.

One of those new lawmakers is New Hampshire Democrat James Rohner, who this month became the first transgender man elected to a state legislature in the United States, according to the group.

The 26-year-old decided to run for public office, partly due to a wave of anti-LGBTQ laws being introduced in states across the country, including New Hampshire.

“Especially as a transgender person, seeing all of the new political action that is happening against my community, I hope transgender people become more visible and become a tangible part of making these decisions. I was really kind of inspired to help,” he said.

According to Freedom for All Americans, at least five anti-LGBTQ bills have been proposed in the New Hampshire legislature this year, none of which have been successful. One bill sought to ban transgender girls and women from participating in school girls’ sports teams, while another would add gender-affirming considerations to the state’s definition of child abuse. was.

Roesener’s platform included expanding antidiscrimination laws in health care and affordable housing, raising the state minimum wage to at least $15 an hour, and legalizing marijuana.

“I think people care about other people,” he said. “I think people all care about the same basic things: Do you have enough food to eat? Do you have a roof over your head? Do you have time away from work to spend with your family? These is a very uniform problem.”

James Roessner of New Hampshire is the first transgender man elected to state legislature in the United States.
James Roessner of New Hampshire is the first transgender man elected to state legislature in the United States.Courtesy James Roesener

Another new state legislator is Lee Finke, who became the first transgender person elected to the Minnesota legislature earlier this month. Mainly because of the building of the anti-transgender movement and seeing the bills and laws introduced last year beginning to pass in and out of her home state.”

“For state-level Republicans, not only attacking and talking about the trans community, but actively disenfranchising trans people and trans youth has suddenly become a top priority.” she said.

Finke specifically referred to a bill proposed in Minnesota last year. If the bill is passed, participating in women’s track and field events or accessing women’s locker rooms would be a misdemeanor for transgender girls.The bill didn’t pass, but she told the Minnesota Reformer, “It really shook me and made me realize I needed someone in the room.” On January 3rd, she will be that someone.

“Real and Concrete Impacts on Trans People”

State legislatures are becoming a battleground for LGBTQ rights. Republicans began introducing legislation targeting queer rights following her 2015 Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, which legalized same-sex marriage nationwide.

In 2017, Republicans introduced 129 bills targeting LGBTQ rights, many of which focused on religious freedom issues. Last year, the number of such bills introduced increased to 191, with proponents calling 2021 “the worst year in recent history for attacks on LGBTQ state legislatures,” blaming the number of these bills. 17 of them have been enacted.

At least 340 bills have been introduced in 23 states this year, with at least 25 bills in 13 states enacted so far. According to the Human Rights Campaign.

More than 40% of these bills specifically target transgender people, allowing them to play sports, use gender-responsive bathrooms, and receive gender-affirming healthcare. limit your abilities. At least 17 of these bills have passed, according to the Human Rights Campaign.

“This law will have a real, visible impact on trans people and the families who love them and their communities who care about them,” Zephyr said. “I lost friends who fled the state, I lost friends who lost their lives.”

A Strategy That “Probably Backfired”

Whether or not bills targeting the LGBTQ community, especially transgender people, are passed, these bills will act as a “wedge problem” to motivate right-wing voters ahead of elections, Magni said.

He said the strategy worked in the primary by raising money for conservative candidates and motivating their bases to participate in the vote.

“But in the general election, when you have a wider electorate, it didn’t really work. It didn’t convince moderate voters,” Magni said. “As an electoral strategy, it probably backfired.”

In addition to encouraging people like Zephyr, Roesener and Finke to run for election, the strategy also helped pro-LGBTQ candidates raise money, potentially motivating supporters to turn to the ballot. he said he had a sexuality.

Given the Democrats’ better-than-expected performance in the midterm elections, Republicans may change the direction of the bill, but Magni and Zephyr said they expect to continue to see anti-LGBTQ legislation for the foreseeable future. rice field.

“We’re looking at pre-filed legislation in Tennessee, Montana, states all over the country,” Zephyr said. But she believes legislation targeting LGBTQ rights will ultimately be a losing battle.

“My sense is that the more the right pushes this, the more they will lose. People are standing up for us,” she added.

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