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PRIDE in Alabama Part 4: Mass writing trans-targeted legislation

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Alabama Public Radio has spent the summer reporting on issues that the transgender community faces in the state. That includes legislation aimed at placing restrictions on trans youth and teens. 

Transgender-related bills are popping up in Alabama and across the country, and activists say this is not by coincidence. So far this year, 33 states have introduced more than 100 bills that aim to curb the rights of transgender people across the country. Advocacy groups say this has been a record-breaking year for such legislation.

Alabama is one state that debated trans-restrictive bills during the 2021 legislative session. That includes Republican House member Wes Allen’s proposal of putting restrictions on medical treatments to help trans youth make their transitions.

“We want to protect children, because they're minors,” Allen said in May. “And they don't understand and don't have the developed development yet, because they're so young, to understand the implications of these powerful drugs.” 

The American Civil Liberties Union says these types of bills being pushed out all at once nationally isn’t by accident. The nonprofit said lawmakers are getting help writing their bills from conservative organizations like the Alliance Defending Freedom and The Heritage Foundation. There’s also another group called the American Legislative Exchange Council—or ALEC.  

Dillon Nettles is the Policy and Advocacy Director for the ACLU of Alabama. He said many of these conservative organizations have been working on something called expanding the First Amendment’s “free exercise clause.” Advocates for transgenders say this could roll back decades of civil rights gains in LGBTQIA+ rights. Those letters stand for anyone who’s lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer/questioning, intersex or asexual. 

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“The truth is that organizations like ALEC and the Heritage Foundation are absolutely no strangers to the ACLU or any of our partner group defending civil rights and civil liberties all across the country,” Nettles said.  

Nettles said proposals from Alabama lawmakers are “copycat bills” being mass written by conservative organizations.

“We have seen legislation like this really followed through with that copycat strategy,” Nettles said. “These bills like HB 391 which was signed into law by Governor Ivy, it's a bill that’s very similar, if not almost exactly duplicated, of legislation that we've seen in other states across the country.” 

Nettles said the transgender-targeted legislation is the result of a “quid pro quo” relationship.  

“They, you know, are kind of mass pushing out legislation, but then politicians who are frankly receiving donations and all types of support from these organizations all throughout the year. Right? They are then turning around and introducing this legislation,” he said.  

Allen talked with APR back in May after the legislative session. APR reached out for a follow-up interview about the conservative group ALEC. Those phone calls and emails went unanswered. We also tried to contact Senator Shay Shelnutt and Representative Scott Stadthagen who are writing similar bills. Again, APR received no reply.   

Sydney Duncan is an attorney at Birmingham Aids Outreach. She agrees with Nettles. Duncan said Allen may benefit politically for his trans-targeted bill.  

“It's no wonder that Wes Allen in the House was the sponsor. And now he's running for secretary of state," she said. "There are reasons that he wanted that bill...It's just the problem with these congressmen. It doesn't really matter what they believe is legal reality of the bill's existence or possibility. I think a lot of them are clear-minded, but it doesn't matter.” 

News outlets have reported on a variety of state and federal legislatures taking up bills all at once that repeat the same wording. USA Today and the Arizona Republic conducted an investigation with the Center for Public Integrity. They found at least 10,000 bills introduced in State legislatures are nearly identical to “model bills” produced by groups like ALEC. The Washington Post reports this is sometimes the easiest way an underfunded?state legislator’s staff can get a bill written.

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Duncan said these types of bills energize the Republican base, especially in the South.  

“What we have is a series of lobbying groups. The Alliance Defending Freedom, I think is one of the main ones has been the culprit of the bill that we've seen in Alabama. They've come into the state. They've identified transgender issues as a wedge issue that can galvanize the Republican voter base and keep them engaged,” Duncan said.  

Duncan said a lot of the trans-related legislation is rooted in hate, discrimination and misinformation.  

“They understand that transgender issues are not issues that the majority of the public know much about,” said Duncan. “So, what they've done is they've taken the issue of sports, with the issue of youth medicine, trans healthcare, and they've basically gone to great extent to make them into sort of issue that people are scared off without any reported incidents and hardly any reported problems.” 

Dr. Ruadhán Woods is with Hometown Actiona group that works to create sustainable multiracial communities. Woods said there needs to be more conversations about the trans-targeted bills in Alabama, and that includes the new sports law.  

“We’re experiencing a legal pushback against our ability to exist and to participate in society.,” Woods said. “You hear the argument of why people are writing trans folks out of social life. That that argument is rooted in trying to protect women and girls just so disheartening, and I just don't understand why people don’t recognize that is rooted in Patriarchy. No one is talking about that.” 

Woods also said an attack on transgender rights means an attack on human rights. 

“They're intersectional rights connected to race, class and disability, and trans people are vulnerable. Our young people are worth supporting. And what we're seeing in this anti-trans legislation, is the Republican groups are willing to make the statement that only some young people, if they very bio centralist of what it means do exist in this world, are worth protecting,” Woods said. “Our communities are diverse and multifaceted. They're not something that you can boil down to issues to galvanize around. But that's how we're treated, because that is the political on the legal interest.” 

Woods said more activism and allyship are needed when it comes to the transgender community.  

“People are just apparently content to say: Well, this is the way that it is when it fits the social assumption within their particular community,” Woods said. “The way that we can help each other, is if you have a platform, if you have community members you can talk to, make a point to say that you support trans people, and make a point to recognize that trans rights are human rights.” 

Justin Vest is also with Hometown Action. They’re encouraging allies to speak out and make spaces safe for the trans community. They say when politicians and corporations attack trans rights with legislation, it also affects other vulnerable communities. 

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“They have and embody that hatred towards queer folks as well. But also, many of them are happy to scapegoat any group that allows them to maintain power,” said Vest. “And so, we really need to think about: how are you addressing homophobia and transphobia and your everyday life, in your community in your workspace.” 

Vest encourages people, especially cisgender folks, to get out of their comfort zone. Those are people who identify with the gender listed on their birth certificate.

“Evaluating how you think how you see your own gender,” Vest said. “Gender is complicated. That's OK, like no one expects for cisgender folks to be perfect when it comes to understanding all the nuances of gender identity.” 

Activists said the best way for allies to help combat anti-trans legislation is by getting involved or donating to local pro-trans organizations and pro-trans non-profits. Allies can get also involved by texting “TransLib” to 33777. 

Again, APR reached out on multiple occasions to Alabama House members Wes Allen and Scott Stadhagen and State Senator Shay Shelnutt for comment. 

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