Human Rights Campaign (HRC), an LGBTQ+ rights group, declared a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ people in the US on Tuesday in a new report that highlights the steep increase in laws and harassment targeting the LGBTQ+ community. This is the first time HRC, founded in 1980, has taken such an action.
HRC president Kelley Robinson described the situation starkly in a press release announcing the state of emergency:
The multiplying threats facing millions in our community are not just perceived — they are real, tangible and dangerous. In many cases they are resulting in violence against LGBTQ+ people, forcing families to uproot their lives and flee their homes in search of safer states, and triggering a tidal wave of increased homophobia and transphobia that puts the safety of each and every one of us at risk.
Over 500 anti-LGBTQ+ laws have been introduced in 2023 so far—a record high—with more than 70 becoming law, double the amount of anti-LGBTQ+ bills that became law last year. HRC noted that a majority of these laws target transgender people, saying that transgender and gender non-conforming people are “losing access to life saving medical care, comprehensive and inclusive education, activities, spaces, and facilities.” 22 percent of bills passed in the US were laws restricting gender-affirming care, a higher percentage than any other single type of bill. Laws restricting bathroom use, school sports and pronoun usage in schools for transgender people also made up a combined 30 percentage of the laws passed.
HRC highlighted testimony from parents of transgender children leaving states with restrictive laws. “It’s difficult to articulate what it’s like to be forced out like this,” said Megan, a parent from Montana. “It sort of makes you feel like a refugee, as we’ll obviously do whatever we need to do to keep our child safe.”
In addition to laws targeting transgender people, HRC noted efforts to restrict discussion of LGBTQ+ topics in schools, ban drag performances and achieve other discriminatory goals. HRC emphasized the negative impacts these laws have on LGBTQ+ people, particularly LGBTQ+ youth. Negative impacts include: worsening mental health, increased suicidal ideation, physical relocation and worse career and academic outcomes. The group connected these legislative efforts to a broader harassment campaign, pinning some responsibility on conservative advocacy groups:
The overwhelming volume of anti-LGBTQ+ legislation introduced in state legislatures across the country in 2023 was not a coincidence: Many individual bills rely on copy-and-pasted language from model legislation proposed by a national coalition of groups including the Heritage Foundation, Family Policy Alliance and Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) who have been long-standing opponents of LGBTQ+ equality.
As part of the state of emergency declaration, HRC released an online tool and downloadable guide to inform LGBTQ+ people of their rights in every state. These tools come alongside travel warnings from groups like Equality Florida publicizing discriminatory laws targeting LGBTQ+ people.
The declaration from HRC comes almost a year after a UN expert said that LGBTQ+ rights in the US were being “deliberately undermined” by state governments. LGBTQ+ rights in the US are falling more and more along state and partisan lines, with HRC identifying Republican-controlled states as “increasingly hostile to LGBTQ+ people.” Tennessee and Florida have attracted particular attention for strict laws targeting drag performances and school discussions. Laws are not limited to those states, however, with Texas, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska and others recently passing bills that target LGBTQ+ people. Many of these bills have been challenged in court, with some judges issuing temporary relief.
Alongside its dire warnings, HRC expressed some hope, pointing to states like Michigan and Minnesota that have expanded LGBTQ+ protections. The group also highlighted LGBTQ+ advocates that have opposed these laws and continue to do so, like Montana state representative Zooey Zephyr. Zephyr spoke harshly against the Montana’s gender-affirming care ban and was barred from the House floor for her actions. “I will do as I have always done,” Zephyr said at the time. “Rise on behalf of my constituents, in defense of my community, [and] for democracy itself.”
That sort of defiant determination has not been uncommon, with one Tennessee drag queen saying, “I might need help with my legal fees because I’m not stopping. We are queer people, we are strong, we will rise.”