SAFE Act Explosion: 72% of Red States Now Protect Minors from Gender Transition Procedures
As the 2023 state legislative season winds toward a conclusion, it’s time to analyze whether state efforts to protect minors from gender transition procedures were successful. The answer is a hearty “yes.”
Before this year, only four states had passed legislation prohibiting gender transition procedures on minors, which include irreversible removal of healthy organs and permanent sterilization through cross-sex hormones. As of Tuesday, when the Louisiana legislature enacted protections over the governor’s veto, 21 states have protections (one state improved on previously enacted language). Nearly three-quarters (72%) of Republican-controlled state legislatures have passed legislation protecting minors from gender reassignment procedures, and 18 out of 29 (62%) of Republican-controlled legislatures have passed a law this year.
That number could grow. There is still time for the Ohio Senate (in session until December 31) to pass HB 68, or for the North Carolina legislature (in session until July 28) to override the governor’s veto of HB 808. However, now that 35 out of 50 states have concluded their legislative sessions, there is enough data to help us fill in the picture of how successful state legislatures have been.
State by State
Before 2023, only Alabama (2022), Arkansas (2021), Arizona (2022), and Tennessee (2021) had passed legislation protecting minors from gender transition procedures, and the movement still faced uphill battle. Even among these laws, Tennessee’s was a stub, Arizona’s had its enforcement mechanisms stripped out, Arkansas’s was vetoed by Republican Governor Asa Hutchinson, and Alabama’s and Arkansas’s were blocked by federal courts.
Then in 2023, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, and West Virginia all passed laws to protect minors from gender transition procedures. Tennessee also enacted legislation to upgrade its previous law.
That leaves only eight GOP-controlled state legislatures that have not yet protected minors from gender transition procedures: Alaska, Kansas, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Wisconsin, and Wyoming. In Alaska and Wisconsin, no bill was introduced (although Wisconsin’s legislature is still in session). North Carolina and Ohio are also still in session, and both have made substantial progress towards passing a bill. In New Hampshire and South Carolina, bills died in committees without ever receiving a vote. In Kansas, a bill passed the Senate 26-10 and then expired in a House committee. In Wyoming, a bill passed the Senate 26-5 but was defeated 2-5 in a House committee.
Although these eight states failed to pass a bill protecting children this year, it’s possible they may do so next year, now that a majority of likeminded states have done so; this is particularly true for Kansas and Wyoming, where a bill did pass overwhelmingly in one chamber, and where nearly all neighboring states have enacted these protections for minors.
Bills to protect minors from gender transition procedures have also been introduced in six out of 19 Democrat-controlled state legislatures (Hawaii, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, Rhode Island, and Oregon), although none of the bills have received a committee vote. No bills to protect children have been introduced in the other Democrat-controlled legislatures (California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, Vermont, and Washington). Some Democrat-controlled state governments (including California, Colorado, Maryland, Minnesota, Vermont, and Washington) have gone in the opposite direction, declaring themselves “sanctuary states” for minor gender transitions.
While bills to protect minors from gender transition procedures have so far failed to pass in Democrat-controlled states, it does not follow that they cannot attract Democratic support. Democratic legislators lent their support in a number of states, and in Nebraska a Democratic senator cast the deciding vote in favor of the bill. However, the combined lobbying power of medical associations and trans ideologues carries more sway in Democrat-controlled states.
In two states (Pennsylvania and Virginia), control of the legislature is divided. In Pennsylvania, Republicans control the state Senate, while Democrats control the state House; a bill to protect minors has been introduced in the state House, but it has not received a committee vote. In Virginia, Democrats control the state Senate, while Republicans control the state House; the House narrowly passed (50-48) a bill to protect minors from gender transition procedures, which was then voted down (6-9) in a Senate committee.
Bill by Bill
Some organizations, like the ACLU, choose to track the raw number of bills introduced, instead of the states where legislation has become law. They use this measure as the basis of claims like, “In the last few years states have advanced a record number of bills that attack LGBTQ rights,” and “While not all of these bills will become law, they all cause harm for LGBTQ people.” They identified 130 bills in the category of “health care” that have been introduced in 2023, which is largely comprised of bills they believe “ban affirming care for trans youth” — in other words, gender transition procedures.
That the ACLU identified 130 bills in this one narrow category emphasizes the misleading nature of their chosen measurement. Without digging into the details, an average person would assume that each bill introduced in a state represents a different policy idea, and the ACLU insinuates that the very number of these different ideas floating around “cause harm for LGBTQ people.”
In reality, the bills more often represent slightly different variations on the same idea. For instance, the ACLU tracked 13 bills in Mississippi, 14 bills in Texas, and 15 bills in Oklahoma. But each state only passed one bill and largely ignored the rest. By examining the text, it’s possible to see why: many of the bills have substantially similar language. Essentially, there was substantial legislative momentum to pass a SAFE Act in these states, but legislators weren’t sure which version would gain the widest support from their colleagues. So, many members decided to introduce slightly different versions of the same basic idea, with a different age limit here, a different enforcement mechanism there, or an extra section added or subtracted. The ACLU fearmongered this legislative brainstorming into an unprecedented attack on LGBT rights, when it was really nothing of the kind.
In other states (notably Iowa), the exact same bill text bore as many as four different bill numbers throughout its legislative journey, and the ACLU counted each one as a separate bill. Such a tactic only makes sense if the goal is to inflate the total number of bills.
The ACLU has proven very effective at mobilizing opposition to these bills among the mainstream media and left-wing activists. However, it has proven less effective at accurately representing what these bills do: they protect minors from the harm and regret associated with permanent, irreversible procedures until they are old enough to truly make a decision for themselves.
As the number of states passing legislation to protect minors from gender transition procedures swelled throughout spring 2023, several developments added features to the conversation that had not been there before.
One notable feature is the prevalence of left-wing disruptions. From January to March, opponents of these bills usually employed respectable tactics — trotting out medical experts and medical opinions to testify against the bills at official hearings.
But, as it became clear these tactics were not working, the proponents of transitioning children adopted more aggressive (one might say “desperate”) tactics. In the last week of March, protestors staged demonstrations in four state capitols, opposing SAFE Acts and related bills. On March 29, protestors in Frankfort, Ky. disrupted the state House as it prepared to vote, forcing it to recess while the protestors were cleared (some by arrest) from the balcony. They performed the same disruptive stunt in Montana, egged on by a legislator. In Florida, they threw underwear with the message “leave my genitals alone” from the balcony, while a disruptive display in Nebraska served as a fitting finale to the session-long filibuster tantrum.
Another development was the addition of a provision, not found in earlier versions of the bill, that allowed a six-month period (or other brief period) to wean minors off of puberty blockers. This provision is distinct from an exception in some bills that effectively grandfather-in (indefinitely) anyone who has already started gender reassignment hormones. It appears to be based on expert testimony that stopping hormone treatments cold turkey could have negative psychological effects on minors. Despite extensive coverage of the issue, I have not encountered anyone attempting to contradict this claim. Bills in at least five states allowed a puberty blocker exception for six months or a limited period, while bills in six states contained the broader (and less politically courageous) exception to grandfather-in minors currently on puberty blockers.
A third development is the increasing boldness of state legislators. Once they are in possession of the actual facts regarding gender transition procedures, its questionable medical record, and its potential harm to minors, unprecedented numbers of state legislators have proven willing to stand up against all the conventional political forces in their states, because they know it is the right thing to protect children.
In the earliest fights, Republicans struggled against more cowardly Republicans to pass these bills in deep-red states. Now, not only are Republicans almost entirely united (with individual exceptions here and there), but even Democrats are crossing the aisle to join them in protecting children. This year, two (and soon perhaps three) state legislatures (Kentucky’s and Louisiana’s) have enacted protections for minors over a governor’s veto. At least seven states have passed their bills despite massive (and sometimes disruptive) protests at the state capitol. And every state has had to endure a multitude of slanders heaped upon them by left-wing smear groups, the mainstream media, and often local media, too.
And the margins have been overwhelming. Tennessee passed its bill in votes of 26-6 and 77-16. North Dakota’s bill sailed to victory 66-25 and 37-10. Florida’s legislature voted 27-12 and 82-31. Nearly every state legislative chamber approved the bills by two-to-one or three-to-one margins, if not more. Even if a moderate Republican governor wanted to pull an Asa Hutchinson, it would clearly be a foolish mistake.
That said, there is still much work to do, even in states that passed a bill this year. In some states, the legislators pulled their punches. The West Virginia Senate, for instance, stripped out all enforcement mechanisms in an 11th-hour floor amendment. Utah’s bill authorizes the foxes to guard the henhouse. Georgia’s bill is surprisingly weak, with only one enforcement mechanism and large exception. Even among the solid bills, at least a dozen can be improved by prohibiting insurance or public funds from covering gender transition procedures for minors.
Many states won a resounding victory in 2023 for protecting minors from the clutches of the trans ideology. But even in states that passed a law this year, there are opportunities to protect children even better in future legislative sessions by rolling back the darkness further. Legislators should capitalize on their success and momentum.
Joshua Arnold is a staff writer at The Washington Stand.